A powerful leadership skill: from No to Yes.

How irritating it is when you think you’re right, but the other sees it differently. Or the other person comes up with an idea where you immediately think NO. Do you then get into an internal conflict with yourself because you are not allowed to express it yourself or do you notice that you often end up in a tug-of-war with others?

How do you deal with conflicting opinions?
How do you turn a No into a Yes?

How do you not immediately reject the idea of the other, so that you become diametrically opposed to the other? How do you ensure that there is room for curiosity and creativity?

With this skill you will come up with completely different solutions, perhaps even better solutions than you could ever have come up with on your own.

The best leaders are those who continue to learn and grow. Leadership and management training are common ideas now, with nearly 500 million search results on Google. Investing in your personal development ensures that you know yourself better, can do better self-management if you are triggered, and that you have a wider range of behavior at your disposal to deal with different situations and behavior of others.

A powerful leadership tool that I often use in my executive coaching is “Yes, and”. It helps you to turn your personal irritation into curiosity. It invites cooperation instead of opposition, it affirms the other; the other feels heard and valued. Another nice side effect: often even better ideas arise than if you had only pushed your own idea!

Because suppose someone comes to you with an idea. And you immediately think ‘oh no, we are definitely NOT going to do that’. You hear yourself throwing up arguments and the sentences start with ‘yes, but..’. You will come face to face with each other and no common ground will be found. This kind of conversation is very unsatisfactory for both parties.

Saying “yes” doesn’t always mean agreeing with the other person. While there are benefits to having a “yes” mentality, herein lies the danger of giving too much away, not standing up for yourself, and having a leak in energy and motivation, as well as a lack of focus.

The “yes, and” is based around an affirmation of a thought or feeling.

An employee comes to you with the request for a pay increase, different hours or a new job. The key is to avoid making the situation confrontational. By actively listening to that person and affirming his or her feelings, you can hear the 2% in the proposal that you can understand.

So let’s take the example of the employee who says, “I need to make more money,” but you know that a raise isn’t possible. If you say, “We can’t do that,” this employee will feel left out, angry, and most likely unappreciated. Mmmh… Not the best communication scenario.

Turn the situation around and confirm the question with, “Yes, I hear you want to make more money.” By repeating what they just said, you have affirmed that person and showed that you are listening to their needs.

The word “but” is a huge block in a conversation. When we hear “but,” we think the conversation and ideation session is over and we’ve made a decision. A ‘yes, but’ is interpreted as a ‘no’.

Okay, that’s already better.

Only then we quickly fall into the following trap, you then say: “Yes, I hear you want to earn more salary, BUT that is not possible.” Now you’ve confirmed their feeling and then shot it down by elevating it with the second part of that sentence.

To have REALLY effective communication it takes “yes, AND”.

The addition of the word “And” connects two or more things.

Let’s go back to that conversation with an employee about pay. This time you answered “Yes, I hear you want to make more money, AND that is not possible right now.” The “and” opens a conversation instead of closing it. You can also add “Let’s talk about it” and have a conversation about why. Of course, that means more communication, so be prepared!

Exercise for yourself:

  • Train yourself in detecting your critical or stubborn side. Notice how often you hear yourself say ‘yes, but..’. Observe the effect it has on your interlocutor.
  • Practice in situations where the other person comes up with a proposal to find the 2% you can agree with.
  • Practice saying ‘yes, what I like about your proposal is.. AND [tell me how you want to build on this]


It takes practice and self-management to convert the yes but (actually no) into a yes, and. It requires active listening and joining in with what the other is saying. Then build on it and weave in your own ideas. You will also have to be prepared to be open to the ideas that may arise. I am curious which innovative, creative and out-of-the-box ideas you will come up with (together).

Picture of Marijne van den Kieboom

Marijne van den Kieboom

Executive Coach, Leiderschapstrainer en Psycholoog. Ik empower missie-gedreven organisaties en leiders, zoals jij.