Ever wonder why they call it the “terrible twos?” It’s because the child typically discovers the word no, and they use it over and over, or they scream in your face as you try to put on their shoes and coat, which is a form of saying no. It can be so infuriating: “Stop saying no! Listen to me! Respect me! Just be a decent human being instead of a piece of garbage!!!!! I mean… I love you, and being a parent is the greatest gift.” Ever wonder why a lot of parents of teenagers have heart problems? It’s because the child rediscovers the word no, but now it’s accompanied with an attitude of superiority making it even worse: “Stop saying no! Listen to me! Respect me! Just be a decent human being instead of a piece of garbage!!!!! I mean… yeah, no, I mean what I said. Your rudeness is terrible.” Did I just imply that teenagers are like two year olds? Absolutely. Teenagers are often just big toddlers with a few more skills. They’re similar because both two year olds and teenagers are trying to create a sense of independence. The big difference is children think their parents have all the answers, which is why they ask them so many questions: (child)“Why? Why? Why?” (parent) “Stop asking questions I have to fake answers to because I don’t want you to realize how little I know!” Teenagers, on the other hand, are fully aware their parents don’t know everything while being delusional and thinking they do. Teenagers are hilarious because they learn a few interesting things and have a few good ideas, and somehow that makes them think they know how the world works (fun fact: a wise person is aware of how little they know, which makes teens the opposite of wise). Add in a teen’s typical feeling of invincibility and wanting to make a mark in the world and you have the recipe for a lot of unnecessary fights at home. This feeling of invincibility is why 18-22 year olds are the perfect choice for sending to war and their rude teenage behavior makes it easier for the parents to let them go… wait, is that too honest?
Whenever there is a communication problem, at the heart of it is saying or implying “no.” For instance, when couples struggle, the main problem with communication is the partner saying or implying “no” through criticism, correction, degrading looks (i.e. typical female moves), or being distant (i.e. a typical guy move). Saying “no” or implying it destroys safety in communication. It causes the other person to get their back up and be ready to fight or shut down because “no” is a form of rejection. It leaves the other person thinking, “If you understood me, you wouldn’t say/imply no, so I will get louder or meaner to make you understand me or I’ll shut down because it feels pointless.”
In my book 52 Lessons for a Better Relationship I mention one of my favorite rules for being a good communicator: Yes and. This is the number one rule in improv because in order to move a scene forward you need to say/imply “yes.” When you don’t have a script and the actors are just going off the cuff, it’s important to help each other feel safe as you’re open to creativity and new ideas. You need to know that even if you say something dumb, the other person will take that and turn it into something great – they have your back. That’s what we need in relationships. We need to feel safe enough to say something dumb and have it be turned into something great. (How often does that happen with a struggling couple?) This is what we need in brainstorming; we need to feel safe enough to share our thoughts no matter how crazy because who knows where one idea can lead. Good conversations require understanding and affirmations. The worst thing we can do is to shut someone down, which is saying/implying “No and.” If, for no other reason, we should “Yes and,” so we’re not like teens and two year olds.
I was recently jogging with a friend, and I mentioned if I could change one thing about my wife, it would be to make her more of a “Yes and” person with me. This conversation is itself a great example of two people “Yes and-ing” each other:
- Me: I know it’s a pretty common issue for wives to be “No and,” to their husbands, but it’s so frustrating.
- Friend: Women have a gift.
- Me: Every time I present an idea, she says no. I mentioned I had this idea of getting a skinny shed to put beside the addition we’re building, and right away she said no. When I asked her if she knew what a skinny shed was or where I wanted to put it, she admitted she didn’t. She essentially said no without knowing what I was talking about. There’s no room to brainstorm.
- Friend: I’ve been there.
- Me: I’m guessing it’s connected to women feeling overworked and overwhelmed, so a husband having an idea is adding unwanted stress, but it sucks!
- Friend: It really does… Actually, to be honest, I think I’ve done that to my wife. I’ve shut down her ideas before she had a chance to explain herself, but her ideas are soooo illogical.
- Me: That’s a good point. I guess I’ve done that too like when my wife and I started dating and she said we should move to Europe to live for a few years, and I was quick to say no because it didn’t make any sense… because it didn’t make any sense.
- Friend: Women have a gift.
You’ll notice, there weren’t any literal “Yes and’s” said, but everything was affirming and moving the conversation forward. Even when my friend switched it to being how he does the “No and” thing; he affirmed me first to help me feel heard before changing it up a bit. That’s how it works. You help the person feel understood and affirmed and then add to what they said. “Yes and” is such a simple rule, but it can be very challenging to actually do, especially if you’re in the habit of being guarded or not being able to tolerate what the other person has to say. Negative people are typically the worst for this. They shut things down. Meanwhile, the friendliest people are the ones who are good at affirming and moving the conversation forward even if they disagree with you. Some people are great at this with friends, but then terrible with their families because there isn’t a lot of patience left, but we can’t be angry at our family for not affirming us if we don’t affirm them – we’re equal at being bad.
Because it’s so important, here’s another example of a “Yes and” conversation my friend and I had shortly after the previous one. It’s very good at showing how even ridiculous joking ideas can lead to something worthwhile.
- Friend: I asked a restaurant why they don’t use the cardboard containers for doggy bags instead of Styrofoam or black plastic that’s not recyclable and the person said it’s because it costs 10 cents more a container. I would pay that difference to reduce the waste.
- Me: Big spender.
- Friend: I’ve even been thinking about sponsoring a restaurant to switch over and I’d pay the 10 cents difference for each container for a month.
- Me: You can have them put up a poster saying you’re sponsoring them.
- Friend: Restaurants would have their sign for meeting health standards and then a picture of my face giving a thumbs up saying I approve their doggy bags.
- Me: Your face would be what sells this idea.
- Friend: I also thought I could sponsor a different restaurant every month to get the different places in the habit of using cardboard boxes before moving onto another restaurant.
- Me: You can have a parade from the one restaurant to the next celebrating your sponsorship with elephants and marching bands.
- Friend: I would be okay with that.
- Me: Who knows; it could spark a movement as other people would see it and want the credit for being a sponsor. People on social media could use it as a reason to brag and pretend they’re better people than they really are.
- Friend: You know; there might be something there.
- Me: Maybe you could get GT French to make a deal, and then you’re involving a local business.
- Friend: I never thought of that. Getting a company like them involved could make it less than 10 cents and actually doable.
- Me: And that’s why “yes and-ing” is so important. We just had a nothing conversation that was fun and then ended up with some interesting ideas. Yes-anding makes conversations so much better.
- Friend: “No and-ing” really does bother you, doesn’t it?
- Me: You have no idea.
The last part of that conversation I used is called a callback. A callback is a good way to show you heard and remembered the earlier conversation, or in this case, it let me vent a little more. The point is, however, when we “Yes and,” people, we never know where conversations will end up. Sometimes it’ll lead to some interesting ideas and other times it won’t, but either way, it will leave both parties feeling understood and safe. The best communicators don’t use big words; they help people feel safe to share.
This week may you learn to be more of a “Yes and,” person.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people