What’s the most important qualification for any job, the key ingredient 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 means we’re all improvisers, not just comedians, jazz musicians and politicians.

Stafflink’s recruiting team goes to improv school

We had the honour of spending a few life-changing hours with one of Toronto’s finest improvisers, Lisa Merchant from Second City.

Lisa Merchant, Second City Toronto

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

Lisa is a Canadian celebrity who’s won three comedy awards and been nominated for a Gemini.

Lisa taught us how to have conversations that build trust and spark relationships.

We discovered that improvisation isn’t just about making stuff up to get a laugh.

Improvisation is the art of co-creating mutually beneficial conversations.

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

I’m excited to share these skills because they 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 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 the person shares, with gratitude. Then respond spontaneously.

You don’t need to agree with the person’s opinion

If the person’s statement seems inappropriate you might say, “I know it wasn’t your intent, but that made me uncomfortable” or “I’m confused by what you said.”

This approach might make them think twice about speaking to you that way in the future.

See How to respond to an offensive comment at work for more tips on dealing with difficult people.

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.

Let’s say an unhappy person calls you with a complaint.

First, 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’re 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.

When the person finishes speaking you could 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 and let them finish.

It’s okay 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 ask them to 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 your response with “could” feels more collaborative and helpful, which will prevent the person from becoming defensive.

Don’t take yourself too seriously

If you mess up and say something that falls flat, no problem.

Acknowledge it, laugh, learn, and try something new.

This builds rapport because it’s 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 that’s free of judgment.

You’re not in the conversation to compete and prove your superiority.

You want to help the other person express themselves fully so they can feel more positive about the situation.

Would you like to experience 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.

More posts to help with your career search

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  1. Sagar Shankar Kamble

    I am working as manager HR in corporate sector. but i am confuse regarding tagline for webpage related HR Field.

    • Laura Upcott

      Sorry Sagar, I can’t help you with a tagline because I don’t know enough about what you do.

  2. Swati Jain

    Hey Laura, Your each and every blog is amazingly written along with ease information. I was looking for the same which you have mentioned in this blog.. Keep it up 🙂

  3. Mayuri

    i would definitely try to ameliorate my communicaton skills as per given instructions.i really need this

    • Laura Upcott

      That’s amazing Mayuri. I know it will help you. I work on my communication skills every day and it’s improving my relationships. I try to remember “Yes, and…”. I try to let people have their opinions without trying to change their minds. Everyone has their own truth. I wish you the very best!

  4. Mayuri

    thanks for such a great blog
    i would definitely try to improve my skill as per instruction,i need it

    • Laura Upcott

      Thanks Mayuri! I really appreciate your kind comments. Put kindness into your communication just like you did in this comment.

  5. John

    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 🙂

    • Laura Upcott

      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!


  6. Rajesh Kumar Kathiresan

    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.

    • Laura Upcott

      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 🙂


  7. Arlene

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

    • Laura Upcott

      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.

  8. ryan

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

    • Laura Upcott

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

  9. Kate Laffey

    Great blog, Laura!!

    • Laura Upcott

      Thanks Kate! Hope you can join us the next time we do an improv workshop 🙂

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