Improve Workplace Communication with an Improv Comedy Technique

As a long-time fan and performer of improvisational comedy, or “improv” for short, I wasn’t surprised to hear that the same communication techniques that I use on stage were also being used in the workplace.

For those who don’t know, an improv performance is completely unscripted. A scene begins with a suggestion from the audience, then, improvisers take the suggestion and create a storyline from it. Improvisers have developed several communication techniques to keep an impromptu performance looking structured and realistic. A fundamental technique they use is called the “Yes, and…” technique. “Yes, and…” requires improvisers to listen, agree, and build upon to their partners’ suggestions. This technique sends a message to their teammates that they hear their ideas, they agree with them, and that they can work off of their idea to move the improv scene forward.

Below, I share two stories of people that have used the “Yes, and…” technique to improve workplace communication in various situations.

“Yes and…” for Team Collaboration

Steven, a creative director, was facilitating a team discussion on a project and needed as many ideas on deck as possible to drive a unique creative direction. His team members were hesitant to share their ideas and he wasn’t sure why until he thought back to his past improv lessons. He learned from his improv classes that most people are hesitant to share their ideas because it feels safe and predictable to stay on the sidelines. People tend to only share their ideas when they feel that they are perfect ideas. In improv, all ideas are perfect. Steven wasn’t worried about staying safe. Saying “Yes, and…” was the solution to break these barriers. The technique emphasized open communication where all ideas are accepted without judgement – even if it’s just “Yes, and…” for the moment. When Steven started to show his enthusiasm for all the ideas that were being shared, the team members started to bring their most creative ideas to the table. Steven was able to gather enough great ideas to finalize a project direction. Steven used “Yes, and…” to create a safe environment for his team members to share their ideas.

“Yes and…” for Decision-Making

Carrie, a project manager, had been leading a team to finish up a large project at work. All eyes were on her and her team to finish up the last piece of the puzzle. Carrie made sure to run through all of the “what if’s” and different scenarios so that she could be prepared for any unexpected. She didn’t want there to be a bump in the road, however, she realized that much of these factors were out of her control. As a fellow improviser, she had learned to acknowledge the unforeseeable problem, accept it, and go with whatever happens. Suddenly, her team went from tense to relaxed as the pressure for perfection had been released. Accepting the surprises that might come her way reframed her mind to think of her project as an exciting sport. When the unforeseeable hit, she just worked with what she had instead of trying to resist the unexpected. In the business world it saves time and alleviates a lot of stress when you don’t fight against the unexpected. Carrie used “Yes, and…” to be ready and to just go with it.

Who would have known that a popular type of theatre performance would provide valuable tools for workplace communication? Next time you’re struggling at work to solve a communication issue, remember back to how Carrie or Steven handled their issue. Try using “Yes, and…” to create a collaborative work environment and alleviate stress when making a business decision full of the unknown.

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