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.
Katie is a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator and Executive Coach.