Heard Any Offers Lately?

International class

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to train the International Class of the East Side Institute http://www.eastsideinstitute.org/Training.html.  The students are learning the Institute’s approach to human development and community building; the group included people from Bangladesh, Serbia, and Brazil, as well as the Director of the Institute, Lois Holzman (pictured above). 

We worked on applying the basic tool of improvisation – yes and – to two-person scenes, which helps strengthen listening skills and, most importantly, the ability to build relationships and intimacy.  Because these students are engaged in learning a performance-based methodology they were very eager to both experience and understand how to apply improvisation in their work.

After some warm ups I had the students perform a series of two-person scenes beginning with the words, “It’s Tuesday and…”  As is often the case with improvisation, the scenes began with rather mundane comments and then, with my coaching, the students created relationships and, in some instances, a great deal of intimacy. How did that happen?  It happened by actively listening in order to hear the “offer” that was given and responding to that offer.  As both people feel heard by the other intimacy is slowly created, offer by offer.

My job as the coach was to stop the players to have a look at a missed offer or that someone negated an offer.  I gave the players my offer that they focus on deepening the relationship by accepting and building with each and every offer.

What matters In theatre and in life are relationships. Sadly in our culture we often end up thinking about the next thing to say, rather than actively listening to the other person and responding to them, not to the voice in our heads.

You might be reading this and wondering how this is applicable to a business setting.  As an executive coach who uses improvisation as a tool for growth and development, it is often the case that business people need and want to strengthen their ability to be active listeners.

Managers, in particular, want to develop these skills in order to further develop their team and thereby the team’s capabilities.  We work on creating conversation by slowly building with whatever “offers” are given.  If  team members are making “offers” and managers are negating them (by saying “no but” rather than “yes and”), relationships will suffer and demoralization can easily set in.

One of the interesting questions we explored in the International Class training is whether you can say “no” when you are playing a “yes and” game/scene.  As is often the case with rules, once you’ve mastered “yes and” it is possible to say “no” in a “yes and” manner.  In other words, if your team member makes a suggestion that you cannot accept, for whatever reason, there is a way to accept that offer without negating the suggestion and thereby the person who suggested it.

By working hard to have a positive “yes and” response – by virtue of putting your focus on the other – everyone feels appreciated and heard.

A question of relationships

A candidate of ours had a round of interviews last week that included a meeting with the CEO of the corporation. The candidate failed to ask the CEO a single question. Our client is not moving forward with this candidate.

This got me thinking about the role of questioning in all kinds of situations. On a global level we often find ourselves asking questions that have no answers. This can be disconcerting in these post-modern times that we live in.

In building relationships asking questions is a way we express our interest and curiosity about the other – that builds intimacy. We can assume we know what the other person means but in the absence of finding out with our questions we often remain distant.

I suspect we’ve all had the experience of being in a conversation where the other person doesn’t ask one question about you – the conversation often ends up one-sided and less than intimate. It is in the questioning that we experience the other’s interest in building the relationship.

In an interview both parties need to be active participants, creating conversation and thereby building a relationship. We can forget the human element – as though the CEO wouldn’t have some of the same responses that all of us have if there is no curiosity about us.

In an improvisational scene we limit questions and, instead, we make statements. A good improviser is creating a “yes and” scene by making “offers”, adding details, and endowing each other with certain qualities. Instead of asking, “How do you feel this morning?” I might say,”Wow, you are so grumpy this morning!”. A response might be, “Yes I am grumpy because you left a sink full of dishes in the sink.” And so the relationship gets built.

What matters, ultimately, is our attention to relationship – with an interviewer or interviewee, a new friend, an improv partner or a loved one. We are, indeed, a relational species.