I was a huge fan of Whose Line Is It Anyway, the British and later US improv comedy show. Those guys and gals were amazing. Having watched a lot of bad improv I can appreciate how difficult it must be to pull this off successfully so I wanted to learn the secrets of the trade.
Using the search phrase “improv comedy rules” I found that nearly all of the sites list the number one rule as “Do Not Block”. Blocking is when one actor sets up a line like “my you are a fine looking rooster” and the other doesn’t like the setup so replies with “I’m not a rooster, I’m a penguin” because he knows that penguins are funnier. This is never funny, it insults the previous comedian, and actually makes the newly self-titled penguin look weak – he wasn’t up to the task given to him.
It dawned on me that I see the same roosters and penguins conversation daily at work; discussions where someone makes a right turn or a blocking maneuver in a conversation that leaves others thinking WTF (Why the Face). Usually these are the dreaded “Yes, but…” comments but they can also be comments that seem to come out of left field as if they hadn’t heard what the others had previously said. The Yes But’s are evil and we’ll discuss those in a future column. Let’s focus on the other type.
The problem with left field comments is that they waste opportunities to add credibility to a point and make others in the conversation feel valued and respected. Most left field comments are built on things that others have said with some further refinement or advancement. Something led to the idea – let others in on that. Show them the homework that went on inside your head and then recognize that you understood what others had said and how it fits into your idea, even if you are rejecting their ideas.
Referencing prior comments made and attributing them to the person that made them brings others into your idea; it demonstrates that you have listened, considered their thoughts and then allows you to show the homework or bridge that brought you to your idea. It also gives you an opportunity to be corrected if you misunderstood something.
You don’t even have to be making a point to use this simple gesture. It’s also a great way to bring focus to a decision where lots of ideas have been presented. Instead of
Mission accomplished – everyone was brought back into the decision giving it greater credibility and the information needed to move forward was validated. Simple.
You’ll be surprised how much better conversations will go when you build people into the discussion especially when you are going to ultimately disagree with their position.
How do you feel when somebody takes a left turn on you in a conversation?