I love improvisational theatre. Have you ever seen it? It is such a blast!
I think part of what is so fun about it is that everything is being made up in the moment. There is no planning, no prep - it’s all spontaneous.
Like me, many of you may be thinking “How do they do that? These people are brilliant!” Agreed.
Number 1 - they are incredibly courageous to get up there without a plan in front of an audience. It’s risky, exciting, and vulnerable. And #2 - good improvisers keep the action moving forward. It often feels like they are working from a script, when in fact they are not.
My husband and I have a good friend who is a brilliant improviser. He is truly world-class. One of my favorite ways to watch him work is when he performs with “3 For All”. These three incredible improvisers are magical.
So how do they do it? There are principles in improvisational theatre that make it work, and interestingly, many of the principles in improv can be applied to life.
One universal principle in improv is saying ‘yes to all offers’ or ‘Yes, and….’
Here’s how it goes. When your partner makes an offer in the form of a statement, gesture, movement, etc., the principle guides you to say YES to the offer, and then build on it. This helps the scene continue to evolve.
How that might look in improvisational theater is let’s say someone says to me, “Hey, I’ll get the fishing poles ready. Hand me that one would you?” To which I might reply, “Sure, here you go. I’m so excited. I’ve never fished for marlin before”
So I’ve said yes to their offer and I’ve added something more to build on it.
What doesn’t work so well is when someone blocks an offer. Imagine the offer as above, but instead of saying yes, I block it. Perhaps I had a brilliant idea in my head that I want us to go hang gliding in our scene…
So I say to my scene partner, “Fishing pole? I hate fishing. I’m getting my backpack on for our hang gliding lesson.”
I’ve completely blocked their offer.
Now imagine if you’re that person who I just blocked, how that might feel…. Perhaps you think “I guess that wasn’t good enough.” Or “Am I even doing this scene with this person? Is it just about what she wants to do?”
It doesn’t create a good connection or sense of teamwork, and it also seems strange to the audience because we see that an offer has been blocked.
So how is this relevant to the workplace?
The truth is… we are all improvising all the time.
We may have an idea or plan of how we want our day to go, but we can’t know the details of what will actually happen. So we improvise.
The principle of saying ‘Yes, and….’ can be applied to relationships, conversations, and meetings.
Think about how many times you have made an offer or come up with an idea… Maybe it’s just where you want to go for dinner or an idea at work about a new project you want to start.
And how many times is that met with all the reasons why that is not a good idea?
“We don’t have the budget for it.” “That sounds interesting but we don’t have the time.” “No it’s just not a good idea.”
Whatever the response is, the NO blocks the creativity of that moment.
When we can say YES to something and build on it we generate more engagement, more investment, more enthusiasm, and more creativity.
So notice, the next time you’re in a meeting, if you have the impulse to say no to something, instead of saying no, pause for a moment and see if there is something in the idea that you like and that you can build on. Even if it’s just a small part of the idea.
Saying yes allows for a more collaborative conversation. It also can help others to feel a sense of being heard and respected for their ideas. And often the end result might be a combination of a number of ideas, created together by saying yes to one another.
So give it a try - be brave, share a new idea, and be kind in your response to others.
Let’s talk about boundaries. Ugh. Right? Why is it so hard?
It's a simple enough concept - have a sense of what is ok and not ok, and communicate that to others. Then hold firm to that choice (assuming that is what you want) no matter what the reaction.
So why is it so challenging for so many of us?
The need to set boundaries appears in all areas of our lives. Maybe its boundaries with someone in your family - your mother, partner, kids…
Maybe you need to set more boundaries at work. Boundaries about texting after hours, when to shut off your email. Maybe even boundaries with your boss…
Whatever it is, we swear to ourselves that we are going to do better with our boundaries...And yet, when push comes to shove, many of us are not so great at it.
For me, I often struggle with holding a boundary when the person on the other side of it doesn’t like it.
A while back I decided to take a stand with a colleague about something that was really important to me. I felt clear and I felt confident. But when I shared it - well she clearly didn't like it. Though she said it was ok with her, I could tell that she was not happy. Perhaps you have experienced something similar...
So what did I do?
I caved in… I just let it go.
I said, "No, never mind. I can drop it. It’s not a big deal.”
But the problem is that it was a big deal. To me.
Ultimately I was more willing to disappoint myself than to disappoint someone else. And when I disappointed myself, I felt resentful that I was doing something that wasn’t right for me. Sound familiar?
Where do you struggle with boundaries? Is it at work? At home? With friends or family?
For me, it’s all of the above.
When I first started intentionally setting boundaries, they were like steel walls. I had been so accustomed to abandoning myself to please others that I needed to swing too far in the other direction in order to find my balance.
Today I try to be clear and kind in communicating what’s ok and what’s not ok. And I pay attention to which boundaries are essential to my well-being and which might be more flexible and permeable.
What works for you? How are you able to set a boundary and hold it, even when others don’t like it?
Katie is a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator and Executive Coach.