Some of the most useful (and entertaining) professional development classes I’ve ever taken have been improv-comedy classes. Besides making me a little less unfunny at parties, I’ve learned some powerful and practical communication skills in these classes.
One of them came from a brilliant teacher, Tim Whetham. (He was the teacher who pointed out on the first day of class that, “everyone is already good at improv, we do it 24 hours a day). In a class on performing an improvisational scene with a partner, Tim pointed out that your focus in the scene should be to validate the choices the other actor makes. In the heat of the moment it’s easy to dismiss what the other person says in a scene. Tim suggested that the response should be to always be to think: “Why was that brilliant?”
When you are working hard to validate your partner, and they are working hard to validate you, great things start to happen on stage. It doesn’t matter how off-the-wall or crazy your scene partner’s choices. It’s amazing when you can operate from a place of creativity, instead of slamming the doors shut. It doesn’t mean that you have to go along with blatantly wrong statements. But if you suspend your judgment for a while, you get to make different (and more conscious) decisions.
Improv Skills Can Be Life Skills
Let’s remove it from the improv stage: What an interesting way to go through life! Instead of judging everything that is said to you or done around you, just ask yourself, “Why was that brilliant?” It could be your business partner, your spouse, or the person standing in front of you in the line at Starbucks. Look for the possibilities in the situation instead of closing yourself down to them. It’s so easy to dismiss what others say, either subconsciously or directly. But then we end up closed off to the great ideas and influences that pop up in our lives every day.
This is how you dive deeper into your relationships, and it’s how you open yourself to ideas that lead to personal and professional growth. You don’t have to take everything at face value, but if you can learn to pause the internal critic in your mind, you’ll find the space that opens up allows for some fantastic results!