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3 Improv Techniques for Success at Work

The full version of this article originally appeared on the Forté Foundation blog. Precillia Redmond, Senior Director of Corporate Human Resources and Administration at Liberty Mutual Insurance, shares her insight on three improv techniques that have improved her capabilities as a team member.

I recently participated in a team building session with my manager and peers at an improv theater in Boston. As a big fan of comedy, I expected the experience to be fun. What I didn’t expect was to come out of the day with improv techniques to improve my capabilities as a team member and a manager.

Practice Deep Listening

It’s common to meet someone, only to forget his or her name minutes later. Why does this happen? An explanation of the first game we played may help explain. The instructions seemed fairly simple. One person looks at another and says a word out loud; the latter then says first word that comes to mind. On and on we went until our facilitator asked, “Who remembers the first word?” Roughly half of us did not remember.

People rarely remember the first word. When we are so focused on what we are going to say or do in response to something, we are not listening deeply enough. So the next time you are in any situation that requires you to both listen and participate, be present and focus on listening. It’ll make you a much more effective participant.

No More "Yes, But"

Have you ever pitched an idea to a colleague or even your manager only to hear, “That’s a great idea, but here’s why it won’t work”? I have… and as I reflect, I realize I have also said “yes, but” in the past.

The second game we played involved one person making a statement. The next person to speak then had to start with, “yes, but.” We quickly realized the scene was going nowhere. By negating each other’s statements, there was no way for the story to evolve.

So what did we learn? When you feel compelled to tell someone the reasons why his/her idea won’t work, instead, try saying, “yes, and.” A “yes, and” response may open up new and bigger ideas. Practicing the “yes, and” approach will help you be more open-minded, and make you come across as someone receptive to those around you.

You Don't Have To Be The Center Of Attention To Be A Top Performer

Picture yourself as an improv actor who has decided to come on scene as a child. Just as you’re about to speak, your fellow actor says, “Hi, Grandpa!” You now have two choices: You can ignore the greeting and continue with your plan, or you can support your fellow actor and go along with her idea.

In business, this happens all of the time. The extent to which you push your idea at the expense of someone else’s is up to you. If you combine the two choices discussed above, you might find yourself working toward an even better idea.

At its root, improvisational theater draws heavily from collaboration and teamwork. As I reflect on my career, these capabilities are among the most important I’ve observed in successful leaders. So while improv may be in the business of creating funny, techniques in creating funny can also be the business of business.

Precillia Redmond is the senior director of corporate human resources and administration at Liberty Mutual Insurance. Precillia earned her MBA from the Olin School of Business at Babson College and specializes in human resources strategy.