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Erin Daruszka Headshot

Everything I Need For My Job, I Learned From Improv

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When I moved to California a few years ago I purchased a Groupon for improv classes, little did I know that fateful Tuesday was when my life changed (for the better).

I have two degrees in Communication and consider myself a good communicator as well as listener, but improv helped me to deepen those skills. I am a typical type-A personality who finds it hard to relax. Improv helped me learn to be present and being present helps you be better listener, because one of the fundamentals of improv is making your partner look good. It is not about being the funniest person in the room or being the center of attention, it is about listening to your partner, hearing what they are saying both verbally and nonverbally and responding from the heart.

These simple tenants of an art form can be used in all aspects of life, but they can be particularly useful in the workplace. When I started taking improv classes I was an HR Consultant for TriNet. I worked with small businesses to help them navigate the risks of managing employees. I sometimes would speak to employees about how they perceived they were being treated by their employer. I have found that nearly all of the issues I have been asked to assist with came down to listening (or a lack thereof). Often when employees complain it is because proper expectations were not set and active listening has not occurred. There is the old proverb, "Listen twice before you speak once." Managers can help increase retention and ease employee/employer issues by engaging in active dialogue, which includes listening.

I now manage a team of ten and I feel one of the greatest things I can do for my employees is listen to them free of distraction. If I cannot be present and listen, I will ask an employee to hold on while I finish the email I was writing or jot a note to myself, and then I turn my full attention to them. I do nothing but make eye contact and open myself up to hearing what they are saying, no judgments, just listening. This is not easy and it takes practice. Improv has allowed me an outlet to practice those skills in a safe environment.

Here are some tips I picked up from improve journey:

  1. When having a conversation, refrain from distractions. Don't look at your phone or email. Focus on what the person is saying. If it is not a good time to talk, let the person know that.
  2. Say "yes, and." When an employee comes to you with a concern, say yes to it -- not always out loud, but perhaps in your head. This promotes positivity and an open environment. If you say no to everything, no one is going to come to you with ideas or concerns.
  3. Be the person that makes other people look good. Give credit where credit is due, acknowledge your employees accomplishments -- give them the limelight.
  4. Don't expect everything to go your way. Be open to following another path or another way of doing things.
  5. Listen on a deeper level. It is not only the words, but the tone and the body language that factor into communication. Someone may say they are "fine," but be telling you a different story with their furrowed brow and slumped posture.

These few tips can immediately help you. Improv may not be for everyone, but any activity that will help you keep an open mind and listen to your employees will help you become a better leader