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In Place of Strife

The Mediation Chambers

From - 'Yes, but' to 'Yes, and' - Lessons from comedy improvisation

When a party says to you in a mediation “I feel really aggrieved by how I’ve been treated”,

Is the correct answer:

A    “But it wasn’t our fault!”

B    “I can see this situation has severely affected you but it wasn’t our fault”

C    “I can see this situation has severely affected you and I’d like to explain how it looks from our side”?

Lawyers are typically trained to give A-type answers, yet the psychology of persuasion tells us that in order to influence others e.g. to accept our proposal, we first have to create rapport with them.  One simple way to do this is by acknowledging their feelings or perspective, which is not the same thing as agreeing with them or accepting responsibility for having caused the situation.

Some negotiators have mastered the art of acknowledgement, only to cancel the good effect out by then following it with a “but”.  This cancels out whatever went before and just leaves the listener with a rebuttal.  Far more powerful is to use the linking word “and”, which implies “I’ve heard where you’re coming from, now I’d like to show you how it looks from where I am, then we can work out some common ground”.

When learning comedy improvisation I was taught to always say “and” rather than “but” in order to keep the story going – to build and incorporate rather than to demolish.  Experiment with acknowledging first and then replacing your “buts” with “ands” and notice the impact it has on your ability to influence.

Mediator: Liz Rivers

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