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Simple improv techniques to improve your communication skills

What’s the most important qualification for any job, the key ingrediant of every strong team and the one skill that is indispensable to employers?

Communication skills, of course. Also known as, soft skills, social skills, conversation skills.

Every conversation is an improvisation, which makes us all improvisors. Not just comedy show actors, jazz musicians and the incredibly entertaining former mayor of Toronto.

Lisa Merchant, Second City Toronto

Lisa Merchant is an actor, comedian and improvisation instructor with Second City in Toronto.

I had the honour of spending a few life-transforming hours in an improvisation workshop with the amazing Lisa Merchant from Second City. Lisa is a Canadian celebrity who’s won three comedy awards and been nominated for a Gemini. Check out Lisa’s bio.

She taught us how to have the kind of conversations that build trust and spark relationships.

It turns out that improvisation isn’t just about making stuff up to get a laugh. It’s actually about co-creating mutually beneficial conversations.

Lisa led us through a series of games that showed us how to make small adjustments in our words have a huge impact on the quality of the interactions.

I can’t wait to tell you all about it because these skills are critical for success in just about anything – team building, job interviews, employee recruiting and retention.

8 improvisation techniques to dramatically improve your communication skills

Don’t plan what you’re going to say next

Improvisation is about staying in the moment and listening fully to your partner. Try not to plan your response while the person is speaking. Simply accept what they’ve shared with gratitude. Then respond spontaneously and supportively.

Be grateful to the person for communicating with you

In one exercise we said “thank you” before we responded to whatever the person just said. For example, let’s say an unhappy person calls you with a complaint. Your first response is to thank them for bringing the situation to your attention. Then you can explore the issue and make sure you understand the problem they are struggling with.

Don’t interrupt

When you interrupt someone before they’re finished expressing their complete idea, they’ll think (rightly) that you’re not really that interested in what they’re saying.

Replace “yes but” with “yes and”

Try it. Answering with “yes, but…” essentially shuts down the other person’s idea. Saying “yes and…” means that you listened and you are willing to explore the idea. It shows that you’re open to new ideas. This is where creativity really starts flowing and solutions are discovered.

Mirror what the other person said

A powerful way to show that you’re listening and truly want to understand is to restate what the person just said, but in your own words. For example, when the person finishes speaking say something like, “I hear you saying that,” and paraphrase their point to make sure you understand.

Don’t over think it

While you’re busily thinking up the most appropriate and impressive response, the other person can see in your eyes that you’ve tuned out. It’s better to listen fully, let them finish. It’s fine if a brilliant response doesn’t pop out of your mouth immediately because you already gained some major points but giving them your full attention while they were speaking. If you’re not sure what to say next, simply thank them for sharing that thought and clarify what they’ve said to make sure you really understand.

Replace “should” with “could”

This is huge. When you begin a sentence with “should” it’s like pointing your finger at them. Beginning with “could” feels way more collaborative and helpful.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

If you mess up and say something that falls flat, no problem. Acknowledge it, laugh, learn, try something new. Because it’s way more fun to speak with someone who’s relaxed and not too obsessed with being right all the time.

If you forget everything else, just remember one simple thing…

How you make people feel is more important than what you say.

Improvisation is about supporting the other person and co-creating a positive experience free of judgment. You’re not in the conversation to compete and prove your superiority. You’re in the conversation to help the other person express themselves fully so they can feel more positive about the situation.

Have you experienced an improvisation workshop? Do you think that this approach can improve your personal and professional relationships? Please leave a comment :)

Give it a try — Training classes at The Second City Toronto

The class will fly by, you’ll have lots of laughs, and you’ll be a better person when you leave.

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10 Comments

  1. Great blog, Laura!!

    Reply
    • Thanks Kate! Hope you can join us the next time we do an improv workshop :)

      Reply
  2. This was a great workshop and I found some great techniques when working out of my comfort zone. A very valuable exercise

    Reply
    • So true. I would love learn more about this. Thanks for your comment, Ryan!

      Reply
  3. Great tips! I will definitely share them. Thanks Laura!

    Reply
    • Thanks Arlene! Before I took the workshop I had no idea that improv was a whole system of communication that was about more than comedy.

      Reply
  4. Thank You. As you had stated, once we make the persons involved in the communication feel better, we win them and we establish a good communication.

    Reply
    • Hi Rajesh,

      Thanks for your comment!

      I agree with you that it’s really important to pay attention to how our words make people feel. Because as soon as you make the person feel bad they stop listening and go on defense. Then your conversation turns into an argument (or worse).

      Easier said than done, but it’s worth trying :)

      Laura

      Reply
  5. Great piece! it actually fits in really well with the self development work I’m doing if you have a DVD or online programme I’d be very interested in buying it. If not then those 8 points were great. I’m going to keep reading over the notes I’ve made and steadily improve :)

    Reply
    • Hi John, Wow, thanks so much!

      We’re in luck. Second City is just about to publish a book in February 2015: Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City.

      I can’t wait to read it.

      Best of luck with your improv work!

      Laura

      Reply

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