Can We Talk about Small Talk?
Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Has the art of conversation slipped away from us? The Chief Data Officer of a fintech company wants her data scientists to do a better job of telling the story behind the data. A Customer Service leader wants to develop more empathy within his team. A client shares her concern that her teenage children spend much of their time in “head-down” conversation (i.e., texting) and less time in face-to-face interactions.

While many executives excel in interpersonal communication, it is still the case that others struggle with the soft skills – networking, building relationships and collaborating with others. It turns out that small talk is a big deal.

“Jobs requiring high levels of social interaction grew by nearly 12 percentage points as a share of the U.S. labor force between 1980 and 2012, according to a study published last year by David Deming, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. Less-social, math-intensive jobs fell by 3.3 percentage points over the same period.” (Wall Street Journal, Wanted: Employees Who Can Shake Hands, Make Small Talk; Bank of America teaches empathy in-house; Subaru pays for soft-skills training, December 9, 2018)

It’s no wonder that heads of learning and development, at companies large and small, have turned to performance, bringing in playful and improvisational approaches to advancing communication skills, emotional intelligence/empathy, and collaboration. The essential elements of improvisation – listening and building – have become critical skills for professionals at all levels. Storytelling, performing other than who we are, and creative imitation are some of the tools from the theatre that are so valuable in corporate settings.

ImprovNetworking was designed as a professional and leadership development program to teach new ways of making small talk that are relaxed, natural, and effective. Participants don’t rely on a scripted process (the elevator pitch), instead we rely on our innate human ability to play and perform. Learning to actively listen and build with what people offer strengthens the ability to develop new social connections and deepen existing relationships. Discover what ImprovNetworking can do for your organization.

Improv Networking
An innovative and off-script approach to networking and relationship building for professionals at all levels, customizable to meet the needs of your organization.


A Passion for Learning … yes, and …

Take a look at critical skills needed for success in the 21st century, as listed in CIO.com article The 14 soft skills every IT pro needs:

Salesmanship
Effective communication
The ability to translate tech
A collaborative mindset
Empathy
The ability to put things in context
Customer service — even with colleagues
The ability to ask the right questions
Problem solving
Adaptability
The ability to set aside ego
Emotional intelligence
Comfort with uncertainty

These are typical outcomes from workshops and trainings that teach people the fundamentals of improvisation (yes, and/accept and build with “offers,” active listening, make your partner look good, take risks).

The recently published book Applied Improvisation: Leading, Collaborating, and Creating Beyond the Theatre has catapulted to the number one best seller on Amazon’s list of hot new releases in business entrepreneurship for good reason. According to authors Theresa Robbins Dudeck and Caitlin McClure, applied improvisation is “…changing the way people lead, create and collaborate.” Full disclosure, McClure has long been a mentor, teacher and friend.

According to Capgemini and LinkedIn’s valuable report: The Digital Talent Gap: Are Companies Doing Enough? to succeed in our rapidly changing and digitally-driven workforce, hard digital skills are needed (cybersecurity and cloud computing being most in demand), but equally important are “soft digital skills,” which the report identified as customer-centricity and passion for learning. 59% of employers say that these skills are lacking in their employees.

The report goes on to say, “Employees feel organizations’ training programs are not hugely effective and those who want to excel are looking beyond their organizations’ learning and development. … Close to half actually describe the training as ‘useless and boring.’”

What are the solutions? Two from Capgemini and LinkedIn’s report are worth noting:

  1. “Create an environment that prioritizes and rewards learning.”  As traditional trainings can be experienced as “useless and boring,” more and more organizations are turning to applied improv facilitators and trainers for good reason.
  2. “Diversify your recruiting approach.” In chapter 1 of Dudeck and McClure’s wonderful case studies, “A Burger; Fries and a Side of Improv,” authors Hirsch and Veltman write of the work they did over a decade with the restaurant chain Burgerville in Portland, Oregon. Along with trainings, used improv as a “diagnostic for hiring teams and customer service providers” to great effect. As a longtime recruiter, improviser, and applied improv facilitator I was inspired!

Not only do we lead trainings that enhance the skills needed for success in business, applied improvisation (to quote Dudeck and McClure), “brings joy into this uncertain and crazy world.” I think we can all say “yes, and…” to that!

The Art and Science of Communication

“I feel closer to the participants in this workshop then I do to my team at work.”

We received this comment from a participant in an R&D workshop I recently co-led with my colleague Dr. Raquell Holmes, the founder of improvscience. The workshop was part of an incubation process to develop an innovative approach to strengthen the communication and collaboration capabilities of data scientists, analysts, engineers and developers.

Raquell and I have been seeking ways to help technical professionals at all management levels develop their communication and collaborative skills for a long while. We have both been keenly aware of the need. Raquell is a pioneer in science communications and has worked with thousands of technical people to develop these softer skills. As a longtime recruiter of quantitative talent, my clients are always looking for analytical professionals who are also strong communicators. It is often the case that qualified candidates are hard to find.

Oftentimes a talented data scientist will struggle to communicate the value of his/her work. There is an art to telling the story that lies within the data; these skills are rarely taught to technical professionals. As organizations put more demands on data scientists and other technical talent to work cross functionally, there is a greater need to strengthen communication and collaborative skills. How do you ask questions in the midst of creating new technologies and products?  We help people talk to each other so that they don’t get too far down the line without being able to catch important technical issues.

Our expertise is creating playful environments where people have the opportunity to develop emotional intelligence, get out of their comfort zones and learn new relational skills. We bring improvisation, executive coaching, human resources experience and technical expertise together in our trainings through our unique partnership.

Experiential learning environments are particularly helpful to teams of people from different countries and cultures. People acquire a greater ability to collaborate and innovate. When taken further, multiple engagements enable a serious developmental process so that talent at every level can contribute to the overall needs of the organization and their functions.

It just might be that play, performance and improvisation is the kind of FUNctional Collaborative Communication that is needed to advance innovation in your organization!