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Career Advancement

Improv Comedy Can Make You Better at Your Job, No Joke

If you’ve ever seen an improv comedy show, either live or on TV, you may think improvisational comedy primarily involves one skill: Being able to make something up on the spot. Allison Gilmore has been an improv comedian for 30 years. She told Forté, “To a degree, we are making things up. But we’re making things up grounded in our own knowledge, and there is a specific set of skills that we use to move us through improvisation.”

Gilmore’s improv comedy skills helped her get hired as director of the PhD program at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. If that sounds crazy, it shouldn’t. Gilmore figured out that the improv world and the business world have a lot in common. She has taught people in a variety of industries how to use improvisation to become better communicators, team members, and leaders.

In October, Gilmore shared her insights with the Forté community in the Women Lead: Foundations of Collaboration with Improvisation webinar. She said, “Today’s companies and organizations are looking for more cooperation. They’re looking for better teamwork, more shared knowledge, and the ability to share success within the organization. So the ability to be flexible, to be creative, to be intuitive, is really critical. However, there are very few tools to help you develop that sort of capacity for in-the-moment thinking—and that’s where improvisation can help.”

Saying “Yes, and” at Work

One of the fundamentals of improvisational comedy is accepting other people’s ideas without judgment. In improv, comedians say, “yes, and” to affirm each other’s contributions and build on them.

If you’re thinking, “I can’t say yes to everything,” Gilmore made it clear you don’t have to.

She said, “‘Yes, and’ is not about agreement, because we clearly can’t say yes to everything. But we can accept other people’s contributions, ideas, and feedback in a way that we can take that ‘yes’ to acknowledge and accept, and that ‘and’ to build upon it, if the idea is appropriate—or use the ‘and’ to redirect if it is not. We tell our participants all the time: If you get really good at saying ‘yes, and,’ you can actually use it to say no.”

In the webinar, Gilmore shared simple games and activities that can help build a workplace culture that’s more collaborative, with a focus on shared success.  She said the whole point of the sessions she holds is to help people have fun as they learn, and added, “There is a lot of data out there that supports the notion that our learning is more sticky if we laugh while we’re learning.”

She also explained the importance of listening closely to the people on your team and paying attention to their nonverbal communication.

“Listening is probably the most critical communication skill we possess and the one we most frequently overlook.”

Want to learn more about how improv can help you become more intuitive and creative at work? Visit worksmarter.org/improv to learn about Allison Gilmore’s upcoming Executive Communication & Leadership Presence courses at Goizueta Business School in Atlantaor watch the on-demand recording of her Forté webinar, Women Lead: Foundations of Collaboration with Improvisation.

A full library of previous Forté webinars is available to Premium Access Pass members. For $50/year, Access Pass members receive exclusive invitations to Women Lead webinars.  If your company is a Forté sponsor you may be entitled to free Access Pass.  Check our sponsors to see if your organization is involved.  Access Pass members also have exclusive use of the Forté Job Center; you can browse positions and post your resumé to be seen by leading companies seeking top talent.

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