Can you tell my son is about to turn two this month? He pretty much says No to any question you ask him. Even if he really wants to say Yes. For example:
Do you want some cottage cheese?
No!…[Pause.] Cottage Cheese! (then he proceeds to gobble up a bowlful in about ten seconds.)
This has got me thinking: Are we born to say No? Is that actually our default?
I’ve been teaching Yes And for almost two decades and I’ve always believed that when people are feeling relaxed and safe, Yes will be their default. But my son is showing me something different and making me question what kind of tabula rasa we have when it comes to agreement. A little Googling and on Babycenter.com I find:
Kids crave control, often even more than we adults do, or at least more openly. The majority of their lives are controlled by other people: when to wake up, what to wear, what to eat, whether to go to school, what to watch on TV. So when you give little ones a chance to assert their independence–they grab on to it full force. It makes me wonder if this is what is going on inside my adult improv students. That they have a little voice inside of them screaming No to every exercise I suggest, offer they receive, or person they meet.
It makes me wonder if actually during my classes the dialogue between the teacher and the students inner monologue sounds something like this:
Teacher: “We are going to do an exercise..”
Inside the students head: “No.”
Teacher: “Where we focus on being a good sport when we lose…”
Inside the students head: “NO.”
Teacher: “And learn each other’s names at the same time!”
Inside the student’s head: “NO!!”
Then, because they are good, trained adults, they get up and do the damn game. And maybe pretty soon they realize they like it. Like it’s as good as cottage cheese!
So how do we get more Yeses from other people? There’s a few strategies.
The more control people have over their own lives, often the more open they are to other’s ideas. So giving options, letting the small stuff go, and trying to minimize how much No we give out can help increase the yeses we get back.
The other thing my son is teaching me is to ask less questions. Especially questions that aren’t really questions. If it’s not really up to him, I try no to ask him. If it’s dinner time, it doesn’t matter if he feels ready or not. I can give him a warning dinner is coming. I can ask him which of the three food items I’ve prepared he wants to start with. But I’m not going to ask him if he wants dinner. Dinner is happening.
In improv we know it’s a good idea to avoid questions. Because just like me at the dinner table, I know the answer I want. Framing it as a question just gives my scene partner a way to thwart my idea. And it’s wasted dialogue. As one of my improv teachers said: Asking a question is like asking permission for something to be true. Be more efficient and direct and just say it as a statement.
And this gets to one of my teaching pet peeves–when teachers ask debrief questions that aren’t really questions. If you have a specific answer in mind, just say it! Don’t pretend it’s an open-ended discussion when you are trying to get the class to give you a specific answer. Instead, when leading a conversation, make statements and ask open ended questions to the group. And when you are asking questions, really mean it. Be curious. Want to know the answer. Ask probing, open ended questions, or just say “Tell me More…”
So are you ready to ask less questions? Wait. No. Let me try that again.
Start asking less questions today! And give and get more Yes.