Is it Possible for Leaders to Over Use “Yes, AND”?


I am just going to come out and say it. I have a hypothesis that the excellent leadership tool “The Yes, yes-andAND” approach that is utilized effectively by many leaders around the world may be overused.

The “Yes, AND” approach is a mindset.  Most business professionals working in today’s volatile business ecosystem are just trying to survive the hour, day, week, and if we are lucky, the month.  Because of the intense pressure we are all under, our first reaction is to hear something and immediately say no and decide what is wrong with it as we intuitively start to formulate our rebuttal.  The premise of the “Yes, AND” approach is to suspend the negativity and really hear and listen to the words instead of saying “No,” “Well,” “But,” or “I don’t know,” and say, “Yes, AND.

For example, here is a conversation from one of our Business Leadership business simulations, the Fundamentals of Business Leadership:

Theo: “Hey Ellen, would you like to set a meeting for Friday to review the Nectarine8000 project?”

Ellen: “I would like to, BUT, I’m not prepared to do it Friday. I’m really too busy right now. Maybe we can look at the calendar for the following week.”

In the “Yes, and” mindset, the conversation would look like this:

Theo: “Hey Ellen, would you like to set a meeting for Friday to review the Nectarine8000 project?”

Ellen: “I would like that, AND I think we should invite Karen and Harold as their insights will be very helpful. Let’s do it next week when I have some time.

Sounds easy, right?  Yes, AND there are subtleties that good leaders must learn to use it effectively.  While the “yes, AND” can be a very productive leadership tool it can also be misunderstood and in my opinion overused.  Unfortunately, many people think “yes, AND” means you always must agree with everything, go along with what everyone else wants, and avoid conflict at all cost.  Following that mindset is wrong and can be a huge leadership mistake.  The power of “yes, AND” is that it allows for agreement and collaborative which are two very important traits today’s leaders must have when dealing with the realities of leading in this business environment.

Agreement Leadership Skills for Success – When to use “Yes”

Great leaders understand that saying yes isn’t always agreeing with another person.  This is the issue I find most people in business don’t really understand.  What I’ve observed is that one of two things will happen; either they are total “Negative Nellies” and say “NO” to anything and everything, or the think they are supposed agree with everything that's happening in a conversation or situation, or that they have to say yes to every idea.

While there are merits to having a "yes" mentality, if you end up saying yes to everything, you end up with a waste of valuable energy and an overall lack of focus.

In our simulation when it’s time to coach Ellen after she’s had some direct conflicts, we simulate a situation where another employee (Theo) is very upset and asking for something that just isn't possible — the removal of Ellen from the team. The key to keeping the situation from being confrontational is to actively listen to that person and affirm his or her feelings. Say the conversation starts with an employee saying, "I don’t ever want to work with Ellen again," and that isn’t possible because Ellen is a significant contributor to profit. If you say, "We can't do that," Theo feels shut down, angry, and most likely unappreciated. Not the best communication situation.

Collaboration Leadership Skills – The Yes, AND

Today’s leaders are responsible for many things including creating a culture of innovation.  The “Yes, AND” approach can be used in brainstorming sessions that generate new ideas.  Instead of having a series of stand-alone ideas, “yes, AND” can lead to collaborative ideas within groups.  Here’s another example from our Business Leadership simulation:

Karen: I have an idea for a great upgrade to the customer’s product

Theo: Yes, AND, that upgrade will increase energy efficiency

Harold: Yes, AND those energy efficiencies will save the customer’s customers a significant amount of money

Brenda: Yes, AND if the customer’s customers save money, they will want to do even more work with us

And so on. While this example is basic in order to express the concept and for leaders to learn from, the idea can be applied to any meeting or brainstorming session.  It guarantees people will listen to one another and add additional information.

But when is it too much? When will using “Yes, AND” become not effective?  I have a few thoughts:

If you use it in every conversation

There are people who have become addicted to “Yes, AND” and they literally can’t help themselves. It actually can become annoying and worse yet you don’t know what the other person is really thinking. It’s okay to say no once in a while to be authentic.

When it’s bad for business

A certain amount of business acumen must be included with the Yes, AND mindset. “Hey, can I increase my budget to be more innovative?”  “Yes, AND lets add another 50% to really be super innovative” could get you fired!

When you stop becoming analytical

If you are too deeply absorbed in the “Yes, AND” mindset you can become too positive and forget about deep analytics that provide balanced thought and a balanced approach to risk that could lead to a logical no.


Robert Brodo

About The Author

Robert Brodo is co-founder of Advantexe. He has more than 20 years of training and business simulation experience.