The International Improv Conference in Mannheim Germany June 2015
We are pleased to share with you today a guest blog post by Patricia Comolet; bio follows the post.
What is one of the main challenges of going into a new cultural situation? Of course—dealing with the unknown—and, often, the self-doubt that it can trigger:
OMG do I need to take off my shoes here? But I have a hole in my sock! What will they think of me?
In other situations, it could be defensive self-assertion that might be triggered:
It is clear that this situation requires someone here to take charge. As the new COO it is my job to step up to that challenge. I need to show that I know what I’m doing or what will they think of me?
Underneath the stress of adapting to an unknown situation or culture can be the insidious fear of judgment.
“Improv” is the art of improvisational theatre, and I find that building an “Improv mindset” is a unique way to prepare for a new office, new city, new country, and /or new culture. It offers a different and vibrant way to deal with the underlying question: What will they think of me?
Why is this so? In the world of Improv, the notion of judgment, with time and practice, fades. Instead, we learn a serendipitous mindset of responding, to the best of our ability, to whatever is presented. I believe that I can manage whatever shows up if I adapt some essential guidelines gained through Improv.
Through Improv exercises we can learn to give ourselves this initial moment to pause and open up to where we are and with whom we are interacting.
Want to try it? Get a partner who is open to learning.
- Begin by simply looking at your partner to assess his/her current state. What’s going on for him/her? Take the time to assess the environment. What is happening around you? (Developing observational skills and emotional intelligence are two very fundamental intercultural competences, pivotal for any Cultural Detective.)
- Then comes the basic improv approach: Yes, and. You respond to what has been proposed with a “yes, and.” However, this is not your run-of-the-mill “yes, I hear your thoughts, and here is my idea.” Rather, this is a most distinctive and committed “Yes, and I could add this to your thoughts.” Improv involves an upward spiraling “yes, and” with each participant focused on what they can add to the original proposition. You’ll find the “yes and” in the Cultural Detective list of A Dozen Best Practices for Enhancing Intercultural Excellence.
The magic happens in the process. Allowing ourselves to let go of our own approach or perspective long enough to hear and work with someone else’s provides the time and space necessary to really connect with others. The process builds bridges across divides.
It requires focused intention to step into the other person’s idea/culture/mindset, but once there, like Alice through the Looking Glass, there is a sort of wonder at what is possible. I found, in my improv training, a simmering excitement as I was caught up in the possibilities I could come up with—once I acknowledged the other’s vision of things.
By working with this technique we build acceptance and openness to new ideas. (More intercultural competences being honed here, right?)
Facts, feelings, and intentions are the raw material we have to work with. In the theatre, as in the world of cultural differences, it is the interpretations we assign to what we see and feel that trigger emotions within us. It is those emotions that influence our interpretations. By raising awareness of the power of the interpretations we unconsciously apply to unfamiliar situations, we can open a whole new way to experience what is going on around us. Improv provides a framework for considering other possible interpretations.
In the theatre, as in the world of cultural differences, it is the interpretations we assign to what we see and feel that trigger emotions within us.
Another valuable idea coming from the world of Improv is the simple notion of “make the other one look good.” No matter what is tossed at us during an Improv session, the spirit is to take what is and build on it positively, with the intention of making the other look good. Again, Cultural Detective’s “positive intent” parallels the philosophy of Improv.
Imagine what strength we would gain if we would approach new situations with the idea that it is up to us to make the other shine! What impact could such a positive sense of purpose have on us? How could it help us to adapt more enthusiastically to a new situation?
Improvisation has the benefit of being experiential learning that can help us truly assimilate the knowledge of a culture or people. This fits nicely into intercultural coaching, as cultural differences are easier to perceive when actually experienced. By playing with scenarios in a relaxed atmosphere, we can work through the specific challenges our clients are dealing with to help them experience a shift in their understanding—a shift to help fade the fear of “What will they think of me?”
Improv techniques and Cultural Detective integrate easily together, with CD providing a framework in which to use the skills acquired through Improv to better communicate across cultures. Learning to let go of the idea that our approach is the only approach is part of what can be derived from utilizing the CD process. Cultural Detective Value Lenses help us to recognize that our interpretation of events is but one of many potential interpretations. And, the “yes, and” approach may help each person value and build on the diversity found within the interaction. If you haven’t yet, be sure to subscribe today.
Our guest author, Patricia Comolet, has a background in surgical nursing, and has worked and lived in seven countries on four continents, including work in Africa and India, honing her ability to get real results in difficult conditions. Currently, she focuses on coaching global and virtual team dynamics, integrating her skills developed during challenging work experiences with her coaching training. Patricia helps global teams to clarify their team dynamics and establish concrete objectives by promoting clear communication, creative problem solving, collective intelligence, and strong team identity. More information about her work can be found on her website: camcomcoaching.com