Listening Leaders: What “Yes, AND”, “What if” and “Both/And Thinking” Have in Common?

Listening Leaders: What “Yes, AND”, “What if” and “Both/And Thinking” Have in Common?

“Yes and no are very short words to say, but we should think for some length of time before saying them.”

For those who have studied improvisation, you know one of the foundation principles is the application of “Yes, and…” Rather than shutting down an idea by saying no or ending with a “Yes, BUT…”, participants use agreement to move a scene forward and solve problems on stage. Basic principles of improv include:

• Offer clarity about the WHO, WHAT and WHERE of the scene.
• Enter with intentionality and purpose for each situation.
• Listen carefully to what others have to say.
• Build off their partner’s ideas.
• Value diversity (age, experiences, perceptions and thinking styles, etc.).
• Engage “group mind” as stronger than any one individual.
• Build trust and an improv mindset for strong relationships and outcomes.

What if…
What if leaders were to take the improv approach when working with their direct reports and teams? What if before any problem solving session the leader were clear about the purpose, outcomes and expectations? What if team members entered the sessions prepared, and had taken time to consider their own and others’ expectations? What if these same team members actually listened to what others had to say, valued diversity of perspective and used others’ ideas to build alternative solutions and outcomes? And finally, what if each person trusted the process with an IMPROV mindset?

Improv and Polarity Management…
Today’s challenges are often not solved with one right answer. Rather than problems to be solved, polarities are interdependent and must be managed. Companies who outperform their competition have learned how to supplement either/or thinking with both/and thinking. For example, the best companies know how to be both profitable and provide customers with positive experiences. Customers expect a fair price and quality. We can’t offer one or the other and expect to remain in business. And the best leaders listen to, work to understand and build on other’s ideas.

When employees experience freedom to share ideas, take risks, offer different points of view and actually play with possibilities, they are more engaged. Leaders don’t want team members who carefully monitor their thoughts, cautiously offer comments, or worst of all, remain silent. The business complexity and challenges of the current environment require team members to engage in an IMPROV mindset with real dialogue and both/and thinking to solve problems creatively as well as effectively.


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