Improv shouldn’t be limited to comedy clubs. According to The Engaging Educator, it’s great prep for the rest of your life. The New York-based education organization teaches improv not as a stepping stone to a career on SNL, but as a way to improve your communication skills in the real world.
We stopped by one of their “Improv for Professionals” classes to see how the skills you need to be a great improvisational comedian can translate to the office. Here are five reasons why saying “yes, and” can help your professional life:
1. IT KEEPS YOU LISTENING
When you’re always thinking about what you’re going to say next, you tune out everyone else. And when you are so eager to make your own voice heard that you stop listening prematurely, you can miss out on vital information. Improv requires intense listening skills so that actors can stay in sync with each other and move the scene forward together, even when things are happening quickly. If your improv partner says “Welcome to Disneyland!” and you space out thinking about how you will respond, you’ll miss when she says “The park is closed today because it’s raining frogs.”
In the office, you and your coworkers are all working together to move towards common goals. It’s a lot easier to keep everyone on the same page when you fully pay attention to each other.
2. IT PRIORITIZES COOPERATION
Not even the most brilliant employee can carry the whole company forward alone. Good teamwork is essential, just as it is with improv. On the stage, players need to work together to create a story, and this means accepting the ideas of others and jumping in to take the lead when another player’s mind blanks. The idea is that you should not only be contributing to the scene with whatever choices you make, but you should also set up your partner for success. The same goes for working on a big client project. When one person is successful, it makes everyone else look good, too.
3. YOU MUST BUILD ON THE IDEAS OF OTHERS
The common adage in improv is that you must always say “yes, and.” In other words, you never shoot down someone else’s idea. Instead, you run with it and build on it. When someone says, “I like your house plant!” You don’t say, “No, actually, that’s a priceless statue.” You say, “Thanks! It’s super poisonous, so I wish you hadn’t touched it. I should probably call the paramedics.”
Even if an idea that gets thrown out in an improv scene wouldn’t be your first choice, you have to work with what you’re given and respect the ideas of others. That’s not so different from what needs to happen in a strategy meeting or brainstorming session.
4. YOU HAVE TO OFFER CONCRETE IDEAS
In improv, questions can kill a scene, while concrete statements move it forward. “Where are you going?” puts the onus on the other player to figure out a way to continue the story. Whereas, “I see you’re on your way to the lion exhibit. Me too!” provides a lot more for everyone to go on. In the office, questions are necessary, but sometimes, they can stall the action. Instead of taking a risk or trying something new, you end up spending all day questioning the pros and cons. You can still ask questions, but you also have to bring something constructive to the table.
5. YOU’RE GUARANTEED TO FAIL
No one is brilliant 100 percent of the time, in improv or anywhere else. Everyone has the occasional slip-up or bad idea. Perhaps you got distracted and missed what your partner said, or asked a question that brought the scene to a halt. It sucks in the moment, but if you become accustomed to metaphorically face-planting, it gets easier to handle—making it less scary to take a risk that might end with you looking silly. If you never risk failure, you might never get that big laugh—or big promotion.