What Improv Teaches Us About Employee Engagement - Novacrea Research
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What Improv Teaches Us About Employee Engagement

Photo by Pi Wen Looi

Photo by Pi Wen Looi

This past Sunday we went to see our friend, Linda, perform in Stories in Motion directed by Nina Wise. The performers told their stories with hand gestures and body movements. They also synchronized their movements, made sounds, and sang. As in any improv performance, they built on each other’s stories.

One woman told a story about her dad who, when he was on duty in the Philippines, wrote a love letter to her mom. It was to be read only after her dad passed away, but her mom never read it because she passed before her dad. Guided by her hand gestures and narratives, I could “see” her living room where clutters of magazines, letters, and newspapers were. My heart stopped a beat when she finally pinned the letter, written on onion-skin-thin papers, to her bulletin board.

Another performer told us how he tried to meditate, but his mind kept wondering off to his unfinished work. His story was juxtaposed with another performer’s story about how she found out, while vacationing in Germany, that she was pregnant. These were two very different stories, but they were beautifully interwoven together and became a story that could stand on its own. In the finale, all the performers repeated a phrase or a word from one of the performances of the evening, unified by synchronized gestures and repetitions of some phrases. The finale looked amazingly integrated and well rehearsed, although everything was improvised!

Listening to your partners, building on each other’s stories using “yes, and” instead of “yes, but,” and going with the flow are basic principles of improv. These principles are equally valuable in our everyday interactions with employees and peers.

Listen to your partners.
How often do we really listen to the people we are talking with? Many of us are guilty of checking our computer for incoming emails or mindlessly surfing the net while having a conversation with a colleague. To really listen is to show respect for your coworkers and employees. Respect is the foundation for all relationships and for employee engagement.

Build on each other’s stories. Make it a commitment in 2014 to say “yes, and” instead of “yes, but.” You’ll be amazed how much more cooperative your team members are, and how many more creative ideas you can generate from your meetings. “Yes, but” is limiting. “Yes, and” is freeing. Which option would you choose?

Go with the flow. Have you ever experienced a conversation or a meeting where one of the participants kept stating his or her points regardless of what is being discussed? How did you feel? Nothing kills a great discussion more than when someone is not staying on point with the discussion and tries to reiterate his/her own agenda. Go with the flow means staying in the present and practicing giving the benefit of the doubt. While there is still a place for playing devil’s advocate, too many devil’s advocates will kill creative ideas prematurely.

At the dawn of 2014, let’s build on each other’s ideas, practice active listening, and celebrate each other’s successes.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

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