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’!