Improv comedy shows are always popular. Remember “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” Watching people act out absurd scenes is amusing, but there is actually a strong conflict resolution lesson that we can all learn from improv comedians. That lesson? The rule of acceptance.

If you’ve never been to an improv comedy show, they require a lot of audience participation. The facilitator will ask the audience to throw out topic ideas, and nothing is off limits. Once a scene has been set, the actors get to work, playing off of one another with very few boundaries.

The Improv Rule of Acceptance

The first rule of an improv interaction is to always agree. The word “no” is not allowed on the improv stage. So, let’s say you and I are on the improve stage together. I start kicking around an imaginary ball, pass it to you and say, “It’s the FIFA finals, take the winning shot!” Then you look at the imaginary ball and say, “No, Beth, there isn’t anything there,” then the scene is over. However, if you look at me, excitedly and say, “She shoots and scores!” We now have a scene to act out because you agreed with me. Improv comedians keep a scene going with the “yes and” rule. They agree with the other actors on the stage and then add something to it, keeping things moving along.

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So what does this have to do with conflict resolution? The “yes and” rule can help facilitate constructive conversation and keep a potentially tense situation from escalating.

When it Comes to Conflict Resolution, Acceptance Doesn’t Have to Mean Agreement

Conflict resolution isn’t about agreement. It’s about understanding other people’s opinions and validating those opinions while working towards a solution. If you’re in conflict with a peer, and you say to that person, “Yes, but,” what is the subtext? You are really saying, “I heard what you said, but I completely disagree.” It keeps the conversation mired in a cycle of I’m-right-you-are-wrong. If, however, you say, “Yes, and,” it shifts the tone of the conversation into the positive, allowing you to express your opinion while giving the other person the freedom to express his or her opinions without fear of retaliation or belittlement.

The “yes and” method ensures that everyone’s contributions are heard and understood, and allows each person to make a contribution to the discussion. Conflict is rarely as fun as an improv comedy show, but it does not have to stymie productivity or the sharing of ideas. In fact, healthy conflict can actually improve productivity, creativity, and innovation. When you can create a culture where all opinions are valued, it promotes healthy conflict resolution.

Creating A Culture of Communication

Remember, a culture of communication starts at the top. If you expect your team to respect the opinions of others, you must demonstrate those same behaviors. Are you soliciting input from your employees on projects? Do your team members feel they can share open and constructive feedback with you? If not, start behaving the way you want your team to behave. Make time in meetings for no-judgement brainstorming sessions. Encourage your team to share their ideas with you both in a group and one-on-one. Apply the “yes, and” concept whenever you see the opportunity. When you show them that they can be honest with you and be heard without fear of repercussions, they will begin to notice how respectful they are of their peers’ opinions and ideas, as well.