Posts Tagged ‘improv’

How to YES AND at Work

How to YES AND at Work

Approaching a dialogue with a YESAND mindset requires two things from you, to YES and to AND.

  First the YESYESing someone in a conversation requires you to make it a point, for the duration of the conversation, to consciously, completely focus on what the other person is communicating to you and nothing else. In order to YES someone, you must set aside your agenda (your desire to affect an outcome that achieves your goal or desire), and really, truly, genuinely listen to them. In the act ofYESing someone, you are fully focused on them, considering everything they are saying, and disengaging the mental process of judging the value of what’s being said, or determining if you agree or disagree. You are simply listening without judgement or agenda. You’ve done this effectively when the person you’re speaking with experiences the sense that they have been heard and that you have considered what they have said. That’s the ‘YES’ part.

  Now the AND part: ANDing is adding to the conversation in a way that will not be received by the other person as your being antagonistic, negative, attacking, or a dismissive of what they are saying. When ANDing someone, you are only adding to or building on the conversation with responses that are constructive and that support the other persons’ feeling that you are listening to them and that you authentically value they’re contribution to the conversation. You’ve done this effectively when the person you’re speaking with experiences that you get the importance of what they are saying, and you are enrolled with them in improving or resolving the problem.

  YES-ANDing may often look like agreement, but it certainly doesn’t have to. In a conversation, it is not just being a Yes Man, agreeing with everything everyone says; it’s an exercise, an activity in which you commit to 1. Listen to and2. Build on someone else through conversation with them. The hardest part of practicing the YES-AND mindset in real life is getting past our desire to be right, or to get what we want from the conversation. ‘Letting someone else win’ is usually not a comfortable thing to do, however, the value of deliberately engaging in the YES-AND mindset with someone is that you will have the opportunity to observe and experience what effect this ‘unnatural’ approach has on the conversation, and on the relationship as people begin to trust the new dynamic and enjoy conversations with you. The effect, very often, is an increased capacity to listen (by all parties in the conversation), and an increased sense of respect and willingness to further open up and engage in dialogue.

  For more on Yes And from a number of another respected authorities on the subject, check out this article on the IRC Improv Wiki.

The Three Improv Concepts that will Transform Your Company Culture and Save You Money

The Three Improv Concepts that will Transform Your Company Culture and Save You Money

I recently came across a shocking statistic in an article written by Niall McCarthy, Data Journalist for Forbes Magazine. The city of Seattle is ranked the tenth city in the entire nation for most hours per week worked by the average employee. According to Naill’s research, the average worker puts 47.23 hours per week in at the office/workplace. On top of that, according to Rachel Dicker in an article in the USNews, Seattle is ranked number 6 in the nation for most traffic congested cities in the nation.. and I’m thinking to myself, “that’s a lot of time spent going to, at, and coming home from the office!” Knowing what commute gridlock does to my sense of peace, (and I work from home), I had to wonder what mental state those people who commute to an office and back home every day are bringing to their teams at work, and their families at home. And what if their workplace is one of chaos, negativity or conflict? Well, that brings things to a whole new level altogether!   Since I am in the business of helping business reap the financial, morale and social benefits of employing an engaged, fulfilled and communicating workforce, I had to wonder: what is the effect of the crazy number of hours we’re putting in, and the stress that is commonly associated with being a part of a workforce? The complete answer to this question is three things: 1. Complex, 2. Unhelpful and 3. A very substantial financial loss to organizations from a lack of employee morale and productivity.   Maybe we can’t wave the magic wand and magically fix our traffic problems or disappear 5-10 hours off of our average workweek, but there are steps that companies and their employees can take to move the needle in a positive direction, towards creating your engaged, fulfilled and communicating workforce. Here are three of them, and they come from the world of theater Improvisation (Yes, Improv!)
  1. Redefine FAILURE: Business Leaders, how do your managers who report to you, and the individual contributors who report to them react to their own personal failures and the failures of those who report to them? What is your relationship to failure? Human beings (being what they are) tend to close off, go internal, try to hide failures, labeling them ‘negative’ instead of opening up, becoming vulnerable, sharing the failure. You business leaders are smart so rather than telling you the rest, let me ask you; what’s the result of your, and your managers, default reaction to failure? If everybody’s reaction was one of opening up, becoming vulnerable and transparent for all to see and learn, what difference would that make?

  2. Approach Your Interactions with Others with a ‘YES AND’ Mindset: ‘Yes And’ is about acceptance and addition. Consider for your next team meeting, devoting the entire meeting to employing a ‘Yes And’ mindset with everybody in that meeting, for the duration of that meeting. This is not to say be a “Yes person”, going along with every suggestion that everybody says. A ‘Yes And’ mindset is ACCEPTANCE = Regardless of if you subscribe to or agree with what’s being said, find a way to respond in any way other than one that is a shut-down of the other person. For example, you may know that adding an additional wing to the office is simply not possible in the 2018 budget, but rather than saying “That is not possible. We don’t have the budget for it.”, consider expressing agreement that things are cramped here in the office, AND offer your sincere desire (and perhaps a timeline) to work closely with them to come up with some good short-term solutions that will address and remedy this very valid problem. This is the ‘Yes And’ mindset, and it works because it shows the person your interacting with that you are actually listening to them, and that you honor them as evidenced by the fact that you see their concern as valid and you’re willing to take action on it, or even just continue the conversation on it.

  3. Make the Other Person Look Good: Do you know why great stage improvisers seem so witty, brilliant, quick and entertaining? Here’s a clue: It’s not because they are particularly witty, brilliant, quick or funny as individuals. It’s because they are those adjectives as a TEAM. How are they that way as a team? They are that way because each and every individual on that improv team is doing everything for the others on their team. The individuals in a great improv troupe don’t seek the limelight, they don’t try to deliver the perfect one-liner, they only devote their full attention, their expression, their talent to one thing, making the other person look good. That’s the beginning and the end of it. Try this on for yourself for one day. I challenge you to devote one full day, from the buzz of the alarm clock to the clicking off of your bedside lamp, to making someone else look good, be the success, get the credit. Try it and write me and let me know what happened. I DARE YOU! 🙂

  Of course, another amazing way to move the needle for your organization is to consider a conflict management workshop or workshop series with Improv Alive! We blend conceptual and experiential learning and deliver a powerful, immersive experience that gives your employees the tools they need to deal with difficult personalities and hard conversations in an effective and empowering way with tangible and measurable results in employee satisfaction and workforce productivity. Check out our cool video on Conflict Management.    

An Improvisational Mindset as a Guide to Salary Negotiation

The Effectiveness of Yes, And in Hiring

The Effectiveness of Yes, And in Hiring

As some may know, I’ve spent the past 10 years leading two lives.. Professionally speaking. One leading an applied improvisation practice (Improv-Alive), and the other, a technical recruiting practice (DyNexus Recruiting & Staffing)  One thing I know for sure is this: of all the topics that can blow-up a potentially positive hire, conflicting views on salary is one of the top deal-killers. It’s important for both the hirer and the candidate to view the compensation negotiation process as a collaborative effort rather than a competitive one.

There’s a concept that was born in the world of improv-acting called the ‘Improvisational Mindset’.  When applied to the business of salary negotiation, it’s a simple way to make this unavoidable conversation one that serves to drive progress rather than conflict.  An Improvisational Mindset helps you, when interacting with others, to find a positive starting point and build on it, rather than take your position and support/defend it.  You want a negotiation on salary to be a collaborative conversation, and not a competitive one.

Here’s an example of common landmine that can come up during the hiring process, and how an Improvisational Mindset can make the interviewing and negotiating process more effective.

Conversation: Pay…

Many, many times, hirers are quick to adopt the mindset that a candidate shouldn’t get more than a (X)% increase in pay from their last job. This position is common amongst hirers, partly because they often feel that it’s “negotiating”, and can end up saving them money if the candidate accepts. However, is that actually a fact? Does acting within this mindset really bring additional value to the hiring company?

When you consider the financial investment involved in hiring and onboarding a new employee and the risk you are taking that this person you just hired might be anything other than smart, decent, productive and loyal, and you weigh that against the potential gain of hiring an employee who, on day one, is happy to be here and grateful to his new company for paying him what the market considers a fair wage; is it really worth it for you to engage from a mindset that has you positioning for a better deal at your potential employee’s expense, as your first serious interaction with her?

Let’s do the numbers to find out:  Take a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle, dividing the page in half. On the left-hand side, figure how much money you safe or lose at the end of 1 year when you hire a candidate at $10K below fair market value and that candidate generates as much as the weakest link on you team is generating for your company at the end of one year. Now, on the other side of the page, figure how much money you gain or lose when you hire a candidate at fair market value and that candidate generates as much as the strongest link on your team is generating for your company after one year. Now, look at these two numbers.. Which one is better for your bottom line?

  An Improvisational Mindset in this case might have you considering where the candidate is coming from.  For example, that candidate may very well be leaving a company that was vastly underpaying him or her, and their whole reason for considering joining your company is to be paid what the market is bearing for someone of her caliber and experience.

  So, if long-term loyalty is what you want from your employees, you may see this shift in thought as your investment in a positive, respectful beginning of a relationship (Improvisational Mindset), rather than the chance to keep an extra several thousand bucks in payroll (Me VS. You).

It takes a shift in point-of-view, and some courage to adopt an Improvisational Mindset, but it’s effective, and contagious! Plus, you may find the challenge to be one that spurs growth both as a professional and as a person living on the earth.

Fostering Teamwork with Zip-Boing-SCHABLAMMY!!

Zip-Boing-Schablamy focusing exercise

Zip-Boing-Schablamy focusing exercise

January 20th is swiftly approaching.. I can’t think of a better way to spend a presidential administration change than to focus on your friends, teammates or co-workers.  ZIP-BOING-SCHBLAMY! is an attention focusing, teamwork centric game that is as ridiculous and fun as it sounds. If you can get your whole team in one room for 15-minutes this Friday, I recommend giving this game a try. If nothing else, you’ll have had 15 minutes of fun, smiles and laughter, and end up with a sharp, focused team!

This exercise is especially helpful for teams that are having a challenge loosening up with each other. Another great thing about Zip-Boing-Schblamy is that it completely stands on it’s own as an exercise. You don’t need a warm-up, give much of a preface, or anything. Just a team who is willing to give it a try. Giving your team permission to play a little, especially before a serious office meeting or client engagement can dramatically alter their mood and performance for the better.

ZIP-BOING-SCHBLAMY!: (a teamwork exercise by Improv Alive)
All in a circle. 1 person starts by pointing to their neighbor and saying “ZIP”, this continues until someone makes an ‘X’ with their forearms and says “BOING”, thus changing the direction of the action around the circle. Finally, one can send the focus across the circle by clap-pointing to anybody other than their direct neighbor and saying “SHABLAMY!”

The only way out of the KNOT.. is to Improvise!

A great game for the tactile and kinesthetic group, The Knot is a great bonding exercise, and the only way to solve it is to work together, and to improvise..

The Knot: Everyone in a circle. All reach one arm into the middle of the circle (either arm), & take someone else’s hand. Then, everyone reach their other hand in and take the hand of another (nobody should be holding both the hands of another). Without anybody letting go of another’s hand, the group must work together to un-tie the human knot.

Get your team THINKING like a team with ‘THE NAME GAME’

Your workforce is under pressure. Each employee is doing the job of two, and the responsibility feels like stress. You’re starting to notice a drop in morale, which goes hand in hand with a drop in workforce efficiency.  Getting your leaders and teams to engage in improv at work is one of the best ways to turn stress to joy and boost morale.  Here’s another terrific, easy-to-play game that breaks the ice, encourages a team-centric focus, and is more fun than a photobombing seal: The Name Game is a simple, fun and effective game to be played by 6-30 people.  Here’s THREE versions of it to try out:

The Name Game I, II & III: 

Breaking the ice, Focus & Concentration (6+ people)

I. Everyone in a circle. Doug says his own name and points to Alice, Alice says her name and points at Brian.. until everybody’s name has been said several times.

II. Doug points at Alice and says her name, etc.. (if the wrong name is said, the pointed tells their name and we move on).

III. Begins by starting a rhythm (group snapping their fingers). Doug says his own name and Alice’s name, Alice says her name and Brian’s name.., hence passing the focus around the group in rhythm.

An improvisation game to help break the ice at work:

Getting your teams at work to engage in theatrical improvisation is one of the best ways to break the ice when you’re introducing one group to another, or striving for more of a sense of teamsmenship within a group. Sometimes, the mere mention of the words “We’re gonna do Improv!” can strike fear in the hearts of many. It’s important to start the event with a game that is light, fun, and quickly defuses the angst. NAME & GESTURE is a simple, fun and effective game that I learned at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York City.  Here’s how it works:

Name & Gesture: 

Everyone forms a large circle. The first (brave) person says their name and does an associated bodily gesture to accompany their name. For example, the 1st player (let’s say Scott) says “Scott”, and slaps his thigh. Then EVERYBODY in the circle repeats “SCOTT!” and slaps their own thigh.  Then, the player to the right of Scott, (let’s say, Ellen) says “SCOTT!” and slaps her thigh, and then says “ELLEN!”, and spins around in a circle.  1-by-1, all the way around the circle, each plays says the previous names & gestures of  all the previous players, ending with their own name & gesture.  This goes all the way around the circle. Finally one brave soul must do the names & gestures of the ENTIRE circle.


The Different Ways that Improv Speaks to Us

The Different Ways Improv Speaks to Us

The Different Ways Improv Speaks to Us

The Different Ways that Improv Speaks to Us:


In early December this month Improv Alive began offering a Business Improvisation boot camp for Puget Sound area businesses to send their employees to, in order to learn and practice some new and different communication & collaboration techniques. There were Business Consultants, Life Coaches, Marketing Directors, Tour Guides, and even a retired Fish & Wildlife Scientist! 14 people in all, and the range of personalities throughout the group couldn’t have been wider. It was a fun and successful morning of play and learning, and the reviews were positive, but one review caught me by surprise. I share it here:


“I wanted to just share an observation about my experience today in Boot Camp: What I noticed was that there were quite a few extroverts (makes sense for tour guides) who were really into the improvisational opportunities. In the moment, I recall feeling a little out of place, and I recall kind of taking a back seat, allowing others to just go for it while I hung back. After the workshop, I spoke to a number of the other attendees, and each of them complemented me on how outgoing and engaged I was during those same exercises. Thinking about this, I wonder which one happened. I wonder if you have any thoughts on this?”  

This feedback made me acutely aware of how differently one person may experience an improvisational engagement from another. An engaging teacher with a masterful lecture may take a fiendishly boring topic like.. Taxes, (sorry accountants), and create an intriguing lecture that inspires a diverse audience. The feedback would most likely be uniformly positive, the audience would have had similar praises and critiques, but they will all have experienced the same lecture.


In my experience as a teacher of improvisation for people who are not “improvisers”, this that the common experience phenomenon I mention above simply does not occur when one is engaging in Improvisation. The reason for his is that when one is engaged in the act of improvising, they are operating at an elevated state of consciousness, just as an athlete, or an artist is when they are in the midst of their performance. It’s called “the zone”. The person is said to be “in the zone”. When one is acting “in the zone”, there often occurs a kind of amnesic effect that literally changes, or more to the point, re-writes the participants’ recollection of the experience.


When leading corporate teams in improvisation workshops, I rely on the zone to help people overcome their inhibitions and escape self-judgment (because what difference does it make if they can’t even remember how bad or good they performed anyway?!)


IMPROV MADE PRACTICAL Q&A: Part III – WORK!.. What’s Improv got to do with it?

Q: How does Improvisation help corporations and their employees achieve a better working environment?

A: This is a recurring question that I have been grappling with an effective answer to for a long time.. Myself being an artist & business leader, I already get the power of improvisation to effect change in teams & organizations. I’ve seen it, been a part of it and I trust it. However, as a teacher of improvisation in the world of business and higher education, I am constantly in the position of conveying this value to business and academic leaders who are looking for something more.. concrete, specific. Less conceptual and general.

The world in to which I’m trying to bring improvisation is constantly looking for the solution to their specific problem(s), they want to define the ROI, they want to see an outline with benchmarks. I find it next to impossible to avoid trying to fit improv into a box in order to cause my prospective clients to realize the value of subjecting their employees, students or clients to improvisational workshops. Here is a Wednesday afternoon attempt.. a thought journey, if you will: I liken the practice of improvisation to the practice of lifting weights: You don’t pump iron just so you can lift weights better, you pump iron to tone your muscles which you will then use more efficiently in your daily life. In the same way, improvisation is not the result. It isn’t even the direct solution to the result. When people intentionally improvise, they use their brains in new and unfamiliar ways, and when these activities are introduced in the context of ’play‘, ‘fun‘ or ‘exploration‘, people tend to lower their defenses and engage. Practicing improvisation is all about listening, accepting & supporting other’s ideas, and building, building, building.

Is there anyone out there who would prefer less listening? Less supporting? Less building in their organization?
Finally, Pumping iron is SEXY, and so it’s commonly practiced. The practice of improvisation, however, is generally considered to be only for Artists or Comics. The more we can change this stigma, the more improvisation will be adopted in business, education, and the world.


Q: Aren’t un-scripted performances haphazard and chaotic?

A: When improv is done right, it can absolutely be chaotic, but not haphazard. A lot of people think that improv is just getting up and doing anything and everything that pops into their mind. Improvisation on the stage is totally free in that is has no script & no blocking (planed movement), however, within that freedom, there are general guidelines that improvisers follow that create a ‘framework’ in which we play. These guidelines keep us from “haphazard” performances. This framework consists of tools that force us to constantly and intensely listen to each other, and cause every action to be in support of the others on the team, rather than making one’s SELF look good. This is the key to making improv look good!