It seems like I always have my nose stuck in a book. I read novels and business books, thus satisfying my need for continued growth and learning and also fantasy and escape. The internet and the various web sites I visit on a daily basis also provide interesting reads; shorter and more concise.
A theme that seems to be running through much of what I have picked up lately is improv.
Most people automatically think Second City when they think improv. And while that certainty is a valid and important connection to understanding improv, it’s not the only why to think about improv.
Improv is here and now. What ever the context in which you find yourself, improv shows the way to focus on where you are at now. Improv is in itself a toolbox that provides the secrets to finding success in the here and now.
In Dan Pink’s book, To Sell is Human, he talks about the importance of improv in sales situations saying “improv skills stress the importance of nimble minds and more limber skills,” both of which are critical to influence and persuasion. Indeed, the three basic rules of improv make sense and work well in any lots of situations. Think about it.
1. Hear offers. Listen, really listen to what the other person is saying. Don’t plan your response while they are talking. That’s not really listening. Wait five second after they have finished talking, allowing yourself time to consider your response before opening your mouth to respond.
I love this quote by Mortimer Adler, “Is anyone anywhere taught how to listen? How utterly amazing is the general assumption that the ability to listen well is a natural gift for which no training is required. How extraordinary is the fact that no effort is made anywhere in the whole educational process to help individuals learn how to listen well?”
We all need to learn how to be better listeners. The opposite of talking isn’t listening. It’s waiting. When others speak, we typically divide our attention between what they are saying now and what we are going to say next and end up doing a mediocre job at both. The ultimate idea is to listen without listening for anything.
2. Say “Yes and”. Within the ocean of rejection that we face every day, “yes, and” provides oceans of possibility. Think about how the world would change if the answer to every question was “yes and.”
It’s important to note here that the correct improv response is “NOT just yes.” The “and” is critical because it allows the respondent to add to the offer with more information that will move it forward in a more specific direction. Instead of negating, belittling, or disagreeing, improv suggests that to say, “yes, and…” allows you to accept what has been presented to you and then to add to it. A dialogue. What an amazing concept.
3. Make your partner look good. If you can make your partner look good on a regular basis you are co-creating a culture of generosity, creativity and possibility; a place where all parties can succeed and experience win-win outcomes.
Imagine an encounter where neither of you are cutting deals or counting some limited number of emotional chips; where strategizing and posturing and bluffing give way to honest and open communication. Imagine trusting that your partner really does have your best interests at heart.
These three basic rules of improv make sense for all of us and work equally well in professional and personal relationships. The world is changing. As Patricia Ryan Madson says, “Don’t prepare, just show up.”
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