Team-Building Activity: Unleash the Power of “And” Thinking!

Acknowledgement: The team-building activity presented in this post was adapted by permission of the publisher from the book Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers by Brian Cole Miller ©2015 Brian Cole Miller. Published by AMACOM, NY, NY. All rights reserved.

Given this month’s posts have focused on the concept of Polarity Thinking and shifting from an ‘either-or’ mindset to a ‘yes and’ attitude, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight a team-building activity that drives this point home. Author Brian Cole Miller titled it But Nothing (Feedback) and I’ve chosen to emphasize the positive power inherent in the word ‘and’.

The purpose of this activity is to help participants experience first-hand how using the word ‘but’ when offering feedback or opinions can unintentionally create defensiveness and resistance, even when the feedback being shared is well meant. They will also notice what happens when they use the word ‘and’ instead of but.

I like to do three rounds of this activity to really emphasize the difference that one tiny word can make. First have everyone pair up. If there is an odd number of participants, you will need to participate as well.

Round 1:

  • Tell people they will have 30 seconds to think of something they like about their partner’s outfit and one way that it could be improved.
  • Share these examples to get their creative juices flowing:

I like your shirt but it would look better with a red tie. That scarf compliments your outfit nicely but you would look even more professional if you added a suit jacket.

  • Then have the partners take turns sharing their feedback using the “I like _____ but … phrasing.
  • One everyone has shared their feedback, debrief round one by asking people to share how it felt to receive the feedback they were given

For example, people might say the feedback felt insincere or made them self-conscious or defensive and that they focused more on what was wrong with their appearance ignoring what was right.

  • Ask participants why we use the word but so often when giving feedback? What usually comes to mind when we hear the word but?

The word but is often our way of introducing a different perspective or opinion. We have been socialized to soften negative feedback by sharing something positive first. Unfortunately, the word but essentially undermines the positive and places the emphasis on the constructive feedback that follows it.

When we use the word BUT our brains hear… “Forget what I just said, this is what you really need to pay attention to.”

Now let’s see what happens when we replace the word but with and.

Round 2:

  • Ask people to find a new partner.
  • Tell people they are to repeat the exercise (something they like about the person’s outfit and one improvement) only they are to use the word and instead of but
  • “I like _____ and you would look even better…”
  • I like your shirt and it would look even better with a red tie. That scarf compliments your outfit nicely and you would look even more professional if you added a suit jacket.
  • Debrief by asking people to share how it felt to hear the feedback with ‘and’.

People often mention they feel more positive, supported, and respected.

Feedback using the word AND is more likely to be perceived as a suggestion, not a must do, and so reduces the likelihood of stirring up defensive reactions.

Round 3:

  • Round three will focus on having people provide ‘and feedback’ on a work related project or sharing ideas on team strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Identify the topic for feedback and give people a minute to think about one thing they like about the topic and one area for improvement.
  • Then go around the table and have each participant share their feedback using the ‘and statement’ formula.
  • Conclude by asking for observations about how it felt to give and listen to feedback this way. Catch anyone slipping back into but language during the debrief discussion by repeating their statement and replacing their but with an and.

Starter statements you could use for Round 3 include:

  • Let’s highlight the strengths and areas of improvement for specify a project. Example: I like the way the brochure is laid out and we can make it more appealing by adding a few photos.
  • One of our team strengths is_______ and we would be even more effective if we______. Example: One of our team strengths is providing detailed feedback and we would be even more effective if we organized our written updates using sub-headings.

Encourage your team to permanently eliminate but from their vocabulary and replace it with and. I think you’ll find it will help shift your team to more positive and expansive thinking; thinking that builds on the contributions made by others rather than undermining them in a dismissive way.

Have you discovered other ways to help teams replace negative language with more positive terms? What impact has it had on team dynamics? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Discover more Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers: 50 Exercises That Get Results in Just 15 Minutes by Brian Cole Miller.


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