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How improvisation can enhance your creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.
Improv doesn’t just happen on the stage—every conversation every one of us has in life is an improvisation. This is good news, because improvisation can help us have the kinds of conversations that build trust and inspireloyalty.
It’s not just aboutcomedic timing or making up stuff to get a laugh. It’s aboutco-creating something mutually beneficial. It’s about having a conversation that leaves the other person feeling affirmed.
When you use improvisation to teach a class or facilitate a meeting, you don’t need props, scenery, costumes, or lighting. By simply making small adjustments to your words, you can:
- Spark imagination
- Encourage team building
- Promote active collaboration
- Enhance intellectual and emotional growth
Here are eight improv techniques to dramatically improve your communication and facilitation skills.
1. Listen to Understand
One of the principles of improv is attentive listening. Listen with the intent to understand—not the intent to reply. Don’t plan what you’re going to say next. Improvisation is about staying in the moment and listening fully to your partner.
Resist the urge to plan your response while another person is speaking. Improvisation requires the improviser to accept what the other person has shared, with gratitude, and then respond positively, spontaneously, and supportively.
Improv will make you a better and more open listener.
2. Be Grateful
Parttake in an improv exercise that requires you to say ‘thank you’ before you respond to whatever the other person says. For example, let’s say an unhappy colleague calls you with a complaint. Your first response is to thank them for bringing the situation to your attention. Then you can explore the issue and make sure you understand the problem they’re struggling with.
In almost any situation, an individual is more likely to share with you if you thank them for doing so.
3. Don’t Interrupt
When you interrupt someone before they’re finished expressing their complete idea, they’ll think that you aren’t interested in what they’re saying. This assumption is often correct. Even when you’re rushed or certain you know what the other person is telling you, let them finish.
4. Accept the Offer
The golden rule of improvisation is that players must be willing to accept a new idea in order to explore its possibilities. Replace “yes, but… ” with “yes, and….” When you answer with “yes, but,” you essentially shut down the other person’s idea. Saying “yes, and” shows that you listened and are willing to explore the idea. In improv, you agree and add. Acceptance harnesses the power of collaboration. This is where creativity starts flowing and solutions are discovered.
“Yes, and” gives life to a new idea. “Yes, but” kills it.
5. Be a Mirror
A powerful way to show you’re listening and truly want to understand is to restate what a person just said in your own words. For example, when someone finishes speaking, say something like, “I hear you saying…,” and then paraphrase their point to make sure you understand.
6. Don’t Overthink It
Another principle of improv is nonverbal communication. Players use facial expressions and body language to help communicate attitude and trustworthiness. If you’re busily thinking up the most impressive response, the other person will see in your eyes that you’ve tuned them out.
Listen fully. Let them finish. It’s fine if a brilliant response doesn’t pop out of your mouth immediately, because you will have already gained major points by giving this person your full attention as they were speaking. If you’re not sure what to say next, simply thank them for sharing their thought and clarify what they’ve said to make sure you really understand.
7. Replace Should with Could
In order for improv to work, the members of the group must be able to trust one another. If you begin a sentence with “should,” it’s like pointing your finger at someone. Beginning with “could” is received as more collaborative and helpful.
8. Live in the Moment
The most obvious principle of improvisation is spontaneity. When you improvise, you have to create in the moment without the opportunity to revise. If you mess up and say something that falls flat, no problem. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Acknowledge it, laugh, learn, and try something new. It’s more engaging to speak with someone who’s relaxed and not too obsessed with being right all the time.
The Most Important Lesson
If you forget everything else, just remember one simple thing: How you make people feel is more important than what you say. Improvisation is about supporting the other person and co-creating a positive experience that’s free of judgment. You’re not in the conversation to compete or prove your superiority. You’re in the conversation to help the other person express themselves fully so they can learn something new and feel positive about the experience.
Interested in reading more about the best way to reach your audience? Take a look at the rest of our blog.
Adriano understands how to increase your returns on leadership. He works with professionals in world-class organizations that include Philip Morris, Microsoft, the World Bank, Johns Hopkins University, the US Marine Corps, the State Department and NASA. A skilled experiential educator with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of ParticipAction Consulting, Inc., a firm committed to help clients redefine change, collaboration and power in their organizations. He co-authored "Teachable Moments of Leadership" with Jill Hufnagel in 2016, on a learning methodology that gets results by going from PowerPoint to …powerful!