A business narrative, like a theater performance, consists of a series of scenes. These scenes can often go on for extended periods of time, and take place concurrently (Operations) intermittently (Reviews) or asynchronously (Help Desk). They always have an audience. The audience can be 'internal' (inside the company), external (outside it) or both. Some of these scenes are two-person scenes. Some are group scenes. Others are soliloquies.
Every scene in a company's business process should be conducted with the audience in mind. Ultimately, it is the obligation of the company's 'players' to create a pleasing performance for its external audience, most notably its customers and shareholders, who 'applaud' with economic transactions.
The most common complaint we hear from employees in mid-size to large companies about their communication process is 'too many meetings.' What these employees mean, to borrow from the parlance of theater, is that their scenes suck.
If we were to assess them on the basic criteria for how to engage an audience, most business scenes would average out to a high school drama class B-minus.
We have all been in too many ineffective business scenes. There are a lot of factors that can make them so: No underlying agreement between the players. Players are not focused. They are poorly directed. Not enough happens. There's too much subtext and not enough open dialogue. Conflicts are kept hidden, or they are revealed and never resolved. Exchanges are impersonal. There's no truth-telling. Scenes are information heavy and at the same time emotion-starved. The stakes are often confusing. The dialogue is flat. They go on too long.
This is not to say a workday has to be a Tony-winner or a Reality Show. A little Snooki in the office goes a long way. Some drama is inevitable; non-stop drama can be draining. Clear and effective communication, however, is at the heart of both good business and good theater.
One technique for giving your scenes momentum is to apply the improvisation theater concept of 'Yes and.' Make declarative statements that agree and add to the reality of the scene. This will have the effect of keeping your scenes lively and engaging for players and audience alike. It will help move the scene in a productive direction.
It's good, and necessary, to know when to say 'no.' There is, however, a finality to it that be a real scenekiller if you're not careful. Use 'No' to edit or end a scene, not to exert control, or block the progress of the dialogue.
Likewise, a well-timed or insightful question can be important to a scene. One person should not be asking all the questions, though. Casting oneself in the role of Interrogator can be a control game, and will limit the flow of dialogue that is vital to productive scenes.
Perhaps the most insidious phrase in the business lexicon is 'Yes but.' (An attendee at a recent GameChangers workshop called this 'the Yeahbuts.') Yeahbutting stalls a scene. It puts players in a defensive posture. And it sends mixed messages: "I agree with you. Now I'm going to tell you why you're wrong."
Exactly the same information, conveyed in a 'Yes and' statement, holds no such contradiction. It says, "I honor your reality. Here's mine."
You don't have to use the words literally to build your scenes in the spirit of 'Yes and.' Doing this fosters a continuous convergence of ideas that keeps teams collaborative, scenes productive and, ultimately, generates a narrative that gets audiences to applaud. And often.
Mike Bonifer is the CEO of GameChangers LLC and the author of GameChangers--Improvisation for Business in the Networked World
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