How to use the power of “yes and.”

The very idea we dismiss, style we abhor, and offence we deride could be an opportunity for synergy if we tap the power of “yes and.”


East meets west

Communication Alchemy

She is creative and he is linear. She leads with heart and he leads with will. Often their qualities collide. But when they alchemize, it’s magical.

In your average business setting, these qualities often collide. In your exceptional business setting, they generate synergy that turns problems into opportunities.

The word alchemy defines a process of separating and joining substances together with the objective of purifying each substance and then combining them in ways that produce a valued substance. The word alchemy is most commonly associated with medieval experiments attempting to transform lead into gold. Alchemists saw metals as evolving and aspiring to self-actualized states. They considered themselves as midwives to help metals realize all their potentialities.

Communication alchemy isn’t all that different. It is based on each communicator having distinct integrity of his/her own. Then it combines synocratically with other communication to create the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

If you’ve ever had a really amazing brainstorming session, you’ve experienced alchemy.

Alchemy involves numerous processes that, when understood, can be productively applied to anything we seek to elevate to its highest level. The term has crept into management and leadership literature in recent years. It also describes what really good communicators do.

Alchemizing potentially oppositional values

My husband is very different from me. He communicates from a distinctive foundation. We’ve been together for 14 years. I assure you, in those years there were many times when we wondered what we had been thinking when we came together. (At those times, the idea that we had little in common was an idea we held in common.) There were other times when we wished we could be more like the other. At first we longed for what the other had that we lacked. Then we bemoaned what the other lacked that we had.

And eventually the marriage created a new being. The relationship became an identity in and of its own. And communion became the foundation for our communication so what had seemed opposed (“Oh, now I get why it’s so useful to put things back in exactly the same place each time.”) (“Oh, sure, I can just listen. I don’t need to fix it.”) now became a part of a greater “us.”

It’s the power of “Yes, and…”

It happens in marriages and in business relationships where people know how to interact with differences.

Leadership Alchemy

I just finished a manuscript about developing Dynamic Leaders. My contributing author Wendy Mack writes and speaks about energy and alignment as two key leadership essentials. Energy and alignment may seem oppositional at times. Words that energize can send team members out in a hundred directions that are not aligned with the mission. Attempts to bring team members back into alignment can kill creativity.

As long as a leader considers the two qualities as opposed to each other, he/she will bounce back and forth between advocating one or the other polarity.

But when the leader says, “yes, and…” and takes the time to find the alchemy between energy and alignment, magic happens. When the Dynamic Leader refuses to go cheap for one quality over the other, possibilities open up. It requires transcending oppositional thinking.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Scott Fitzgerald

Oppositional Thinking

What is oppositional thinking? It’s black and white, either/or, right or wrong thinking that favors one side of life’s polarities in opposition to the other. Seemingly conflicting values and paradoxes are facts of life. Speed can come at the cost of quality. Teamwork can diminish individual initiative. Oppositional thinking regards these contrasts as either/or choices without considering how the opposites can actually complement or at least balance each other. Someone who has transcended oppositional thinking may not see how to alchemize different values, but he or she doesn’t assume that it isn’t possible. He or she assumes it’s because they haven’t figured out how to do it yet.

When my husband and i collide these days, we don’t assume it’s because the other isn’t enough like us, the design is fatally flawed or one of us is crazy. We assume we haven’t figured out how to do it in this aspect of our shared life yet.

When business associates collide, if they don’t go for an early compromise or dismissal, they find the bigger picture from putting perspectives together. It isn’t just a double perception, it’s an exponentially expanded perception.

Ping Pong Partners

In a ping pong game, your opponent is also your partner. You play in opposition to win, but there is an underlying confluence of intention. You “have at” each other to enjoy a good game. Communication alchemy is like a ping pong game where the seemingly oppositional nature of how you play is based on an underlying shared intention of reaching the best conclusion. I state my dynamic perspective with rigor, and expect my partner to do the same. I respond to what my partner sends my way, a little bit bigger for having each exchange.

We’re not out to undermine the other – we’re out to enhance the game. The minute I decide my point matters more than the game – or that I should let my partner win at the expense of the game – I’ve killed the underlying confluence of intention.

We may need to redefine the game. We may need to have a conversation about conversations and renegotiate the terms of the game from time to time.

After all, the ancient alchemists saw metals as evolving and aspiring to self-actualized states. They considered themselves as midwives to help metal realize all its potentialities. Communication alchemists see our relationships as also evolving into self-actualized states. We retain our commitment to helping those relationships realize their potential..

It’s a potential that we can’t even imagine alone. 

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