From TV shows, improvisation (improv) is often used by a comedian to supply a quick rebuttal towards hecklers or naysayers. However, when I attended Rochester Women’s Network Summit Business Conference, I curiously chose the breakout session on the topic of improv. The presenter, Ms. Caitlin Drago from the McArdle Ramerman Center in Rochester, NY, demonstrated that improv is a great technique which can empower trust, especially during critical conversations that often result in communication break down and ill-will.
The attendees were paired up and were given a scenario. One lead with the problem and the other teammate responded with the problem statement and then added the word ‘AND…’ followed by another statement that was not necessarily congruent with the first.
It went like this:
Scenario: A teenager was confronting his Mother regarding curfew.
The teenager said ‘Mom, the curfew you have given me doesn’t work for my social life’.
The Mom replied ‘Yes, I understand that the curfew I have given you doesn’t work for your social life AND you need to be home early on school nights.
The teenager said ‘Yes, I understand that I need to be home early on school nights AND I need some time with my friends after spending all day in school.
The Mom said ‘Yes, I understand that you need more time with your school friends after spending all day in school, AND, I am tired by 10pm and need to go to bed knowing you are home and are OK.
The teenager said ‘Yes, I understand you are tired also, and you want to be in bed by 10pm AND thanks Mom for caring about me!
I would challenge each of us to continue critical conversations by reiterating the words from the speaker. This forces us to REALLY LISTEN. Resist the urge to use the word ‘BUT’, which tends to refute the value of the speaker’s ideas or sentiments. Instead, try inserting the word AND to link the conversation towards negotiation and understanding.
Those who participated in Ms. Drago’s presentation felt very awkward in the face-to-face confrontational scenarios. Many of us commented that our need to be ‘right’ or our need to ‘win’ the argument was sometimes overwhelming and definitely presented a challenge. In a competitive world, many have been trained to win at any cost. OUR ideas must be foremost and final. Caitlin helped each of us understand that improv can help us to say ‘yes’ in new and creative ways, rather than shutting our partner down through bullying or power trips. Improv’s goal is to increase trust, teamwork, listening skills, and creativity among people.
Need a way to build prime connections with significant others? Let your listening skills be sharpened through capture and repetition. Bridge both person’s statements with AND, and lastly, have ‘no buts about it’!
An appreciation of diversity was learned at our kitchen table. A first generation American of Dutch decent, Dad found employment at a local printing company and later was promoted to a supervisory position. The 1960’s brought so much social change including the term ‘race relations’, women’s rights and the Viet Nam war. Certainly, these were confounding times.
As there was pressure to employ entry level positions with diverse candidates, Dad hired many. He hosted Webster’s version of the “International House of Pancakes’ and welcomed these foreign-born workers to breakfast every Saturday morning to fill up on pancakes and share life stories. Dad enjoyed learning their exotic phrases and often learned just enough to poke fun or to help correct a work issue.
Fast forward thirty years, as an educator in a local college, one half of my classroom was attended by English speakers of other languages, two of which were from Viet Nam. Enlightened though our Saturday pancake breakfasts, I still struggled with these two pupils. As I reflected, I understood why. No Asians attended Dad’s breakfasts, but the TV newsreels of our soldiers being maimed and killed in Viet Nam attended dinner daily. I became acutely aware of the impact of these images.
I decided to do what Dad modeled. Although rather reluctantly at first, I befriended the Vietnamese culture. Stories and photos were shared and an understanding had been reached. In essence, the war had not left their families or their country unscathed either.
Both successfully completed the program and I successfully overcame my own discrimination. As a token of my graduate’s gratitude, I received a package that contained a painting from Viet Nam of a rice farmer working in a field. Prominently displayed in my home, it is a reminder that like sowing rice, peace is sown through creating prime connections with people groups, one person at a time.
As I learned by my father’s example, making prime connections with those who are culturally diverse takes time and effort. Not all of our neighbors in our small town were as enlightened as Dad. Overcoming fear of miscommunication and being misunderstood is risky and takes practice. It also takes diligence and determination, but the outcomes can be life-changing for all!
Aha, an inspirational moment that I could not deny!
Having been a x-ray technologist for decades, I can be heard making the claim ‘once a radiographer, always a photographer’! My role has always been staging reluctant family members into just the right pose, very similar to positioning patients for the perfect medical image. Often, my husband and I will pick a place, pack our camera gear and away we go to seek that one special photo.
This day with our special 7 year old, we could not travel too far. Each of us had our camera in hand as we walked to the village and a nearby park. Along the way, we often stopped to take a photo of something that caught our attention.
When we returned home, each camera’s memory card was inserted into our big screen TV. We watched each picture cycle through. We oooh’d and ahh’d at our masterpieces and also talked about how to improve those pictures that were ‘not so good’. What we discovered was that often that ‘thing’-perhaps it was the waterfall, the garden, or the landmark-captured each of our imaginations differently. Each of us captured the image of the same item but each photo was unique. Each of us photographed the same bridge, creek, and landmark, but with a different angle, camera and perspective. Truly, the object of interest was subject to the eye of the beholder. Similar yes, but each was exceptional and distinctive.
When we are accompanied by others doing the same job or activity, the task may be similar. However, the results may be very different as each person directs their eyes and attention to ‘that thing’ that commands their attention. Give pause and acknowledge that perspective gained from both life experiences and life inexperience, can change the outcome. Making prime connections with others is often easier when one is slow to judge and quick to accept a different interpretation, which is truly is in the ‘eye or the heart of the beholder’.
As I think about our individual works of art though photography, it was our prime connection to each other and the ability to trust one another that allowed vulnerability to become learners, give and accept constructive criticism, offer and receive advice, and sometimes, accept the decision to discard the image all together. Our collection of photos and our memories from the day’s activities will always speak to the quality of the connection we have to each other.
A symposium of Indonesian visitors were our guests this week at Rochester Women’s Network. The purpose of their visit was to gather information to improve their own business practices through dialog with American citizens and business organizations.
Not all spoke English. Two ‘prime-connectors’ served as interpreters. Each translator took turns at various intervals throughout the meeting. One interpreter took notes in an attempt to translate verbatim. She would stop to clarify and then relay the communication. The other, did not. The female interpreter asked one English speaker to ‘please slow down’ so she could be more effective. It was her partner’s turn to translate when a slang American term was referenced. The male interpreter kept on speaking into his machine, without hesitation. Apparently, our guests understood because laughter prevailed. When I asked the translator, how he decoded the funny phrase, the woman answered. Perhaps the male interpreter was more skilled or perhaps the woman was able to read his mind. Maybe she was a quicker responder. Maybe I had asked a very common question. Nevertheless, the woman said, “We work around slang”. But my question was, ‘How did you interpret that phrase?” I wanted to know verbatim. Another question was asked elsewhere, and so, we moved on. I never received the exact wording.
We all have times in our lives when we need an interpreter. I call these experiences ‘culture crossings’. ‘Culture crossings’ occur during those times when advice is needed outside of our own wheelhouse or we are facing a new challenge. We look for a ‘prime-connector’ who will interpret for us-to bridge the gap in our own understanding. Depending on our own experience, the skill-set of that interpreter is critical to our well-being, especially if we need details or an extensive plan. At times, we prefer to allow someone to read our minds and respond from their own experience.
Take a few mental notes as to how you receive information and how you interpret the steady stream of incoming messages. Who are your ‘prime-connectors’? How are both you and your ‘prime-connectors’ supplying feed-back? Become more aware of who is speaking for you. What they are saying and what is being interpreted?
The challenge is choosing the proper ‘prime-connector’ at critical junctions and also choosing to become the ‘prime-connector’ for others by slowing down the conversation and asking clarifying questions. Revisit conversations to correct areas of misunderstanding. Don’t move on until appropriate and sufficient understanding is reached.