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“Yes, and” is the thing most people easily think of when they think of improv principles. It’s an easy enough idea to get: When your partner gives you something, agree and then build on it. Simple but potent. We can make this principle even more powerful when we dig a bit deeper and embrace what it really means. Acceptance.

There’s a difference between agreeing and accepting. Agreement is about having the same perspective as our teammates. In an organizational setting, this is often talked about as ‘being aligned.’ This is a great place to be, but it’s not the same thing as accepting. Accepting is deeper. It’s about understanding, acknowledging, and working with people where they are regardless of whether we agree. It means accepting what our teammates bring to the table – their perspective, experience, etc. – is true for them. We can accept where our teammates are without having to be aligned with their perspective. But, accepting is where real momentum comes from.

In improv, we accept the reality our teammates bring to the stage. This is how building something out of nothing starts. The counter to this is denying their reality, and its how scenes get stagnant fast! For example, if my teammate starts a scene with “Well doctor, I’m feeling much better since you prescribed that medication” and I reply “I’m not a doctor, I’m a pilot” now we have to deal with that. Why does my teammate think I’m a doctor? Why is a pilot in a patient’s room? Etc. It stops the momentum of the scene, and its how conflict starts. Much like in the workplace, too much conflict in improv is not a good thing.


Depending on the study you look at, anywhere from 65-89% of employees experience some form of workplace conflict and is a leading cause of burnout. Interestingly, almost half (49%) of conflict is a result of clashing personalities and warring egos. What this says to me is that we shouldn’t expect people to agree when we all bring so many different experiences and perspectives to the table. Conflict is bound to happen as organizations increasingly bring in diverse people, perspectives and experiences. Instead, we can harness those differences.  It starts with accepting where people are coming from – accepting what is what is true for them – without necessarily having to agree with it ourselves. From there, we build!

Improv LABS: Accept the Gift
There’s a mindset in improv: Everything we do has the potential to be a gift to our teammates. This also means everything our teammates do has the potential to be a gift. Even mistakes! In fact, often it’s mistakes that make the best gifts because they’re the unexpected. When we trust and support each other, mistakes are golden!

Think about what this would mean if teams in the workplace had this mindset! Creativity and collaboration would skyrocket! Trust would build! Who knows what else!

So, here’s the exercise: World’s Worst Gift.
If you’re game to play a game, give this a try with your team. In turn, have each team member make up and pantomime giving another teammate a terrible present. A piano with no keys. A pile of trash. Etc. The receiver accepts this gift enthusiastically and provides a reason why they love the gift so much. Go around until everyone’s given and everyone’s received a gift.

  • Notice what it’s like as the gift-giver to receive unconditional acceptance for a terrible gift. How often do we get that in our lives – even when we’re offering something that we feel is great?

  • As the gift receiver, notice what it’s like to find what’s great about the terrible gift. What are we discovering about our ability to turn poo into gold?


If you’re not game to play this so overtly, we can play it alone, too. Next time we’re in a meeting, work session, etc. we can come in with the mindset of finding and accepting gifts. During the course of the meeting / session, we can look for what’s great about ideas, suggestions, comments, etc. even if (and maybe especially when) we don’t agree. Same questions apply here: What did we notice when we accepted what our teammates brought to the table? How did this affect how we feel about our teammates?

Give it a try!

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