Last weekend I did a one hour workshop titled “SMASH” in Columbus, Ohio and we had 15 students attend. Some of the students were actors and some were from corporate America. The workshop was aimed at unleashing creativity in the workplace and on stage. Toward the end of the workshop I had the students perform an improvisational skit using the cardinal rule in improvisation- “Yes And” Technique. The “Yes And” technique is saying yes and accepting whatever your partner says to you as a means of moving the story forward.

So I paired the students up in groups of 2 (and one group of 3) and they performed their skits using the “Yes And” technique for one another. When all the groups had finished I had them go back up onstage and do their skits again but this time I told them to say “No” to their partners which goes against everything taught in improvisation.

The reason I had them say “No” was twofold: One, I was interested to see what actually would happen since I had never taught this technique before. Two, I wanted them to experience what it was like to say “no” to their partner and what it would do to the scene. Here is what I observed when saying “No” in improvisation.

First, all the scenes that said “No” were much shorter in length compared to the “Yes And” scenes. For example, one of the scenes lasted a total of 10 seconds which included two women at the amusement park wanting to ride roller coasters. The skits begins with both woman walking onto the stage and the one woman asking her friend if she wants to ride the “dragon” roller coaster? The friend says “No”, they pause, and then they walk off stage. I must admit this skit was very funny but the entire scene lasted 10 seconds.

Second, story lines and characters were not developed. As you can imagine with much shorter scenes the plot and story lines were much less developed than the first time when they used the “Yes And” technique and made statements. The average length of groups using the “Yes And” technique and making statements was between 2-3 minutes which allowed groups to come up with names for their characters, locations and a beginning, middle and end to their skits.

Third, confrontation was much more present in all the scenes that said “No”. This was the most interesting observation for me when I was watching these skits. It was interesting with each partner saying “No” to one another there was a lot more tension, anger and anxiety present in all these skits. There was one group of woman that demonstrated this clearly which include one woman acting as the boss and the second woman acting as the employee who wanted additional vacation time.

So the skit begins with the employee going up to the boss’s desk asking for the extra vacation time. The boss is at her computer and turns around and says “No” and then goes back to her computer. This sets off the actress playing the employee and she says to the boss that she deserves more time because she’s a hard worker, she has never been rewarded and really earned this extra time. The actress got so worked up that she stopped the skit due to her anger. All of us in the audience wished she had continued because it was getting very interested with the conflict developing.

Companies lose focus on the environment they create for their employees and the results can be significant: low retention rates, morale and loss of productivity. Let’s remember from the skits, a “No” culture includes short conversations, limited employee development and added confrontation. So what type of environment does your company operate in: A “Yes And” or a “No” culture?

So what type of environment does your company operate in? “Yes And” or “No” culture?

Written by: Chad J. Willett (