Keep the Conversation Going With “Yes, and …”

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that ended up being a total buzzkill?

It wasn’t that the other person was mean or rude. It wasn’t even that you were talking about serious topics necessarily. For whatever reason, the conversation just left … labored. It never flowed, and you constantly had to think of new things to say.

If you’re reading a site whose mission is to help you get better at conversing with people, then I’d venture that you’ve experienced this before. To explain how these buzzkill conversations happen, I’m going to delve again into the world of comedy.

Improv is a specific type of comedy where you’re given some sort of premise, and then you and another person just have to … well, improvise a skit. Have you ever seen Who’s Line Is It, Anyway? That’s improv.

Admittedly, some people have a lighting-quick wit and are able to come up with perfect one-liners on the spot. That definitely helps with one’s comedic — and conversational — skills. But, it’s considerably harder to learn, so I’m not going to talk about that here (though I can help you with it personally if you’re interested).

So yes, having a quick wit helps. But there’s something even more important than a quick wit, and it’s trivially easy to pull off. It’s called “yes, and …”

Here’s Tina Fey explaining how it works:

Basically, any time someone makes any sort of comment, you can either 1) agree and add to it, thereby continuing your banter, or you can 2) rebut or disagree, thereby killing the conversation.

For example, let’s say you’re chatting with someone and get on the topic of company holiday parties. The other person says this:

“Can you imagine what would happen if you got drunk at the party and started talking to your boss?”

Not wanting to come across as unprofessional, you reply with this:

“Nah, I’d never get drunk in front of my boss. I wouldn’t want to do anything stupid.”

“Hmm … yeah. Good point.”

Alright, then. You stuck up for yourself, but you also just killed the conversation. Now, you have to find something new to talk about.

Okay, so let’s rewind that and see what happens instead if you try a “yes, and …”:

“Can you imagine what would happen if you got drunk at the party and started talking to your boss?”

“Right? ‘Sir, I’ve been meaning to tell you about that hair you have sticking out of your nostril …'”

“Oh, man. That would be so awkward. But hey, I bet if you did say that, you’d never have to look at that disgusting nose hair again.”

“Exactly. Because I’ll be looking for a new job …”

Yes, you’re self-deprecating now, but notice how much the second conversation flows when both people “yes, and …” each other’s comments. That’s the key to connecting to another person. You listen to what they say, and then you add to it in a meaningful way. Especially if the topic is lighthearted and you’re bantering around, “yes, and …” is a vital tool to keep the conversation flowing.

To prevent it from becoming a buzzkill.

Try it out! Next time you’re talking to someone, look for every opportunity to use a “yes, and …” And at the same time, avoid rebutting the other person as much as you can.

This is not to say, of course, that you shouldn’t stick up for your own beliefs if the conversation broaches a serious topic, and the other person says something you passionately disagree with. In that case, yes, definitely stick up for yourself.

But that’s a whole ‘nother lesson, on knowing when it’s appropriate to broach certain topics …

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