- It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Aristotle
Take an Improv Class
There are a few practical reasons why improv can help you.
First of all, we need antidotes to the new, “asynchronous” world that we all live in. We’re used to getting text messages and social-media posts, and then responding on our own time. This artificiality damages our ability to relate to real human beings in the moment. Improv drags you out of that asynchronous, virtual-reality world, and drops you into that wondrous world of high-energy, immediate, person-to-person interaction.
Second, improv teaches us to soften our focus and heighten our awareness, so that we can respond well to surprises. If you’re in a circle of people playing a word association game, one person may say “spoon,” the next may say “fork,” and the next may say “knife.” At this point, you may be thinking that the word association game is going to be all about dining or food, and you may begin thinking of related words. But if the next person says “gun” in response to “knife,” you have to be able to immediately go with a gun association rather than a dining association. You realize that the thinking and analyzing that you did before was a waste of time–and that’s a good way to learn how to get out of your head and just be in the moment.
Think about that at a practical level: Most of the time, we go into meetings and conversations assuming that they need to go in one direction; when someone begins to take it in another direction, we completely miss what’s happening, and we miss a true opportunity to connect with the other person.
Third, improv teaches us to listen more patiently and to respond more slowly than we may be accustomed. That allows us to be present to colleagues and friends in ways that we may never before have been. Do you jump in to respond to people before they’re done talking? Stop doing that. One of the most powerful lessons I learned from Saltojanes’ class is that you have to let the other person finish his her or her sentence, because it may end with a surprise that takes everything in a new direction. At the very least, others will notice and appreciate how you really listen to them.
Fourth and finally, an improv class is one of the few places in life where you have permission to genuinely “fail” without fear. By definition, you’re experimenting and trying things on without judgment. For those of us uptight people who feel the need to say or do the perfect thing, we too often freeze up in the clutch and say or do nothing. That’s not exactly peak performance. Working at building up our improv muscles is a powerful counterforce that can help in every kind of professional situation.
Improv takes courage–but not as much courage as you might imagine, especially when you realize how much everyone around you is in the same boat.