“Yes, And” Is The Opposite Of Gaslighting (2023)

Hello again. As much as I hate writing, I’m trying to say “yes, and” to my New Year’s resolution of writing more about things that are important to me, so I’m back with another article about how and why to say “yes, and” to change. This month, I’m going to talk about how “yes, and” helps us create a shared reality at work, and how it functions as the opposite of gaslighting.

What Is Gaslighting

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The phrase “gaslighting” is used a lot these days, particularly in reference to our president. The term comes from a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton (which was turned into a movie in 1944 starring Ingrid Bergman) about a young woman whose husband is trying to make her think that she’s going insane. As he prowls around the upper floor of their home trying to find a hidden stash of jewels, he turns up the gaslights upstairs, making the lights dim and flicker in the rest of the house. When his wife asks about this strange phenomenon, and about the footsteps she keeps hearing from the supposedly empty room upstairs, he tells her she’s just imagining things, and that he’s worried about her state of mind. He’s doing everything he can to undermine her trust in her own senses, ultimately making her question her own sanity.

Unfortunately, this behavior is not limited to the realm of fiction. The president has been called the “gaslighter in chief” due to his recurring habit of not just lying, but lying about things that we all experienced with our own senses, things that are demonstrably untrue: photographed crowd sizes, recorded statements, poll numbers, and more. These lies don’t just try to convince of untruths, they try to convince us that we didn’t see what we know we saw. They try to undermine our sense of shared reality.

(Video) The SURPRISING SIGNS Someone Is "GASLIGHTING" You! | Dr Ramani

And Trump isn’t the only one. Terrible bosses and petty tyrants use this technique at work far too often:

  • “Susan didn’t really agree with your idea in that meeting” when you know she did.
  • “We’re doing fine, there’s nothing to worry about” in the face of negative market trends or financial reports.
  • A boss (or co-worker) presenting your idea to leadership as if it’s their own, even in the face of clear evidence.

If you’ve ever asked yourself at work “am I crazy, or…” you might be a victim of gaslighting.

Gaslighting Isn’t The Only Way We Lie To Each Other — And Ourselves — At Work

Even when there aren’t caricaturish villains intentionally trying to gaslight us, we often have trouble establishing and agreeing on a shared reality at work. There are two main culprits:

  1. We have trouble accepting things as they are, rather than how we think they should be.
  2. We don’t know how to say hard things to each other in constructive ways, so we avoid calling out discrepancies between what someone says, and what we see or experience.

“Yes, And” Is The Opposite Of Gaslighting (2)

(Video) Stop Gaslighting Me, Mom! | KARAMO

How often do we try to hide from change by telling ourselves comforting untruths, like “This change isn’t really happening” or “This will get resolved before I have to deal with it” or “If I don’t speak up, someone else will”? Consciously or not, we tell ourselves these things all the time even though we know, on some level, that they’re not true. Consider these examples:

  • The leader who insists — to herself and others — that morale is high (despite the high turnover rate), and no one contradicts her.
  • A project lead who’s confident she has buy-in from all the relevant stakeholders...but meanwhile, those same stakeholders share their concerns with each other, behind closed doors.
  • An innovation effort that stalls out because team members are all holding different assumptions and views about the latest market trends.

Lack of a shared reality, it turns out, can have a major negative impact on a business. And on the world — if the climate crisis has taught us anything (and I hope it has), it’s that hiding from reality doesn’t make it go away. So what can we do about it?

Yes, And Puts Us On The Same Page (The One We’re Writing Together)

As I talked about in my previous post, “yes, and” is an improv concept that’s all about constructing, honoring, and responding to a shared reality. In an improv show, shared reality is essential: we’re building a show together on the fly, and every line helps the actors — and the audience — understand the who/where/what of a scene. If two improvisers are in a scene that takes place on the moon, and I walk on with “What a great day to be back in Wisconsin!”, I haven’t honored the reality that they’re constructing, and now our scene is confused, just like the audience. At work, “yes, and” is about the same thing. It’s about living and working in the same reality so that we can work together with clarity.

It’s important to understand that saying “yes, and” to what you consider a bad idea doesn’t mean that you agree with it. “Yes, and” is about accepting, not about agreeing. You may not agree with what a coworker just said, but you can still accept that they said it (because, news flash: they did). That’s the “yes.”

(Video) Am I Gaslighting My Partner? / Signs You Are Gaslighting Someone

The “and” comes in when we not only accept the thing we don’t like, but are able to respond to it in a way that acknowledges the reality we’ve now accepted. We are not powerless, because we get to choose how we respond, even if our choices are limited and things look bleak. Accepting that things are less than ideal is the first and most important step towards changing them.

“Yes, and” is the opposite of gaslighting and its equally destructive cousin, denial, because it forces us to accept and acknowledge the things we’d rather hide from — and that’s an important skill to bring to work, and to the world at large today.

Here’s What You Get When You Use “Yes, And” at Work

Accepting and responding to difficult things does not come easily to us humans. But practicing your “yes, and” skills at work can bring about some amazing breakthroughs, all of which are the polar opposites of what you get in an environment that allows gaslighting and denial to fester.

  • “Yes, and” fosters psychological safety.

Coined by Amy Edmonton in 1999, “psychological safety” refers to the ability for a group of people to take risks and be vulnerable with each other without fear of getting punished for mistakes. As opposed to gaslighting, which tries to make you think you’ve made a mistake even when you haven’t, psychological safety encourages a culture of trying new things, speaking openly, and creativity, among other benefits. By sending the message that you are really seeing and hearing what you think you are, and that we are all living in the same reality, “yes, and” builds psychological safety in teams and encourages behaviors that are critical to innovation and constructive change.

(Video) Gaslighting: What it is and what you can do about it.

  • “Yes, and” brings more ideas to the table.

In organizations that live in denial, new ideas are not often encouraged, or even welcome. “Yes, and” gives us a framework to push past denial and build new ideas on ones we may not agree with. This can cut down on our natural inclination to defend our own ideas and denigrate someone else’s. It’s much easier to let go of your idea when you see that someone is accepting and building on it than it is when someone is denying your idea’s validity and negating the beliefs which underlie it. And that makes you more likely to speak up the next time you have a great idea.

  • “Yes, and” positions companies for sustainability in the face of change.

“If you don’t like change, you will like irrelevance even less.” - General Eric Shinseki

Ignoring changes in market trends, pretending that your business landscape isn’t changing, and hiding from uncomfortable realities about changes in your industry are a great recipe for getting left behind. “Yes, and” gives you a framework for responding to that change in a positive, constructive way. Yes, the world is changing around us, quickly, and we can choose how we respond to that change in a way that builds on our strengths and positions us for success.

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(Video) How to deal with gaslighting | Ariel Leve

This Stuff Is Hard And Worthwhile

“Yes, and” is extremely powerful. And it goes against nearly all of our cultural conditioning, which primes us to look out for our own ideas, ignore things we don’t like, and see life as a zero-sum game. But the more you practice this skill, the more benefits you’ll realize. We may not be able to keep our president from gaslighting us, but we can hold ourselves accountable for acknowledging, accepting, and responding to the reality around us, even as the pace of change accelerates. In doing so, we can become true leaders, and set an inspiring example for those around us. And the world could sure use more inspiring leaders.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more in this series!


1. I GOT AWAY WITH THAT?? | Among Us
2. Woe to the English Bishops - with Lee Gatiss and Ben Kwashi
(The Pastor's Heart)
3. E36: How Awareness Beats Gaslighting with Marilyn Bradford
(Katarina Wallentin)
4. How to handle emotional abuse and gaslighting
(Benjamin Zulu Global)
5. Gaslighting 9-8-21
(Kathie J)
6. SuperMega - Gaslighting [P1]
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