SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.
Displaying empathy to a customer during a telephone call.
Create your own game to train participants on any conversational skill.
Examining assumptions and principles.
An Interview with Dave Piltz
An OD specialist talks about games.
Game Time Decision
Decision making and critical thinking.
Reading More with Les
Saving Trainers' Time by Les Lauber
Two books that support trainers.
Taking a Stand on Meetings by Brian Remer
An important insight in exactly 99 words.
Thiagi's Workshop in Switzerland
See you in Switzerland!
Thiagi's Latest Card Game Kit Is Now Available
Games on human performance improvement, communication, teamwork, leadership, and diversity.
The Playhouse Platform
The Power of Yes, And … by Kat Koppett
How to accept offers.
Speech Tag by Kat Koppett
Tell a story, tagging each other.
SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.
Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan
Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan
Associate Editor: Jean Reese
Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, and <type your name here>
The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2007 by The Thiagi Group. However, they may be freely reproduced for educational/training activities. There is no need to obtain special permission for such use as long as you do not reproduce more than 100 copies per year. Please include the following statement on all reproductions:
Reprinted from THIAGI GAMELETTER. Copyright © 2007 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.
For any other use of the content, please contact us (email@example.com) for permission.
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Thiagi believes in practicing what he preaches. This is an interactive newsletter, so interact already! Send us your feedback, sarcastic remarks, and gratuitous advice through email to firstname.lastname@example.org . Thanks!
For the past few months, I have been working with a friend on training employees to more effectively and enthusiastically display empathy during customer calls. The February issue contains two games (Concern and Concern for Customers) related to this training objective. Here's another game in this series.
Different teams produce audiotape recordings of simulated telephone conversations between a customer and a Customer Representative. These recordings incorporate key behaviors associated with the display of empathy by the employee. One of the teams does not produce a recording but evaluates other teams' recordings.
Customer service. Telephone conversations. Empathy. Roleplay. Drama. Audio game.
To display concern and empathy during customer service conversations on the telephone.
Best: 16 to 30
(Participants are divided into 3 to 6 teams, each with 2-7 members.)
45 to 90 minutes.
One copy of Empathy Checklist for each participant.
One audiotape recorder (or other kind of audio recorder) for each team.
Tables and chairs for each team.
Brief the participants. Explain that you are going to explore techniques for displaying empathy toward customers during telephone conversations. Distribute copies of the Empathy Checklist. Walk participants through the items on the checklist, briefly discussing appropriate behaviors associated with each item. Encourage participants to ask questions. Give brief responses.
Form Teams. Divide participants into 3 to 5 teams, each with 3 to 7 members. Seat each team around a convenient table with an audiotape recorder.
Explain the production task. Explain that each team is to produce a 3-minute long audio recording of a simulated conversation between a customer and an employee. The challenge for each team is to incorporate at least five important items from the Empathy Checklist in this recorded conversation. Announce a 15-minute preparation time.
Explain the evaluation task. The simulated conversation recorded by each team will be evaluated along three dimensions:
Randomly select one of the teams. Explain that instead of producing a simulated conversation, this team will play the role of evaluators. Ask the team to come up with a rating scale for comparing and evaluating different simulated conversations along the three dimensions that you identified.
Coordinate production activities. Announce the start of the 15-minute production time. Start the timer. Let teams work on their own. Give a 5-minute warning at the end of 10 minutes. Blow a whistle at the end of 15 minutes to signal the end of the production time.
Play the recorded conversations. Randomly select one of the teams and play its recorded conversation. If necessary, use a microphone to make sure that everyone can hear the recording. Encourage the members of the evaluation team to listen carefully and take notes. Stop the replay at the end of exactly 3 minutes. Ask each member of the evaluation team to independently score the audio recording.
Invite the next team to play its recorded conversation. Repeat this procedure until all teams have replayed their recorded conversations.
Ask evaluators to announce their ratings. After the replay of the last recording, ask the evaluation team to discuss their individual ratings and identify the best recording. Invite this team to briefly explain their rating procedure and to give evaluative feedback for each recorded conversation. Finally, ask the team to identify the best recorded conversation.
Present your comments. Congratulate the winning team. Give your feedback, focusing on how clearly each team emphasized key behaviors from the checklist.
Conduct a debriefing discussion. Ask questions similar to those listed below. Encourage participants to respond to each question and discuss alternative responses.
If you have limited time, reduce the number of teams to three (and increase the number of participants in each team). Produce and replay two recorded conversations.
If you have too many participants, ask several teams to produce the conversations but randomly select two teams to replay their productions. Ask members of all other teams to vote for the best production.
|1. Brief the participants. (8 minutes)||Distribute the Empathy Checklist. Briefly demonstrate and discuss different items.||Listen, take notes, and ask questions.|
|2. Form teams. (3 minutes)||Divide the group into 3 - 6 teams, each with 2 to 7 members.||Join a team. Introduce yourself to the fellow team members.|
|3. Explain the production task. (3 minutes)||Explain the task of creating and recording a customer conversation that displays a high level of empathy. Announce the time limit.||Listen and ask questions.|
|4. Explain the evaluation task (2 minutes)||Randomly select one team to be the evaluators. Explain the evaluation task.||Listen and ask questions.|
|5. Coordinate production activities. (17 minutes)||Announce time limit, give instructions, and start the timer.||Evaluation team: Construct a rating
scale for evaluating the recorded conversations.
Other teams: Produce a recorded conversation to demonstrate key behaviors from the Empathy Checklist.
|6. Play back the conversations. (5 minutes per team)||Play back the recorded conversations, one team at a time.||Evaluation team: Evaluate each
recorded conversation, working individually.
Other teams: Listen to different recorded conversations.
|7. Ask evaluators to report. (3 minutes)||Give instructions.||Evaluation team: Present evaluative feedback and identify the winning recording.|
|8. Present your comments (3 minutes)||Congratulate the winning team. Give your feedback.||Listen.|
|9. Debrief participants. (7 minutes)||Ask reflective questions and encourage participants to discuss them.||Participate in the discussion.|
Did you read the description of the Empathy game above? Did you play this game with a group of participants? Are you ready to leverage your mastery of the game to create your own training games?
Here's the “plot” of Empathy: Distribute copies of a checklist and walk participants through the items. Ask participants to conduct a roleplay that highlights key behaviors from the checklist and produce an audiotape recording of the roleplay. Have a team evaluate different recorded roleplays and comment on them. Add your own comments and conduct a debriefing discussion.
For additional details of flow of this game, check out the game plan or read the complete description.
As you probably figured out, you can use the structure of Empathy as a template for creating other training games that deal with different conversational skills. We call the generic game (the framegame) Recordings.
Recently we conducted a brainstorming session to identify possible training topics that can be plugged into the Recordings template. Here's the list we generated:
The first step in designing your own Recordings game is to create a checklist of appropriate behaviors related to the interactive skills. You can do this by observing and interviewing experts and by analyzing recommendations from different books. Once you have constructed the checklist and validated it, the creation of the training game is just a plug-and-play activity. But remember that your game is going to be only as good as your checklist.
Instead of making an audio recording, sometimes it may be a more effective strategy to make a video recording. For example, a video is better when you want to emphasize body language or show two people brainstorming at a flipchart.
Save the recordings that are produced by participants. They are valuable samples for explaining the checklist items and what you want the teams to produce. Use the recordings produced by this group of participants for briefing the next group.
Try your hand at creating your own Recordings game. Send a copy of the checklist and your version of the game and we will share it with TGL readers. Of course, we will publicize your name and you can retain the copyright of your checklist.
Here's an interesting game that produces humorous results. Hidden behind the humor, however, is subtle provocation that forces participants to think deeply to justify some of the basic principles and assumptions related to the training topic.
Participants write “Why?” questions related to the training topic. Then each participant writes a response to someone else's “Why?” questions. The questions and answers get mixed up, producing incongruous results.
Leadership. Paper-and-pencil games. “Why?” questions. Principles. Assumptions.
To recall principles and assumptions related to leadership.
Maximum: Any number
Best: 10 to 20
7 to 15 minutes
Write a question. Distribute an index card to each participant and ask her to write a question on one side of the card. The question must begin with the word “Why” and should be related to the training topic.
Recently we conducted the Why game on the topic of Leadership. Here are four questions written by the four players:
Anne: Why are charismatic leaders incapable of producing sustained results?
Bob: Why do most people prefer autocratic command-and-control leaders?
Christy: Why do some leaders get assassinated?
Dave: Why do people make a big issue of differentiating between managers and leaders?
Exchange questions. After a suitable pause, ask each player to pass the question to the player on the left. Also ask each player to read the question given to her and think of a suitable answer that begins with the word “Because”. Warn the players not to say or write the answer.
In our sample game, Bob got Anne's question, Christy got Bob's question, Dave got Christy's question, and Anne got Dave's question. They read and reflected on the question and mentally worked out an answer.
Write the answer on the back of another question card. After a suitable pause, ask each player to turn over the question card so the written side is facing down. Ask players to pass the question card (with its blank side up) to the person on the left. Warn participants not to turn over the card they receive to see the new question. Instead, ask them to write the answer (that they thought of during the previous round) on the blank side of the card.
Read and laugh. Ask participants to pass the card to the person on the left. Each participant now has a card that contains a question on one side and an answer on the other. The question and the answer are related to each other—and that is what makes them amusing. Ask participants to read the question and the answer and laugh at the incongruous combination. Invite participants to share the most humorous combinations to the other seated nearby.
Christy's question-and-answer combination was rated as the most humorous combination:
Question: Why do some leaders get assassinated?
Answer: Because they are great at motivating and inspiring people, but not good at paying attention to details and implementing their ideas.
If you are curious about how the other questions and answers turned out, here they are:
Anne's question: Why are charismatic leaders incapable of
producing sustained results?
Answer: Because when leaders gather a lot of followers, they also collect a lot of enemies. In the process, some leaders polarize people. Sometimes their enemies become so jealous and enraged that they murder popular leaders.
Bob's question: Why do most people prefer autocratic
Answer: Because they think that it is cool to be a leader and boring to be a manager.
Dave's question: Why do people make a big issue of
differentiating between managers and leaders?
Answer: Because most people are too lazy to think for themselves and to make decisions. They prefer to have someone to tell them what to do, what to think, and what to believe.
For extra credit, see if you can match each question with its answer.
|1. Write questions. (2 minutes)||Give instructions.||Write a question that begins with “Why”.|
|2. Exchange questions. (1 minute)||Give instructions.||Give your question card to the person on your left. Read the question on the card from the person on your right. Think of a suitable answer but do not say or write this answer.|
|3. Write answers. (2 minutes)||Give instructions.||Turn the question card over and pass it to the person on your left. Write the answer (to the previous answer) on the blank side of the card you received.|
|4. Read questions and answers. (2 minutes)||Give instructions.||Pass the card to the person on your left. Read the question and answer on the two sides of the card you received. Share with others if the combination is humorous.|
This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. Our guest this month, Dave Piltz, considers himself a generalist in the field of OD, specializing in how groups interact. He began his professional life by facilitating high and low ropes courses and has always used an experiential approach to learning. Dave has been a Director of Residence Life, graphic illustrator, a trainer, and a consultant. His undergraduate degree is in aerospace engineering and he now spends his working days helping others be the most effective they can. As a jack of all trades, Dave finds an increasing use of games in his career. He is currently the Director of Training Services and StrataKey Division of The Learning Key® where he produces training games and other products.
TGL: Dave, what is your specialty area?
Dave: I don't have one per se, but I would argue group dynamics is an area I seem to be naturally intuitive about. I am fascinated by people; I love to watch people and see what they do. I am always amazed at how one group of people can be highly successful at an activity while another group flounders with the same activity. I see this in both adult and youth groups that I work with.
TGL: How did you get into designing and using games?
Dave: Using games comes naturally for me as I am one of those learners who can only learn if they are doing something. I spent a good portion of my college career asleep at desks because the lectures drained me. I couldn't learn that way, but when I had to solve a problem with others, learning happened for me. This formed the basis of my underlying training principle: when participants are doing something, they are learning.
I now have a job where designing games has become more intense. What I love the most about the job is that I can take my 14 years of training and work experience from a variety of fields and apply them to the development of training games and books. I am currently finishing a practitioner's guide to facilitating debrief sessions and will begin creating a book on various games that I have devised over the years.
TGL: How long have you been designing and using games?
Dave: I've been using some type of experiential approach throughout my entire training career. I have only recently begun designing games that I feel confident about. After attending the NASAGA 2005 conference where I participated in the game design certificate workshop, my confidence grew. Before that experience I was known for modifying and tweaking existing games, but never for creating my own designs. After interacting with Thiagi and his crew, I felt convinced that my career path must have something to do with creating games. So, here I am doing exactly that.
TGL: Where do you use games?
Dave: In all my training sessions—ranging from 60 minute sessions to all-day sessions. For me the use of games allows a trainer to explore the content in a dynamic fashion.
TGL: How do your clients respond?
Dave: Very positively for the most part. Sometimes I get a client who tells me why interactive techniques wouldn't work with a particular group of clients. During those encounters, I realize that the client's experiences with games are probably limited to the touchy-feely ice-breakers. I break down this type of resistance by playing a short game (such as a modified version of Envelopes, Hello, or Thirty-Five) to prove the point that the purpose of a training game is learning.
TGL: How do your participants respond?
Dave: I have worked with academia, industry, youth groups, managers, executives, administrative staff, professional staff, and technical staff. With all these different types of audience, I get the same three types of responses:
My hope is that those who love it far outnumber the other two groups. But of course in the field of training and development there are so many other factors that cause participants to react, like fear of sharing, fear of expressing thoughts, trust issues, and decision making issues. So I don't really worry about the reactions as long as I see that the game is helping everyone learn.
TGL: What is the most horrible or embarrassing moment you've had in conducting games?
Dave: Actually my horror story wasn't in conducting a game, as I never got that far. I was working with a group of over 50 individuals from two different organizations that had just merged. The client was from the smaller of the two organizations and they did not know the other group's issues. I didn't realize this discrepancy until I was ready to begin training with an intern (who was conducting a part of the training for the first time ever.) As I was setting the stage to talk about perceptions and values, I began describing paradigms. It touched a hot button for the group that no matter what I said, the group felt offended. This resulted in the leader of the group jumping to his feet and telling me off. All of this happened in about 15 minutes at the beginning of the session. This was a powerful learning experience. It made me realize that everyone has a valid viewpoint and it takes skill to handle these diverse points of view.
TGL: What advice do you have for newcomers?
Dave: To learn how to design training games, attend a NASAGA conference. Also remember that a training game is a tool—and not the end all and be all. So design them for the tool function, and always remember that what you design initially may change each time you conduct the game. Don't design a training game with the rigidity of chess.
In learning how to conduct games, once again, remind yourself that a game is a tool to help learning. Don't fall into the trap of using a game for the sake of making the training session active (because of the importance of active learning for adults). Without a training purpose, games do not work. Use a game to illustrate the content either before or after presenting relevant information. Better yet, use a game to present new information.
To get acceptance for the use of training games, promote them as tools. Also, be prepared to showcase a learning activity in a meeting to illustrate the value to your customer.
TGL: What do you think is the most important characteristic of a facilitator, a participant, and a training game?
Dave: An effective facilitator realizes it's not about them but about the group. For me, activities never fail, facilitators fail to facilitate activities. Effective facilitators can debrief any situation for learning.
An effective instructional game must be based on measurable learning objectives.
A receptive participant has the zest to learn and realize learning is a process!
TGL: What is one thing that you hate the most in a facilitator, a participant, and a training game?
Dave: I do not like facilitators who claim that they are flexible and move with the group, but what they really do is move from their perspective and not the group's perspective.
I do not like participants who resist the learning process and the process of self-awareness.
I do not like poorly-designed games that are created for the sake of activity and not for the sake of learning.
TGL: What types of games do you use most frequently?
Dave: I use them all. For me, it's not about the type of game but about the best way to illustrate the content. Sometimes it's a simulation, sometimes a board game, sometimes a game show, sometimes a traditional ropes course. It just depends on the activity.
TGL: What is your most favorite game?
Dave: Les Lauber and others at NASAGA 2005 introduced me to Guillotine and Fluxx. I love those games. For training purposes, any game by Thiagi has worked effectively for me.
TGL: Do you have any book recommendations?
Dave: For game design, I recommend Thiagi's Design Your Own Games and Activities. For facilitation, I would recommend my book (of course) that will be published through The Learning Key® soon. Since I have an interest in how groups work, I love Beatrice Schultz's book Communicating in a Small Group: Theory and Practice.
TGL: What is your prediction about the future of games?
Dave: I'm not sure but here is what I do know: Games that illustrate learning points are here to stay. Since many trainers and facilitators cannot let go of their ego and let the group learn by doing, there will always be competition between training games and traditional methods. When you look at behavior changes, you see that doing helps improve performance. So trainers, facilitators, and consultants who use games will continue to have an advantage over those who do not.
To explore components of decision-making and critical thinking.
1 hour (30 minutes for the activity and 30 minutes for debriefing)
8-30 (Divide participants into two to five teams, each with four to six members.)
Explain that each team is to create a word or phrase that is associated with decision-making. Give some examples (such as collecting information or generating ideas). Give each team a set of several letters (including duplicate copies of letters) for creating the word or phrase.
Give each team 300 dollars in play money. Explain that teams can use their money (100 dollars at a time) to ask for guidance from the facilitator at any time during the two rounds of the game. Once the money is used the team may not ask any more questions.
Start Round 1 by asking each team to decide which letters they want to use in creating the word related to decision-making. Announce a 5-minute time limit for making the decision. If any team asks a question, collect $100 from the team and give the answer.
Continue Round 1 by asking the teams to use the letters they selected to create the word. Announce a 10 minute time limit for completing the activity.
Whenever a team finishes the task, record the time and check out the words or phrase. When all teams have completed their task, ask each team to decide how they will improve their time in the next round of playing the same game, creating a word or phrase associated with a different topic. Announce a 3-minute time limit for this activity.
Start Round 2 by selecting a different topic (such as problem solving or team building). As before give each team a set of letters. Conduct the activity using the same procedure.
Record times whenever each team completes the task. Announce two winning teams: the one with the best time and one with the most improved time.
Develop questions related to the decision-making process. Use them to conduct a discussion among the participants. Here are some suggested questions:
My friend Les Lauber is one of the most voracious readers I know. I have blackmailed him into reviewing a couple of useful books every month.
Click the book covers to order them through Amazon. (We receive a small commission if you do this.)
Most of my reviews so far have been on books that give ideas on how to make training interactive. This month's books still support activity—but your activity, not that of your trainees.
One of the things I really appreciate about Gary Kroehnert's Taming Time, or How Do You Eat an Elephant? is that you write in it. Lots. It starts on page 9, where you write down what you hope to do as a result of what you learn from his book. By answering his well-constructed, thought-provoking questions in writing, you think critically about how you manage your time—and find ways to improve. This book is not theory and advice. Each page is filled with ideas that are most relevant to you, and ideas for applying them to your life.
Kroehnert successfully balances work and non-work time management, leading you through planning and prioritizing, using planning calendars effectively, and battling six time-wasters (phone calls, meetings, procrastination, delegation, office organization, and visitors). The 50-tip summary starting on page 171 is an especially helpful part of the book.
You should know that Kroehnert's examples use the Day-Timer® system. However, the techniques he demonstrates using Day-Timer® will transfer easily to any portable calendar system (but probably not to the newer personal digital assistants). Overall, this book is well worth the investment—if you use it.
I discovered Jean Barbazette's book in early 2004 while doing research on the topic of job aids. I wasn't looking for job aids for myself, but I was delighted to find this gem. Inside this book, 227 pages of job aids are divided into 15 chapters and 3 appendices. Barbazette's motto seems to be “common sense, no nonsense.” Some 83 templates give the trainer and (maybe more importantly, the trainer's support staff) ready access to the key issues they encounter in their work.
Topics covered in the book include developing support for training, assessing training needs, hiring consultants, administering training, running a web site for training, budgeting, and so on. None are surprising, but all are encountered by most training units every quarter if not every month or week. Barbazette has managed to collect all the core procedures that training units do. Each of the training functions I have been involved with has managed to reinvent these activities multiple times. Well, no more! With this book in hand, in just a few months, I have saved myself (and my support team) several dozen hours by using the templates.
I regret I didn't think of this myself. Sincerely, I do. And, I also regret that both of the books are out-of-print (though available at various used-book sellers). I have one more regret: I didn't find these books immediately after they were published. I can only imagine the time I could have saved in managing my training projects until now.
Brian Remer is Creative Learning Director at The Firefly Group ( email@example.com ). In addition to writing 99 powerful words every month for this column, Brian invents games and interactive strategies to expand learning and deepen insights.
In some organizations, no one is allowed to sit during meetings. The idea is that if we have to stand, we'll finish the meeting and get back to business. Problem is, this assumes a limited use for meetings: giving orders or reporting. Both could be accomplished as easily in an email!
If the meeting is to analyze, create, learn, solve, celebrate, then make a place for conversation. Spread the table with linens, flowers, coffee, and snacks and have a meaningful conversation.
Shape the environment to your needs. Don't force people into your well-oiled machine.
Thiagi invites all TGL readers to attend his 3-day workshop on designing and conducting training games and simulations, along with a one-day workshop that he will co-conduct with his Swiss colleague Sam (on Managing Diversity and Inclusion in High Performance Teams).
Please consider joining us at this workshop.
Location: Winterthur, Switzerland. Fly to Zurich from anywhere in the world. Take a 15-minute train ride (or a taxi) to Winterthur.
For more information, please see the announcement in the December 2006 issue of TGL.
ASTD Press has recently published Card Games by Thiagi, a kit that offers 30 creative and innovative card games for training professionals to engage and support learners. Each game is designed to encourage creativity through the use of open-ended questions and assignment of unpredictable tasks. They are designed to facilitate learning in five popular training content areas:
Human Performance Improvement: The HPI dimension focuses on the move beyond training to performance consulting using a variety of tools and techniques designed to improve human performance.
Communication: The communication area covers the sharing of information between sender and receiver, as well as how corporate communication serves a variety of purposes beyond informing.
Teamwork: The teamwork section develops how groups of people work together in an interdependent fashion to achieve a common goal.
Leadership: The leadership content focuses on how the corporate leader is able to influence, motivate and enable others to achieve the goals of the organization, and how the different approaches to leadership work effectively in different contexts.
Diversity: The diversity area concentrates on how corporate employees are increasingly different from one another in areas such as national origin, culture, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion and physical abilities, and how retaining diversity in organizations results in creativity and broader appeal of products.
The game kit includes a deck of 60 special cards, an electronic timer, a CD-ROM with printable copies of all handouts for all the games, and a 112-page User's Guide.
Card Games by Thiagi includes activities to strengthen learners' recall, logic, visual thinking, mastery of key concepts, communication, and effectiveness in unexpected situations. Open-ended questions and tasks help training professionals keep the games lively and unpredictable for learners. The object of the games is to “win” a complete set of all card types.
Order your Card Games kit today!
Card Games by Thiagi is priced at $49.95 (plus $8.50 for shipping in the USA). You can order your copy by visiting our secure online store. Alternatively, you can phone in your order at (812) 332-1478.
In our introductory column, we suggested that improvisers, as experts in collaborative creativity, have lots of philosophies and techniques to share. Here's the thing: really all of them can be boiled down to one fundamental guiding principle: “Yes, and…”
In improv, ideas and actions—words, physical actions, character attributions, musical accompaniments, lines of dialogue—are called “offers”. Anything your partner does or says is an offer. “Yes, and” is the improviser's shorthand way of saying I see, hear, receive your offers, and I will use them, build with them and offer something back in response.
The idea of saying “yes, and” may not be new to you. On one level, the tool of “Yes, and…” has been embraced by a number of organizations looking for ways to enhance creativity and teamwork. “Yes, and” is introduced in the context of accepting ideas, rather than criticizing them or shutting them down. It is applied in two ways:
Brainstorming. Most organizations these days understand the value of separating the process of idea-generation from idea-evaluation. We habitually reject good ideas simply because they are surprising or seem like a lot of work or someone else had them first. We say “no” or “yes, but…”Being positive, and exercising our saying yes “muscles” can increase our creative output and “out-of-the-box” (to use the very “in-the-box” phrase) thinking.
Creating a positive and supportive environment. As teamwork has become increasingly valued in organizations, people recognize that accepting and building on others' suggestions encourages participation, involvement and collaboration.
Let's look at the value of these applications. You will notice that the important focus is the “yes” not the “and”. Ironically, it is that part that is harder for most of us. Coming up with ideas is not the problem. For most of us, our “No” muscles are extremely well-developed and reflexive. We “block” or say no to ideas all the time. Although in theory saying “Yes” makes sense, “No” often muscles out “Yes” for the following reasons:
The downside of all this “blocking” on morale is easy to see. When their ideas are constantly rejected, team members become sullen, demotivated and uninspired very quickly. If this leads to fewer offers in the future, you can bet that you're not maximizing the productivity, creativity, and innovation potential in your business.
There are objections to these applications, as well, though. Some feel that “yes, and” can become as much of a tyranny as “yes, but”, that it can restrict debate and critical thinking and lead to group-think or conflict aversion, resulting in the same kind of shutting down of creativity and true collaboration as saying “no.”
Perhaps you will be surprised to hear that we agree with those (Thiagi among them, by the way) who voice those objections. But in fact, these applications of “yes, and”, though valuable, are not the whole. “Yes, anding” is much more than accepting the ideas of others without initial evaluation. And it is much richer and more complex than simply “being positive.”
First of all, ideas are only one limited kind of offer. Again, in improv, an offer is ANYTHING. Anything that your scene partner says or does, anything in the environment, anything. And in improv it is very clear that the offers in the present are all you have. There is no reality other than the one that is being created in the moment. So, looking for something better or different simply stalls the action and “kills the scene.” Similarly (although not always as obviously) in life, offers are offers. They simply exist. And we ignore them at our own peril.
For example, if a manager gives feedback to her direct report and it is received with a roll of the eyes and crossed arms those gestures are offers. It does not matter if we LIKE the offers that are being made or even if we AGREE with them. They exist, and so as improvisers do, we are well advised to accept them—to figure out what they mean and to respond to—build with—them as best we can. Again, that does not mean agreeing in some knee-jerk, Pollyanna fashion. It means really seeing and acknowledging what is. As my colleagues at Performance of a Lifetime, a New York-based executive education organization say, our obligation, if we wish to successfully interact, is to ask “how” we will accept the offers that are made, not “if” we will accept them.
Actually, there are three, not simply two, skills inherent in effective “yes-anding”. In addition to the accepting and building skills, we must first SEE offers:
An improviser enters the scene. She calls out, “Honey, I'm home.” We have said that it is an improviser's obligation, then, to accept those offers. Before he can, though, he must recognize them. What are the offers that have been made?
In order to be an effective improviser, one must learn to see and hear all these offers. In life—work or otherwise—the more offers we can be aware of, the more likely we are to effectively communicate, solve problems efficiently and build relationships with others.
Then, and only then, comes the “yes” part. And only after that the “and”. Below you will find an activity designed to enhance your ability to receive offers. We believe this skill is the superpower—of the improviser, the manager, the leader, the trainer and the coach. We hope you accept the offer.
In groups of three or four, participants tell a story, tagging each other when they want to take over the narrative.
3-5 minutes per group
3-5 per group
Ask for three to five volunteers.
Have one person stand in front with the others behind them in a horseshoe.
Give the group a suggestion of something to talk about—a story title, a character or product name, a technical process.
Have the person in front begin to talk. After a bit, have the second person tag them out (tap them on the shoulder) and continue the story exactly where the first person left off.
Have the other participants randomly tag in and continue the story until it is finished, all the participants tagging in when they feel they want to, or their partner needs to be relieved.
Continue till the story is done.
Have the players take over in order.
Have each player tag in only once, ending the story with the last player.
Have the players speak in rhyme.
Have the players tell the story as a monologue, taking on the same character body and voice. (This version is especially good for non-verbal behavior discussions.)
Instruct the players when to switch, calling out their names or pointing to them.
Coach the players to tag in, even if they do not know what they are going to say, especially if their partner looks like he needs help.
Coach the players to increase the speed with which they tag in.
Coach the players to start speaking exactly where their partner left off.
What was it like to concentrate in this way?
What was difficult? What was enjoyable?
What kind of offers were there to accept?
How did you decide what to add?
What were you thinking about while you were not speaking?
How do you feel about what you created as a group?