This short exercise is about a variety of things including non-verbal communication, physicality, and the psychology of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Being able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ according to your wishes is a key part of assertiveness, and that certainly relates to nonviolence. But how you say yes or no, and what it feels like, is also important from the viewpoint of being able to communicate effectively to others; saying ‘yes’ may seem strident, saying ‘no’ may seem negative, but they could also seem many different things depending on the issue and the stance taken by an individual. And it is important to have an awareness of the effect of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on our own perceptions and feelings.
Write down the instructions and stages of the exercise (see draft at end) on a flip chart beforehand or on a slide or a handout so people have the stages of the exercise before them. Run through it with the group.
The exercise is run in pairs. If you have a large group where some people may not know each other very well, you can encourage people to pair off with someone they know less well. Gender or age differences are unimportant unless for some reason you want people to pick out the same characteristics for their partner. If there is an odd (as opposed to even) number in the group, you or a co-facilitator can step in as a participant.
There are two ways of focussing:
a) If it is a disparate group of people involved in different issues and campaigns you can allow people to think of their own conflicts rather than thinking and working on one collective issue.
b) However, if the group are all working on the same issue and this is why they are together then you can simply state that will be the focus that people think about during the exercise.
Pairs sit opposite each other. In a) they are first asked to think of a conflict, conflicts, or issue they have been involved in recently – this can be in their personal, social, study, work, political or community life. They are given a couple of minutes to think and formulate the issue that they will say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on.. They do not share with the other person what ‘their’ conflict or issue is about at this stage but they think about it and identify with their stand during the exercise. They can use the same conflict for both parts of the exercise, or choose a different one to think about the second time.
In the exercise, for both a) and b), one person in the pair is asked to say ‘yes’ continuously – however they want to say it and with whatever gestures or body language they like – while the other person says ‘no’, again using what level or tone of voice they choose and with the body language they choose. No other spoken language is used apart from one person saying ‘yes’ and the other ‘no’. In a), the conflicts which they are saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to each other about will be different. Let the exercise run for perhaps a couple of minutes. Then call a halt.
The pair then swop ‘yes’ and ‘no’ roles; the person who said ‘yes’ now says ‘no’, and vice versa. Again let it run for a couple of minutes. As stated above, in a) the issue which people are saying the opposite of what they were saying a couple of minutes previously can be the same or different.
When the time is up, allow pairs to discuss the exercise for a while, perhaps six to ten minutes may be enough, you can judge from the level of interaction and checking with a few pairs whether they have finished. Each person can share as much about ‘their’ conflict or conflicts as they wish to divulge with the other person, doing it as a ‘speaking/listening’ exercise. What was or is their conflict(s) about? How heated has it been? Which side are they on? Why is that? How was it saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the view they agree with? The view they disagree with? What were they aware of in their tone and body language? What did they feel about the other person playing the opposite role? If using the one issue of focus, b), this part of the exercise will be simplified because both people are talking about the same issue and, presumably, will have a better understanding of it.
When you judge it time to come back into the plenary group, you can ask people to share important points from the exercise but with a) they should only share details on their own conflict (it is for their partner to share if they want); and in b) each person should talk about the issues involved for themselves.
One way of focussing it for both a) and b) can be to write ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ on the top on either side of a flip chart, and a line down the middle. Firstly brainstorm a list of feelings associated with saying ‘Yes’, and then feelings associated with saying ‘No’. Look at the list and compare the comments.
This workshop exercise can be run quite shortly, say a minimum of three-quarters of an hour. Or it can feed into looking at issues or campaigns individuals are involved in, on whatever side. Questions here can include difficulties in being on a particular side of a conflict or issue, and how change could come about, as well as effective communication between people on the issue.
If choosing b), to work on the same issue or conflict, after discussion in pairs and some further discussion in plenary, the focus can be on the specifics that can be learnt about taking the collective stand that they do, and how they could communicate it more effectively, as well as behaviour they should avoid in working on the issue.
It should be stated that, particularly when running with a), disparate focus of issues, some people can struggle to connect with the exercise. If you have already been working with a group, or you know something about them, you can judge if it is worth using.
This exercise is similar, but with a different focus, to the ‘Exploring divisions’ exercise on Northern Ireland, also under ‘Workshops’.
Draft instructions for group (adjust as necessary):
a) Individual issues
Form a pair
Think of a conflict or couple of conflicts in your personal, social, study, work, political or community life. Don’t share it with your partner at this stage.
One of you will continuously say ‘yes’, the other ‘no’ concerning that issue, and use no other words but you can alter the tone of your voice and your body language.
When this has run once, you swop saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’. You can choose the same or a different conflict to think about.
After the exercise has run, discuss in your pair. Only share as much as you wish about the conflict (particularly if it is raw or personal)
Further discussion in the full group. Only share on your conflict, not your partner’s.
Any further stages in the group....
b) Common issue (state what it is)
Form a pair
One of you will continuously say ‘yes’, the other ‘no’, on the issue, and use no other words but you can alter the tone of your voice and your body language.
When this has run once, you swop saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
After the exercise has run, discuss in your pair. Only share as much as you wish about your feelings particularly if some of it feels very raw and personal
Further discussion in the full group. Only share on your feelings, not your partner’s.