By Amira Pollock
Tips on navigating unanticipated issues at work without losing your cool.
“One determinant to success isn’t whether or not you experience stress but how you react to it.”
Amira Pollock, Educator and Business Improvisationalist
Wouldn’t it be great if you were taught what to do when things go wrong on the job? How about a cure for getting asked an unanticipated question in a meeting and having your mind go blank? Improv training can prepare you to think on your feet so that you can adapt to these situations and arrive at successful outcomes. In improv training, you are taught how to keep going and build self-trust as you do. You see, one determinant to success isn’t whether or not you experience stress but how you react to it. The beauty of improv training is that it simulates stressful, high-pressure situations through the low-stakes safety of experiential learning activities. This creates an ideal experience to practice getting comfortable with discomfort. Improv training primes you so when the stakes get high in the actual workplace environment, you can handle it.
Some additional foundations of improvisation are: be positive, listen, take risks, and make connections. The benefits of improv skills to your workplace performance are numerous. The positivity upheld through these techniques is critical to developing a safe brainstorming space. Ideas build upon each other rather than through a process of elimination. Since suspense is inherent in improvisation, improv training cultivates active listening and group cohesion. Forming connections with others, be it your team member or client, includes interpreting verbal and non-verbal cues as well as your awareness of what is being communicated in the moment.
In improv, not everything goes according to plan, so you can learn to hone the willingness to take strategic risks and rebound from mistakes. From deadlines getting moved up, to phone calls from frustrated clients, to being asked unanticipated questions, learning quick thinking strategies can equip you to better handle work’s daily hiccups. And when Plan A fails, improv training promotes recovering from mistakes and pivoting with speed so you can move on to Plan B.
Examples of how improv training has helped my clients include an HR professional who became a better listener when beforehand her colleagues complained she didn’t seem to truly hear them; a manager who was able to overcome a technology fail in his presentation; an employee who can better navigate workplace conflicts; and many managers who now incorporate improv activities learned from my class into their staff meeting to enhance team cohesion. People and scenarios are unpredictable; improv provides you with tools to respond to the unexpected.
Amira Pollock is an instructor for the Center for Professional Education and a leadership/communication coach and frequent presenter for the Texas MBA+ Leadership Program, McCombs School of Business, at The University of Texas at Austin. She will be a speaker at SXSW 2020.
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