Of all the trauma-informed phrases I use, “yes, AND” might be the most common. “Yes, AND” represents a way of thinking that is essential to the trauma informed approach we teach.
"Yes, AND" is a trauma informed approach that you can start implementing immediately-and you'll get better with it over time.
In training programs and coaching sessions, when someone presents an idea, I usually respond with “Yes, AND.” It’s one of my most used trauma informed phrases. Here’s why.
"Yes, AND" Builds on Both/And Thinking
To fully understand the practice of “Yes, AND” thinking, we’ll start with both/and thinking, a concept initially introduced by authors Dr. Wendy K. Smith and Dr. Marianne W. Lewis in their book Both/And Thinking: Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems.
Both/and thinking is a framework that embraces the coexistence and interplay of multiple perspectives.
Author F. Scott Fitzgerald once said “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I would agree… and push back by saying it’s less about intelligence and more about maintaining access to our executive functioning skills.
When we access our executive functioning, we are able to connect to logic, reason, planning, and other essential skills we need to manage our lives.
Just like our signature “Yes, AND” approach, both/and thinking taps into one of our group norms for training, which is embrace paradox. Two seemingly opposing things can be true at the same time. Complex topics are often paradoxical.
Embrace Paradox to Use This Trauma Informed Approach
“Yes, AND” and both/and thinking are defined by paradox, so understanding paradoxes on a deeper level will help us start this conversation.
Smith and Lewis define paradoxes as “contradictory, yet interdependent elements that exist simultaneously and persist over time.” And in their article in Psychology Today, author Sarah Epstein emphasizes that “The basis of both/and is … that everybody has a right to their experience, regardless of what somebody else is experiencing.”
Our “Yes, AND” model builds upon the foundation of the both/and framework. “Yes, AND” is a phrase that you can use in your day-to-day life to live and embody a both/and mentality.
“Yes, AND” lets me fill in the blanks to incomplete stories or concepts. It allows me to provide knowledge and guidance while also making the other person right (which helps us avoid the trauma response of defensiveness).
Making someone right is an essential step in empowering them, which is significant in a trauma informed approach for breaking reenactments, rediscovering power, and building resilience.
Furthermore, it enables us to live out our trauma informed values by sharing our unique stories, engaging in social learning, and connecting to our communities.
Choosing “Yes, AND” Rejects Either/Or Thinking
In contrast to the both/and or “Yes, AND” appraoch, either/or thinking operates on the premise of choosing between two mutually exclusive options. It tends to create rigid dichotomies or binaries, which limits the potential for creative problem-solving, excludes people’s identities or beliefs, and over-simplifies complex topics.
While either/or thinking may provide a sense of certainty and simplicity, it overlooks the nuanced complexities of reality.
Either/or thinking can lead to polarized viewpoints and a lack of understanding. It often perpetuates toxic workplace cultures of blame and judgment, creating an "us versus them" mentality.
This type of thinking is especially detrimental in places that claim to be inclusive or trauma informed, because it is a clear example of an organization not living its values. Either/or thinking fails to acknowledge the intersectionality of individuals' experiences and the need for a holistic and inclusive trauma informed approach.
“Yes, AND” is a great trauma informed tool for leaders
Our instincts often push us to say "no, but" (and engage in either/or thinking) when we'd be better off saying "yes, AND.”
Both/and thinking is an inclusive and expansive mindset that allows for the consideration of multiple perspectives, possibilities, and solutions simultaneously.
It emphasizes the idea that seemingly contradictory or opposing ideas can coexist and complement each other.
Instead of choosing between two options, both/and thinking encourages leaders to find ways to incorporate elements from diverse perspectives to create more comprehensive and nuanced approaches.
Trauma informed leaders play a crucial role in creating safe and supportive environments for individuals who have experienced trauma. “Yes, AND” thinking is particularly important in this context because it emphasizes the importance of openness and understanding and reminds us that the right/wrong binary isn’t serving us.
It is especially useful in reminding leaders that individuals' experiences of trauma can vary greatly and appear as various behaviors, especially at work.
Instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all approach, “Yes, AND” thinking encourages leaders to embrace diverse strategies and interventions. It acknowledges that different individuals may require different forms of support and that multiple approaches can be valid and effective.
Final Thoughts: Say “Yes, AND” Today
Embedding a trauma informed approach into your life is a slow process comprised of many small steps—and “Yes, AND” is an important stepping stone that will help you move towards healing.
People are always asking, how do I heal? There’s no one answer. It’s a journey, a long journey. And using this tool is one way that you can continue to heal.
What “Yes, AND” moments have shifted your perspective or helped you better understand a complex issue? When have you said, "Yes, AND" Share your insights below!