Many years ago for my birthday, my thoughtful wife gave me improv lessons. After my first night of practice, I was hooked. I love to get out of my head and into the moment – improv requires you to be present and forget what happened that day.
What I’ve come to realize is that improv can teach us a lot about how to become better collaborators. It has certain rules, or a better word would be guidelines, that you learn about when taking Improv classes. Google “Improv Rules” and you’ll run into several lists.
The night before my first show I came up with my own curated list – what worked for me…here they are with some insights on how they might make you become a better collaborator.
1. Say Yes
Don’t shoot down others’ ideas…give them time to breathe and develop. Sometimes people need to think out loud to work through a problem.
2. Say Yes, And…
Contribute to the conversation…share your perspective and be willing to put yourself out on a limb. The world needs more contributors.
3. Play the Foil
In fiction, a foil is a character who contrasts with another character. In improv, I love this technique. Someone starts out bubbly and happy – sour pus enters the room and it's instant comedy. With collaboration, sometimes you need to play the devil’s advocate. But, let your colleague know you are going to play having a contrasting view to building their case better.
4. Don’t Try to Be Funny
This is the paradox of improv – the moment you try to be funny, you aren’t. Be your character, develop the relationship, and trust that when you are being real that’s funny enough. This applies to collaborating as well – don’t be the jerk that is always trying to turn a situation into a comedy routine. Life is funny enough and God has a great sense of humor.
5. Don’t Ask Questions
Sure, questions are a part of collaborating. But let’s stop overdoing the questions and make some wise assumptions. In Improv, you try to stay away from asking questions of your partner because you make them do all the work. In collaboration, the same thing happens.
You know the saying –you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. The silence is ok. Enjoy the silence and listen to your partner and react.
7. Enjoy the Moment
If you’re having a good time, chances are your colleagues (and audience) are as well. Have a blast. Others will too…
If you are going to play an emotion, commit completely. Let the intensity build and drive through the fear. When collaborating, be willing to make and keep a promise. Even the small ones.
9. Be Honest
This is a key-value at work. At a private party a while back where I was part of a team providing entertainment via Improv, were doing a scene where I was an old man trying to make it past a pushy TSA agent (played by an F-bomb-laden Leah). While in the scene, Seth (Seth and Leah are the owners of Red Door Playhouse) yells out emotions and I have to suddenly take them on. He yelled out an easy one for me – narcoleptic (I know, not really an emotion) – this was a slow pitch for me but for some reason, I couldn’t think of what it meant. I sorta froze and panicked. The scene when on and ended well (thanks a lot to both Seth and Leah). All my best ideas come when walking off the stage and it dawned on me if I was just honest it would have all worked out. An old man has the worst memory – why didn’t I just say I’m feeling narcoleptic, but with my memory, I have no idea what that means. I have a feeling some of the audience would have enjoyed the honesty.
10. Above All, Make Your Partner Look Good
Your goal is to make your partner look like the Improv Star that they are. It’s about supporting each other and trusting each other. You’ll become the world’s best collaborator if you’re interested in making others look good – who wouldn’t want to work with you?
Hopefully, you’ve learned a little more about improv and how to collaborate better.