Improvisational comedy has become more mainstream in the past couple of years thanks to theaters like the Second City and the Upright Citizens Brigade. Many young comedians are taking classes in longform improv, but few realize that many of the rules of improv relate to everyday situations and can even help you become a better co-worker and employee. Here are a few improv-to-work skills I’ve learned along the way:
1) Say yes and… – The number one rule of improv is that you say “yes and…” It’s the idea of accepting what your scene partner is offering you, and adding onto that with more support. For example, if I said, “I am a farmer,” you would say, “Yes, and you have a cow.” Now that example is pretty lame, but the idea is there. This rule works the same in the office. You always want to stay positive when working with others, and you also don’t want to just do the bare minimum, you want to go above and beyond. When your boss asks you to make copies of a presentation for a meeting, you can make those copies and even go above and beyond and offer to bring them to the conference room for her. You always want to be positive and support the environment set in place.
2) Listening – In improv, you are told that listening is the most important thing. If you’re listening, you know exactly how to react to your partner. It may be painfully obvious when considering the importance of listening in the work environment, but being completely perceptive is something that can easily be taken for granted. Make sure you really hear what someone says to you. Even the way they say something can really tell you how to react. A simple request can mean a world of things if said one way versus another. Listen and then react.
3) Play to the top of your intelligence – Even in situations where you may not be an expert, you can always play to the top of your intelligence. What exactly does this mean? Well, in improv, it means to respond as closely to what you know. If you are labelled a doctor in improv, but don’t know a lot of medical terms, play as smart as you can. It’s so much easier to play normal doctor than dumb doctor. If you play to the top of your intelligence in everyday life, you don’t dumb yourself down. You always have the ability to pull yourself through in any situation if you use everything you’ve got. It is so much easier to take a second to find the best solution than to give up and go the easy route.
4) Making your scene partner look good makes you both look good – If you’re working in a group, make sure you get everyone involved. It makes the entire group look great. If you set your partner up for a great laugh in an improv scene, you both look funny. It’s hard to enjoy something one sided. Work and improv should be a team effort, which is why a team should be equal. It’s always good to stand out, but don’t let your team down by missing an opportunity where you can help.
5) Go back to your environment – In an improv scene, once you’ve hit the game or funny situation a few times, it’s always nice to go back to your environment or where you happen to be. You let the scene breathe for a bit and go back to “normal” things, so that when you do that funny thing again, it hits harder. A breather is important for everyone. You need to recognize that it’s nice to keep striving in your work, but a break is needed to give you perspective. Sometimes we need to take a step back in order to keep moving forward. Don’t be afraid to do that. You have to feel comfortable sitting in the silence, because that inspiration will come back and it will come back stronger.
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