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Work Together Better: Authentic Listening

Oct 26, 2015

The skills that make you excel at improv comedy are not comedy-specific.     

It doesn't matter if you're witty, or know a lot of pop culture, or can make someone laugh on command. What makes an improviser great is a set of skills that are critical in any collaborative effort: 

-a willingness to take risks.     

Listening is a word that's thrown around in a lot of team situations. But, more often than not, "listening" is taken to mean "Be polite and wait quietly for your turn to talk."     

Active listening, on the other hand, is like squinting with your ears. It means genuinely comprehending what you're hearing. It means processing the ideas being presented, understanding how and why they are different from yours, and modifying your position to incorporate these new concepts.     

Improvisers actively listen every moment that they are on stage. They do not stop actively listening to their teammates. If they did, they would cease to be a team and revert to being eight comedians delivering eight different punch-lines simultaneously, a.k.a. an unwatchable train wreck.     

Listening is at the core of everything that takes place during improv. Likewise, it is a cornerstone of any productive meeting, brainstorming session or group project. It is the foundation for how teams are built and how they learn to work together.

ucbworkplace teamwork collaboration Listening

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Defuse Difficult People: You Go To Them

Oct 26, 2015

When dealing with tough personalities, best practices for collaboration are remarkably similar in both business and improv. What is the best approach for working with unreliable clients, critical colleagues or scene partners who just won't listen?

"Stop questioning what's wrong with the other person and focus on what you are doing," said Will Hines, Academic Supervisor at UCBTNY, in a recent blog post. "You have to worry about your side of the street."

In a video for Harvard Business Review, Nina Godiwalla shared similar advice based on her experience training executive leaders: "Shift your attention to your own feelings and thoughts." This empowers you to change your reaction, which is the aspect of the relationship you control.

Once you take ownership over the situation, you can begin to build common ground. Improv offers a low-risk environment to practice this business skill. In each improv scene, performers build a world from scratch by virtue of accepting each other's ideas. "The performers must connect," says Will Hines. "Or else the scene does not exist."

Does that mean you must connect with a coworker who just openly criticized you? In a sense, yes.

"When we feel attacked, we often counter-attack," says Godiwalla. "But this only escalates a disagreement." Fight this urge, opting instead to respond with a non-judgmental comment. "If you respond with an observation, you actually disarm the other person," she says. "They can only back off."

In other words, accept the criticism. You don't have to share their point of view, but the simplest path forward is not to try to change their mind; it is to make a statement you can both agree on.

"Agreement before all else," says Will Hines. "In fairness should meet halfway, but if you find yourself in a scene with people who won't budge, then for the sake of the scene you go all the way to them."

improv Will Hines ucbworkplace harvard business review agreement collaboration

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Brainstorm Better: Reward Ideas With Support

Oct 26, 2015

By Chelsea Clarke

In improv scenes, we don't brainstorm the way you can in an office setting. We take the first idea because it's all live and onstage. Even though we aren't brainstorming in the traditional sense, we are still collaborating, and there are a lot of parallels that you can use in teams, workplaces, artistic endeavors, and you know, life or whatever.

I have spoken to lots of people- especially when I work with companies- who find brainstorming frustrating. They feel that they have to fight for their ideas and it feels like they are working alone. It can be hard to trust and support under pressure!

But Improv relies on teamwork first and foremost. We are open and excited about ideas that are not our own. We expect and give agreement. We work on being supportive over being precious about our notion of how we THOUGHT it was going to go. People who are open are fun to improvise with and they are fun to work with.

Of course, in the office, there are lots of great ideas, not just the first one! Why not give each one attention and time to really allow for the best possible results for each choice? Then, together, you come up with something better than you could have from working alone, that's the advantage of working with other people, after all, and it's the best way to brainstorm.

Improv rewards ideas with support, and that's good for the office environment. (And life or whatever.)
Src: Julien Darmoni
ideas improv ucbworkplace Chelsea Clarke brainstorm teamwork

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