Improv + Business = BFFs

Improv+Business+BFFsI’ll be the first one to tell you improv isn’t all about comedy and making people laugh. However, my introduction to improv was a result of finding and using comedy as a coping mechanism to deal with a number of challenges life threw my way.

I’ve never truly fit in. Being adopted, I tended to feel that way. I was a Greek American living in Lexington, Kentucky, in the 1960s and 1970s. We celebrate Easter at a different time than other people each year – that’s kind of hard for a kid to explain to his friends. When I was in a fraternity in college, I told the others that I wouldn’t be moving back into the house the next year because I was going to work on my grades. They told me they would kick me out if I did that, and they did. I was always different.

What I realized though was the power of comedy and laughter. I found I was able to make people laugh, and that brought me great satisfaction. I don’t think this is an uncommon feeling amongst comedians – they somehow feel “different” than everyone else in some way and humor is a good way to bridge the gap. Even though I would become an accountant, I eventually realized that I could perhaps marry the two worlds. As a result, I have shared the power improvisation can have in all aspects of life, including business.

A major lesson that I got from improv is that it’s okay to make mistakes, learn from them, be myself and just keep moving forward. I have written a number of blogs that speak to specific improv techniques, but ultimately integrating improvisation into our lives fosters the following:

  • Communication
  • Awareness
  • Adaptability
  • Calm in Chaos
  • Positive Attitude
  • Humor

How can you go wrong with those attributes? Learn more about how improv principles can improve your career by tuning into my new podcast series Improv is No Joke!, available on iTunes and my website.

Negotiating with Improv

Blog 6Negotiation skills are critical to be successful in life. Whether your negotiating with a toddler, or an important prospect for your firm, knowing how to reach a win-win scenario takes skill. Conducting a successful negotiation requires six major skills—and those skills are really based on the principles of improvisation.

  1. Take your ego off the table.

To succeed in negotiations, we need to take the egos off the table and drop our agendas long enough to truly listen—and with respect for all involved. Don’t come in assuming you have the right answer. Negotiation is an activity between you and another person – not you and yourself.

  1. Respect the other party.

This goes right along with the previous principle of taking your ego off the table. Take the time to learn about who you’re negotiating with. What is important to them? What are they trying to accomplish in negotiating with you? Doing this will help you come to the negotiation prepared to comprise, and feel good about it.

  1. Be in the moment (focus).

As I have stressed in other posts, it is important to be committed to the moment you are in. As an actor, if I’m asked to be a tree – well, I’d better commit to being a pretty great tree. The same goes for your negotiation. Come prepared, come willing to listen to the other party and be prepared for the unexpected. You can only do these things if you are focused and committed to the moment.

  1. Listen to the other party’s needs and wants.

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of listening to understand, not to respond. Of all the situations where that is important – this would be one of them. And remember, this is not just listening with your ears, but with your eyes. Especially important in negotiations is the ability to read emotions and feelings of those involved. Listening, watching, and understanding what the other party needs and wants will help you respond effectively.

  1. Adapt to the situation.

You’ve done your research on all the different possible arguments against your position, you’ve studied out and tried to understand the party you’re negotiating with and you are committed to the moment, you should automatically be a shoe-in to “win” – or get what you want from the negotiation, right? Well, maybe – but you still don’t know what exactly the other party wants, which is why listening is so important so that you can then ADAPT to any unforeseeable changes. It’s just a fact of life, things are unpredictable. So as paradoxical as it sounds, try to prepare yourself for the unexpected – be focused on the moment and go with it as it comes, being confident that you’ve put in the effort to be prepared as much as possible.

  1. Yes, and…

When you do your homework and are able to identify the possible “yes, but…” statements that will most likely be made, you can create strategies to provide “yes, ands…” for each of those concerns. By recognizing a potential objective, you can create a solution that diffuses the issue.

Learn more about how you can leverage improv to improve your career and future negotiations – visit today and download a free chapter of my book, Improv is No Joke.

Building Successful Client Relationships

84GOP2OAKRFinancial skills are only part of what makes financial professionals successful. If you want the edge over your competitors (both internal and external), you are going to have to step outside the numbers box and lead the way into more positive results with better soft skills in the office.

What keeps your clientele coming back to procure your services?

There are a million and one ways to play with numbers and an unlimited supply of spreadsheet tools, but there is only one of each client. If you think hard skills are enough to satisfy your clients, co-workers, and managers, you may be selling yourself short. You can probably look in your own firm to see there is no shortage of financial ability. Hard skills are teachable assets that most professionals need just to get the job done.

Soft skills though, are what set you apart from being the person no one remembers – to become the one they tell a story about to their friends and coworkers. These are soft skills:

  • Positive attitude
  • Strong time management ability
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Adaptability
  • Being coachable
  • Confidence and approachability

These are what give your team the advantage and they can be cultivated with the principles of improvisation. It will transform your firm or company from delivering a product to serving up company growth with higher retention for staff and more satisfied clientele.

Brainstorming Sessions Mold Soft Skills into Action

I remember having them in school and drawing out on a brainstorming map all ideas pertaining to a theme and then having to pass that paper around to others in my group. As the bubbles filled up with more ideas, I had my first lesson in collaboration. Bring together your team to foster a session for collaboration. Use these sessions to cultivate the soft skills like positivity and adaptability.

Collaboration is what will set your firm above the number box and separate you from those still in it. Download a free chapter to my new book, Improv is No Joke, and get inspired to see positive results.

“Yes, and…”

photo-1429637119272-20043840c013We live in a “yes, but…” society. In a restaurant, you might hear the wait staff say, “Yes, but this is not my section,” or “Yes, but I’m getting ready to go on break.” Those two words are far from inspiring. In fact, they deflate and kill creativity.

I think we should say Yes, and and say it more often. Here’s why.

Continue the Conversation

When I decided to attend an improvisation workshop many years ago, I had no idea the life altering concept I would encounter; the concept of not denying the other person’s reality. In improv, you have to go with whatever the other person says. You can add to it, but you can’t undo it. Once you deny it, you kill the scene. I probably got on quite a few actors’ nerves until it finally clicked one session. Until I got the hang of the “Yes, and” concept, I wasn’t able to continue the conversation. This applies to the business world as well.

Turn Negativity into Positive Results

“Yes, and…” is all about finding a point of agreement and moving forward from there. It creates an environment of possibility instead of rejection. When you hear, “Yes, but…” it is deflating. Is it really a yes or is it a “No” in disguise? A “Yes, but…” will change the direction of a conversation by placing a big do not enter sign in the room. Too many of those and you’re left with nowhere to go.

An Example:

“I propose adding updated technology to all our employees to improve productivity.”

There are two ways to respond…

“Yes, that is a nice idea, but it’s not in the budget.”


“Yes, and we should explore the logistics of this in the next meeting.”

Which response continues the conversation by acknowledging the value others have on the team? Want to know more about continuing the conversation in your workplace?

A Meeting of the Minds: Learning to Truly Listen

speak-238488_1280When someone is talking, how often are people not really listening but rather just waiting for their chance to say what they know? “Hurry up and finish,” they are thinking, “because I’m the one with something profound to say.” That’s listening to respond versus listening to understand. The latter requires you to put your agenda to the side, listen to what the other person is saying, and pause to gather your thoughts or let the other person reflect. Then, you can ask a question or perhaps say something more pertinent to the conversation.

Step One: Drop Your Agenda.

What if for the next client that walks into your office, you listened to what they were saying without thinking of what product to offer them? Truly listen for what they are seeking. When you can authentically meet their needs by practicing sound listening skills, you have opened the door for positive influence in your life, and theirs. True leadership involves the ability to drop your own agenda and truly focus on others, listening to understand them, not just waiting until you get an opening to respond.

Step Two: Implement the 4th Rule of Improv.

When actors are in a scene, the goal is to perform the task at hand. But you have no idea what is in your partner’s head. As the back and forth continues, you must play off of what the other person has brought to the table. In order to do that, you must listen and understand what they are saying. Business conversations are no different! The better you listen and adapt to the way the situation is unfolding, the better you make your colleagues and partners look. The better they look, they better you look.

When you listen to what others are saying to you instead of thinking of what you will say next, you will unlock potential you never knew was there. Not only will that particular conversation go better, but you’ll also find that your business and personal relationships grow as a result of the trust you’re developing.

Are you ready to form better relationships and create greater positive results in your business?