Using the rules of improv for better communications

I recently read Tina Fey's hilarious memoir Bossypants. And her personality, wit and charm are so interwoven into the writing and stories, it makes you feel like you know her – or want to hang out with her at a greasy spoon!

In the book, Fey references the rules of improv comedy and how they can help you navigate life. According to Wikipedia: ‘Improvisation is the practice of acting, singing, talking and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one's immediate environment and inner feelings. This can result in the invention of new thought patterns, new practices, new structures or symbols, and/or new ways to act.’ 

And it struck me that the rules of improv apply to good communications too.  Here’s how:

  1. Default to yes. Many people say no when they hear something that runs counter to what they’ve been conditioned to expect. And by doing that, they close their minds. As communicators we need to learn how to embrace the yes and be open, not dismissive. Saying yes is the hallmark of two-way communications: because it means we’re listening and considering another perspective.
  2. Don’t be a but. One of those people who's constantly uttering those two idea-killing words: YES BUT. Communicating isn’t about shoving your inflexible point of view down someone’s throat. Instead try YES…AND. Then imagine the possibilities a fresh idea presents and build on that.
  3. Make statements. Certain people are good at asking questions when they want to be heard but have nothing meaningful to add. Yes, questions are important. But sometimes we use them to nitpick the life out of a different point of view. Don’t do that. And don’t apologize for your ideas either. If you have something to say, say it with conviction. It’s better to add to the discussion than simply subtract. 
  4. Go with the flow. Maybe what’s been said is out of your comfort zone and your response is to rail against it out of fear or laziness – or because you didn’t think of it first. Or maybe it just seems like dumb mistake. Remember: there are no mistakes, only opportunities. OK, there are mistakes and hopefully you can learn from them. The point is, you need to avoid the tendency toward snap judgements and let yourself go where the situation takes you.

And then you can try what Steve Cody suggests and some inject humour into your communications. It’s amazing what a little well-timed comedy can do.

Are you an improviser or do you just shtick to the same old script? And while you’re at it, give me an occupation, a place and a name…

About Martin Waxman


Martin Waxman is a digital, social media and communications strategist, content marketer, social media trainer and instructor and co-founder of three PR agencies. He blogs at myPALETTE and hosts the Inside PR podcast.

8 comments
jasonarican
jasonarican

This is all very true and extremely helpful. Another improv rule to follow: There is always "truth in comedy." When communicating, be honest... and have honest reactions. I actually wrote a blog post about it (not trying to pimp here, just think it's a great extension of what you're talking about): http://bit.ly/JTBpqD Plus I was really happy with how the title worked out

susansilver
susansilver

There are many lessons in Improv for us when dealing with communication. It isn't a static thing. It is dynamic, but I think we forget that. We see it as a give and take because that is how we experience it. Meanwhile we are taking in all sorts of signals and making judgements like when we should speak. That makes Improv a great metaphor. Thanks for sharing this.

dibegin
dibegin

I took an improv class last summer for better communication. It is much easier to watch it and pick out good/bad improv than actually doing it. Improv's simplicity is key in succinct communication. And the classes are a blast.

martinwaxman
martinwaxman moderator

I enjoyed your post, @jasonarican. Thanks for sharing it. And being honest is always the way to go. A lot of humour can come out of it too.

martinwaxman
martinwaxman moderator

Great point @susansilver. Because so much communication happens in real time, we have to make a lot of decisions on the fly and we can learn the good - and bad - from improv too and hopefully readjust quickly if we need to.

martinwaxman
martinwaxman moderator

Thanks @dibegin - I took improv classes too and you're right about how they focus on succinct communication - and thinking fast and responding in real time - which is so important in social media.

martinwaxman
martinwaxman moderator

Great minds and all that @ginidietrich :)... When I read that part I thought about how much we can learn from it and how many people do the opposite.

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