In college, in my circle of friends, there was a guy I referred to as “yeah, but” man. You would start to say something, no matter what, and would he would immediately jump in and say “yeah, but…” somehow disagreeing with your statement, opinion, thought, etc. And it could be about anything. And it was one of the most infuriating habits I’ve encountered. He had trouble making and keeping friends, and he never knew why.
A few years ago, a friend and I were having a discussion and he mentioned how the Mormon Church used to not allow caffeine and then in the 80’s, they invested in Coca-Cola and shortly thereafter changed their policy on caffeine. I called bullshit and told him it was an urban legend. (Recently, the Mormon Church clarified their stance on caffeine and sodas, and it seems that the ban only refers to “hot drinks.”
My buddy didn’t take it well. He argued fiercely about it. This was pre-smart phones, so we couldn’t just Google it. The next day we met up to go surfing. He got in the car and launched into a treatise about how he researched it online after we talked and it wasn’t entirely clear… I was surprised he had given it a second thought, but now he was getting worked up about it and I could sense some tension. All because I had disagreed with him.
We have a strong desire to be right. We correct people, we argue with people, and fight for our opinion. But at the core of it, is this desire to be correct, to be validated, to give our ego a little pat. Who gives a rat’s ass about being right? Unless, someone’s raving about Hilter being misrepresented in history or some other offensive thought, just leave it alone. Better yet, agree with them. If you try to correct or argue with them, at a minimum you’ll go on talking about longer than the subject matters or care to. Agree, nod, and move on.
In James Altrucher’s book, Choose Yourself (a phenomenal and highly recommended read), he talks about giving up opinions. Take an opinion he has. They don’t matter, he’s not going to convince you otherwise of your opinion. People change their opinions all the time, but if you try to fight for yours or argue your side, you’ll just further cement the other person’s opinion about it.
My friend’s probably never thought about the Mormon’s Church stance on caffeine. I certainly haven’t and never cared about it in the first place, but we got into an argument about it. Who really cares?
In improv, there’s the “Yes, and” principal, which is the exact opposite of my friend, “yeah, but” guy. The improv principal is about building on a thought, collaborating, moving forward, and focusing on the now. It’s a core principal of improv. It’s never talked about in business (well, I Google and this author wrote a good post on using improv principals in business) or life. Why not just use that principal in life? Stop disagreeing about anything and everything. Start any sentence out in when talking with someone after they’ve finished with “yes, and…”
Here are some ways to apply it:
- Agree with everyone. Just start your next sentence with “yes, and…”
- Stop the story battle. When a you hear a story, a lot of times your tendency is to share a similar (or better) story right after. Just let your friend’s story sit and marinade. Compliment it, or ask them to go deeper. By telling your story right afterwards, you’re wanting to shift the attention back to you and in a way you’re invalidating your friend’s story (i.e. subtly you’re saying yours is better).
- Just listen. Another core principal of improv. It’s amazing what you’ll actually hear, what you’ll learn and how much better conversation will be when you’re not fighting to talk, to be heard or for attention.
- Don’t interrupt or finish someone’s thought or sentence. This is a thought hijacking. Usually when you finish someone’s thought, you want them to finish. Let them finish on their own.
The last of these came out of this book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, a remarkable little book with some amazing insights.