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Building on the Ideas of Others

Submitted by Don Waisanen & Shannon Wheatley Hartman

Improvisational comedy has developed a rule of thinking which is called “Yes, and ….” The idea is that you accept what is said and then you add to it. The “yes” confirms the other speaker while the “and” builds on the idea. This process can create an environment of collaboration rather than competition.

average rating is 5 out of 5, based on 1 votes, rating(s)
Stone cairns by the sea

Learning Goals

  • Develop the practice of listening and affirming what is heard rather than negating others.

  • Practice generous listening by identifying ideas or arguments that can be built upon.


Set Up: Prepare for the Activity

Organize participants into pairs.

Begin by introducing the learning goals of this activity.

Step One: Practice Negating Others (Yes, but…) (5 min)

Share the “yes, but…” prompt shown below with participants. Remind them to not overthink it and explain that this will be a very quick exchange of ideas.


  • Pretend that you are planning a vacation together. One person makes a suggestion and the other person responds with, “yes, but…” Continue with this process for 2 minutes.

Step Two: Practice Confirming Others (Yes, and…) (5 min)

Introduce the new prompt and invite the same pairs to practice. Prompt:

  • Try again to plan a vacation together, but this time practice saying “yes, and…” No matter what your partner says, figure out how to confirm it and build upon it. Continue this process for 2 minutes.

Step Three: Compare the Two Experiences (5 min)

As a full group, debrief the two experiences:

  • Are you excited for your vacation? How did planning this trip feel different from the previous effort?

  • How can we bring this energy and sense of fun into our more serious conversations?

Step Four: Practice Generative Discussion (20 min)

Anticipate that participants will think it is easy to build on ideas of others when nothing is at stake (i.e. it’s a hypothetical vacation). Explain how looking for small pieces of truth in more difficult discussions is key for creating a generative discussion environment.

Create a policy statement that is relevant for your group or choose one below:

  • Policy A: We need stronger regulations against disinformation.

  • Policy B: We need stronger policies to guarantee affordable housing for all residents in our community.

  • Policy C: We need to support all policies that prioritize environmental sustainability and acknowledge the urgency of climate change.

  • Policy D: We need a public policy that addresses political polarization in our communities.

In small groups (4-6 ppl), ask participants to discuss the topic while practicing the “yes, and…” technique.

Step Five: Debrief as a Full Group (5 min)

  • Does “yes, and…” mean that you have to agree? How can you use “yes, and…” to create space for constructive dissent or disagreement?

  • Share and discuss the “Yes, and…” slide.

  • How did “yes, and…” affect your listening skills? How did it impact the content, direction, and power dynamics within the discussion?





Creative Collaboration

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average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:33:05 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:31:01 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:03:34 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:02:20 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 11, 2024 at 3:55:15 AM

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January 4, 2024 at 7:22:22 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

December 12, 2023 at 11:56:40 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

Lori Britt

October 3, 2023 at 5:00:05 PM

Have done this in the past, but today a group really blew me away. I did this as a Fishbowl with 7 students taking roles. Prior to the converstaion they could seek input from a few other students about what which decision they think the person in their role would support and why. I also asked them to come up with some things that were concerns for them. This 10 minute of prep time helped my role play participants really embody and feel confident in their roles. Great discussion about what deliberation looks like in practice and about how power can impact conversations and how a facilitator can try and minimize these power imbalances. I used the scenario above and assigned these roles (I was not sure my students woul be able to consider roles that would offer different perspectives): • Facilitator (non-voting) • Mayor • High school teacher • 17-year-old high school student • Transportation planner for the region • Local business owner • Economic development office for the region (your community and the surrounding communities served by the train) • 50-year-old who lost his job last year and who has been on unemployment

average rating is 4 out of 5


September 20, 2023 at 5:18:02 AM


average rating is 5 out of 5


September 20, 2023 at 5:17:25 AM

very good

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