Coaching and Improv
I’ve always had this thought that coaches could learn a lot from improv comedy. As a fan I have always wanted to write a column about the correlations between coaching and improv but felt that since I had not participated in improv classes that I would sound a little like a phony. Well, that all changed a couple of weeks ago when I was at ICF Michigan’s coaches conference.
At the conference, one of the breakout sessions was: “Improv Your Coaching Skills”. It was led by Rachel Bellack, director and lead facilitator of The Improv Advantage (https://www.theimprovadvantage.com). Rachel delivered a fun filled session, full of improv exercises that had a direct correlation with coaching. It was an amazing experience. Here are some concepts shared at the session (being shared by me with Rachel’s permission) that I think you will enjoy.
The most famous rule of improv comedy is “yes, and…”. It is the concept that you have to accept anything that comes up in a scene, acknowledge it, and then build on it. For example, if we are working a scene where we are at a convenience store and your partner says that it started raining chocolate sauce from the sprinklers you accept it (I’m covered in chocolate sauce), acknowledge it (oh man, how lucky are we that this is happening) and then build on it (I am going to grab some marshmallows as floating devices).
The key to “yes, and…” is in listening. You can never come up with something that fits if you don’t wait to hear everything your partner has to say. In coaching we are asked to do the same thing. We have to ACTIVELY listen to our clients and not come up with a reply until we have heard the end of our client’s statements.
To illustrate this point, Rachel had us do an exercise in which we were telling a story. Each person would say a sentence of the story. The catch was that the next sentence needed to start with the last letter of the previous sentence. It forced us to listen intently before we could come up with our sentence. It was brilliant.
MAKING YOUR PARTNER LOOK GOOD
Like in coaching, improv is all about partnership. If you are in it for personal gain, then you are not going to be very good at it. The whole goal of an improv partnership is to allow for your partner to shine. You do this because you know it will result in a better finished product.
Coaching is the same. As coaches we do not need to concern ourselves with being right, or clever, or insightful. All we should be focused on is providing what our clients need to succeed. This takes practice and humility, but once you get used to it there is nothing more rewarding.
I saw this happening in our breakout session when Rachel had a handful of attendees stand in a line and recite random sentences. We were going to tell a story based on these sentences. It was the job of the other attendees to insert themselves in the line and add their sentences so that the story could make sense. The goal became to make the final story coherent and funny, not to generate individual accolades.
Much similar to “yes, and…” this rule of improv says that we should never shut down something our partners brings up. If you are working a scene where you mention that you are floating in the ocean, but your partner denies it by saying that you are actually at a casino, then the concept fails miserably.
The key to not denying, is refraining from judgement. How many times have you been in a meeting with someone else and in your head you have already poo pooed that person’s idea before they have even finished talking? The point here is that no idea is a bad idea. You need to allow your client the space to come up with their own solutions.
Rachel showcased this by pairing us up and having us tell a fairy tale word by word. One partner would say a word, and then another partner would say another. There was not wrong answer, only acceptance. This resulted in us telling a story differently than we would have if one of us took the lead and determined THEIR version of the story.
Rachel had many more activities for us that helped showcase how we impose restraints on ourselves, how we look at others to find answers and miss some breakthroughs that are right in front of us. It was fun and insightful. I highly recommend hiring Rachel for team building sessions and who knows, maybe we will see each other in one of her classes in the near future…
Andre Mello is a Business Coach and is signing up for improv classes in a very near future. He has been in leadership and coaching for over 11 years. To connect with Andre please visit www.wysecoaching.com