Improv Training Enhances Workplace Communication
Going to an improvisational comedy show can be an experience of alternating emotional poles between anxiety and excitement. The actors do not work off a script but create comedy spontaneously based on suggestions taken from the audience. When it goes well, the audience is treated not only to a stellar performance, but to the privilege of witnessing a group of people in perfect communication and flow.
Flow, also known as ‘the zone,' is a mental state where people are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity which involves their creative abilities. During this "optimal experience" they feel "strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.” This term was coined by Positive Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990). As an improv comedian myself, I can verify that the best shows I have participated in contain a substantial experience of flow and a joyful ease in communication with my fellow improvisers that has kept me returning to this art form for years.
The experience of flow leading to enhanced communication is exhilarating. Comedians, inspired by this experience, sometimes choose to teach improv training workshops on communication so that individuals in the workplace can improve their overall communication patterns. In these workshops, participants are offered a variety of improvisation techniques and tools. However, I would argue that the experience of enhanced communication through the "flow state" is enough on its own to change the way people relate to each other in a business environment.
So what exactly does "flow" feel like? If you think back over your life you may discover that you have a persistent memory of an experience of flow on a playing field, on a stage, or just in a moment with friends. In these moments everything just seemed to click. The experience of feeling like everything is just “clicking” into place is a surefire marker of being in a flow state. The exciting thing is that these experiences don’t have to come at a grand or dramatic moment or when you are in front of an audience. They can be experienced in relative isolation: chopping wood, serving a perfect meal, or even just a quiet moment with someone you like very much.
However, if you can share that state of flow with others, you may find that you have a recipe for some great relationships. I would guess that your high school teammates, college travel friends or anyone else with whom you shared an experience of flow with are people that you communicate with exceptionally well. I know that having the opportunity to meet up with people I have shared such experiences with always gives me the feeling of reliving our shared flow state. As a result, our communication is as natural as any I have ever experienced.
Although there many skills and concepts taught in improv training workshops, I contend that the memory of the shared flow experience with coworkers provides the lion’s share of the value. When an experienced improv instructor brings people who work together day after day in the same office, and that instructor can collaborate with those individuals to create an experience of "flow, that experience and the connections felt in those moments can often be accessed and drawn upon at times when communication may not flow so smoothly in the workplace (Scinto, 2014). That’s why it is so beneficial for employers to organize events that provide a shared flow experience like improv training. An improv workshop at your company can have a team working together in a flow state quickly and laughing while they do it.
Interested in finding out more about improv and how it can improve communication in your workplace? Register here for our fun and free upcoming workshop led by Ben!
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Collins Publishing.
Scinto, J. (2014). Why improv training is great business training. Forbes. [on-line periodical] Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesleadershipforum/2014/06/27/why-improv-training-is-great-business-training/#7cf261d86bcb