Mention improv in almost any business setting and people think of “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” “Saturday Night Live” and pretty much any Judd Apatow film. The idea of getting up to perform in front of a group of peers can be terrifying. The idea that improvisational acting is only about being funny is a common misconception.
Improvisational acting is a great skill for many to incorporate into their repertoire. The basic constructs of improv allows one to think quickly on their feet, listen intently to the person with whom they are speaking, and support another’s idea or suggestion, even if it may be different from your own. Mastering all of these tasks is not easy, but with practice, people find skills that come in handy in the office and in life.
Chicago is known for its improvisational actors from Bill Murray to Melissa McCarthy to Seth Meyers, among many others who got their chops at Chicago’s famous training centers. (If you are wondering who else is on the list, check out Time Out Chicago’s February 2015 article by Brent DiCrescenzo). Improv has some basic principles that you can incorporate into your everyday interactions at the office. Following are three principles that you can test out for yourself.
Principle #1: Always be Positive
An improv scene comes to a screeching halt if you use the word “no.” Therefore, the first rule of improv is the “Yes, and” technique. Working with a partner, one person makes a statement such as “It looks like we are all going to get big bonuses this year!” The other person’s comment begins with “Yes, and,” continuing with a phrase such as, “I can’t wait to put a down payment on that yacht that caught my eye.” The conversation continues in this fashion, with each partner building on the ideas of the other. Improv actor Tina Fey explains the” Yes, and” method during an interview at Google.
The Yes, and… technique creates a positive environment and can have favorable effects on business as well. University of Michigan professor, Kim Cameron and his coauthors published a research article in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science finding many good outcomes come from a positive workplace. According to the article, these outcomes include:
• Caring for, being interested in, and maintaining responsibility for colleagues as friends.
• Providing support for one another, including offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling.
• Avoiding blame and forgiving mistakes.
• Inspiring one another at work.
• Emphasizing the meaningfulness of the work.
• Treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust & integrity.
This key improv skill can help you build your team and move your organization forward. As you try it for yourself, you may find that affirming others brings out the best in your staff.
Principle #2: Take Action Without Fear of Making a Mistake
Another key element to improv is when you are on stage, show, don’t tell. Choose what type of action you are going to use and stick to it, really commit. The more specific you are, the easier it is for your teammates to work with you to respond and build off your movements. You cannot fail in improv…you take an action and go with it. Every action is considered an opportunity.
It’s the same in business. Sometimes we fear making a decision because we think we might fail. In the end, we take no action at all. One of our favorite quotes is by Robert H Schuller, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” Improv gives you the permission to make decisions without fear of failure because you learn to look at “mistakes” as opportunities. Perhaps you should ask yourself, “Which is worse…making a mistake or missing an opportunity?” Action moves things forward. So take action without fear, both on and off the stage.
Principle #3: Teamwork
Improv requires at least two people interacting with each other to move a scene forward. An important part of this is listening intently to one another and not overshadowing your partner. In addition to listening, rely on body language and other signs that enhance your communication. In doing so, you commit to creating a team environment on stage.
With teamwork in mind, one of your main goals is to make your partners look good. By acting in this way, everyone is free to create without the burden of competition or defensiveness. Successful improv emphasizes the relationship and interaction between people. When people feel supported, they take chances. Taking chances as a team creates great opportunities and fresh ideas.
Business is often an act of improvisation. Implementing some of the basic improvisational guidelines into your day to day interaction can help you and your team create a positive and supportive environment where the opportunities are boundless.
To learn more about the key elements of improv in a safe and supportive environment, try CEI’s Improv Workshop: Imagine the Possibilities, we would be glad to help you set up your workshop.
Corporate Event Interactive