Improve Bad Conversations With Improv

Bad conversations cost businesses untold dollars every year—how much are they costing you? How much of the verbalization in your last meeting was actually beneficial to the cause? Seventy percent?  Sixty percent? Lower? The odds are if you actually timed it, the number would be startling. (You could appropriate this website for your purposes and give it a whirl next meeting.)

The result of these bad conversations are stone walls, hurdles and no’s that make communications take forever.  Worse, they don’t lead to useful conclusions. Unfortunately, many of the culprits don’t even realize the effect that they’re having. Instead of working Yes, And that could move things to the next step, they throw out the stop-strips and slow things to a crawl. Here are some of the major offenders.

Real-time Fact Checker – This person stops every conversation to re-assert, “actually” that they know more or better than whoever is talking, usually interjecting a point that is not critical to the conversation. Example: Oscar from The Office.

Aggressive Agreer – What’s the problem, they agree, right? Wrong. This person one that agrees with what was said, but has to add their own, unnecessary point, becoming almost contrarians while agreeing. Example, you say. “The sky is blue.”They say, “It’s not as blue as it used to be.” That’s not the point.

Swirler Twirler – What if … this person could make up their mind? Your meeting would be a lot shorter and move from one point to another. The swirler twirler continuously restates opposing viewpoints “to make sure we covered all of the bases.” We did. And we did it again. And again.

HEAR WHAT I SAY!! – Bring the oxygen tanks because this person is going to use all of the air in the room and you’re going to know it. How? They’re never going to cede the floor. They’re going to talk until the time is up.

Say It Again, Sam – This person waits until the meeting has reached a conclusion, then restarts the meeting by repeating what was said previously as their own thoughts. Step, by step.

Silent Denier – Think that person that hasn’t added anything to the meeting isn’t listening? Wrong. They’re waiting until the meeting is over so that they can tell everyone privately how they disagree with everything that has transpired. But they’re not going to speak now.

Teach An Old ____________ New Tricks

But there’s hope. Improv techniques can shake these aspiring conversationalist into patterns that move things forward. How? It starts with “Yes, And.” Like any change in human behavior,  becoming aware of what is verbalized and what the intended audience hears and experiences is the first step. The exercises that are the basis for improv bring these out in a natural and non-threatening way with guidance from seasoned practitioners.

The results are that conversations continue to a conclusion quickly. This can enable groups to explore more ideas and discover if they’re viable or doomed to failure. By allowing for multiple iterations, organizations find the agility and transparency that are the keys to success.

Improv Exercises In Practice

Here are some examples of how improv exercises could Yes, And the bad conversationalist above into a more aware and others’ focused state.

The Real-time Fact Checker –  Exercise: Take that Back

Aggressive Agreer -Exercise: Follow the Follower

Swirler-Twirler –Exercise: String of Pearls

HEAR WHAT I SAY!! –  Exercise: Word at a Time Story

Say It Again, Sam – Exercise: Last Word Response

Silent Denier – Exercise: Thank You Statues

You can find instructions to these exercises as well as more examples and case studies in the excellent book, ” Yes, And” by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton.

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