The Challenge of Roosters and Penguins

joe —  Sun 17-Apr-11 — 3 Comments
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Email
  • RSS
  • PDF
  • Add to favorites

Ryan StilesI 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.

Dos Equis

Leonel: “I think our new ad should show we are proud of our product. Something with a rooster crowing.”

Rhonda: “I think that we should go for something cute, like penguins. Everyone likes penguins.”

Beth: “James, call the agency and tell them to get me that guy from the Dos Equis commercial.”

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.

Leonel: “Beth, I think our new ad should show we are proud of our product. Something with a rooster crowing.”

Rhonda: “I think that we should go for something cute, like penguins. Everyone likes penguins.”

Beth: “Leonel, I think you are right, we need to be proud of our product – I am concerned that pride might be confused with arrogance. Rhonda, I love penguins but I am think that animals are overplayed on TV right now. Let’s consider a different genre like celebrity endorsement – someone like-able that demonstrates a little bit of pride. James, get me that guy from the Dos Equis commercial.”

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

“so where do we go from here?”

consider

“OK, Bridgette thinks Italian because everyone likes pasta, Keith wants a good ole’ manly steak, and Kelley thinks we need something more exotic for our customers. Do you want me to select one of these or should I go off the board?”

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.

Today’s Question
How do you feel when somebody takes a left turn on you in a conversation?

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Email
  • RSS
  • Print
  • Add to favorites
  • Paul

    “Do you want me to select one of these or should I go off the board?” – how do you believe the participants are likely to feel about that question, and answer it?

    • http://thestrandedstarfish.com Joe Kleinwaechter

      I think it opens up opportunity. First it acknowledges the state the everyone has a different opinion and then basically asks if they would like him to break the tie or go off the board. If someone has a real issue and cannot accept one of the other answers they would likely want him to go off the board.

      The key here is making sure he’s got the score right and gives everyone a chance to say how they want the deadlock to move to an answer.

      I’ve seen too many hung juries because they all waited around for a consensus. This politely asks how they want to resolve things.

  • Pingback: Creating Heroes | The Stranded Starfish()