Earlier this year I got the chance to work with a coach for a couple of months, which turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had this year. Ray helped me uncover how much I struggle with giving up control and trusting others and where my fear of letting go stemmed from. What is more, he helped me understand how this was holding me back in my life, both personally and professionally. Yikes!
The two of us went through a few exercises that helped me foster my curiosity and become more and more comfortable with being vulnerable, but I felt that I wasn’t making enough progress. When Ray suggested trying out Improv, I jumped at the idea. Improv might sound like a nightmare to some, but for me it sounded like a great way to keep growing as a person and release some creative energy. I had tried out Improv / drama years ago and loved it, but so much had changed since then. I, for one, had changed.
After a few weeks of struggling whether to go ahead with the idea or not, I decided to push my boundaries and take action: I signed up for a six weeks long Improv class, not knowing what to expect and what I’d learn. Spoiler alert: it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions I made this year.
Traits of an Improviser: Listens to others. Agrees & supports. Respects their partner. Believes in working together. Doesn’t fear failure.
Traits of a successful manager: See above.
Improv is based on a concept called ‘Yes, and…‘, which means you always go along with whatever idea your partner introduces to the scene. If not, you’re essentially shutting the scene down or putting pressure on your partner to come up with something else – and doing this on the spot is a) extremely difficult and b) extremely awkward for your partner to go through and for the audience to watch.
Truth be told, I’m an open minded person but it is hard for somebody to change my mind if it’s made up. At work, for example, I’m not as open to new or different ideas when I believe I’ve already figured out the best way to solve a problem. This can obviously create a lot of friction and demotivate others from speaking up. More importantly, my ideas might not always be the best.
My biggest learning so far relates to how much fun it is to remain open to other people’s ideas.
In Improv, I’ve learned how to accept other people’s ideas and explore them to the fullest. At the end of my first class, for example, I was standing with another student in front of the class and the two of us had to pretend we were on TV and in charge of selling an edible car tire that could turn back time. I opened the scene by pretending to roll in a massive, oversized tire and telling my partner about the great product we had on offer today. I was totally unprepared for the Ukrainian accent that he decided to adopt in his response to me. ‘Alright then‘, I thought, ‘just go with the flow‘. And so I asked him if he still missed his mother and her excellent food… if he had settled in alright and so on.
Just last week, I was in a different scene in which my partner or, in this setting, friend from work, was supposed to come over to my house, go through a door I didn’t want him to go through and discover something that was unlikely to happen in real life. When the decisive moment came, he chose to cry out ‘You have a giant Easter egg in your house…! But why?!‘.
I could not say ‘no’ to this idea… To tell him he was crazy and there was nothing in the room would have meant the scene was over. So instead, I embraced his idea and took it further. I ended up pretending to climb inside the egg and showing him how I used it as a safe space to meditate in. So much for accepting new ideas! Had he chosen anything else, like a swimming pool full of orange juice or a room full of paper cups (like other people in the class did), I would have gone with it, too. And honestly, it’s a great feeling to let somebody else use their imagination to figure out where to go next.
How does this relate to working with others? If somebody has an idea, I now consciously ask for more details to get the full picture and try to understand how the idea could be realised – even if I’ve already found a way to solve an issue. Instead of shutting somebody down, I try to say ‘yes’ in my mind and explore the idea with the person. When I know something won’t work, I still listen and then try to get the other person (in a ‘Yes, and…‘ manner) to reach the same conclusion. It’s a much nicer experience for everyone!
The course is almost done now and I’m hooked. I want to – no, have to – do more Improv!
Wednesday has become my favorite day of the week because of Improv. I love how ‘ordinary’ people’s imagination creates something that’s funny. Entertaining to watch. Heart-breaking at times. It’s amazing to see how everyone can be creative and re-connect with their inner child when given the chance. But most of all, I’ve learned a ton about what it takes to be successful when working with other people! I’ve become much better at effectively listening to others and paying close attention to what they are saying (or not saying). If you’re interested in hearing more, for example about what I learned when a group of us had to create a story that was set on an oil rig, in a launderette, massage parlour and church, stay tuned. I’ll be sharing more Improv related blog posts in the coming weeks.
P.s. In Dublin and interested in trying out Improv yourself? This is the course that I took.