Can improv help us become better communicators? As teachers? As co-workers? As managers?

Human interactions can seem complicated. We often do not know what a person will say or do and there is little time to develop the most empathic response. Subsequently, we may fail to pick up on signals or we may say something we later regret.

In improv, a group of people acts out a theme that the actors are given on the spot. As a group, they must quickly predict and respond to the actions of others in the group to perform the skit.

Let’s look at how improv is helping scientists better communicate in the classroom. Then we’ll explore how we can use it in the workplace to better communicate with each other.

A Common Problem

A recent Chicago Tribune article shared the story of Heather Caruso of the University of Chicago School of Business. As a behavioral scientist and professor, she understood how difficult it is for those with expert knowledge to communicate in a way that students at various levels understand.

Sometimes the information may be going completely over the students’ heads and the professor may not realize it.   In other cases, the students may be bored because the level is too basic, yet the professor sticks with the pre-determined plan.

This can lead to disengagement and frustration on either end of the spectrum.

A Creative Solution

Professor Caruso had long been a fan of the spontaneity of improv. She theorized that improv techniques would help the scientists better and more quickly assess the needs of a student or other layperson. They could then more effectively communicate with the individual or group in a way they understand.

Study participants completed several group activities that required them — on the spot — to actively listen, watch and learn from each other. Through this exercise, they began to predict the actions of others in the group and respond accordingly. As we all can imagine, there was a learning curve. But the group worked at it until they were in sync.

The group had connected through improv. They adapted to the signals they were picking up from the others. With practice, a scientist could use this skill to quickly adapt in the classroom.

Her study is still in its early stages so we have no final results to report. But it will be interesting to see how using improv as a tool to teach the skills of predict the actions of others and connecting will advance.

How Improv Can Aid Workplace Communication

In many workplaces around the country, we’re working in individual silos. We don’t really listen to each other. We talk over each other. We don’t connect with others in an authentic way. We miss obvious body language and expression cues that guide productive communication.

We end up with more misunderstandings and lost productivity. There’s lack of trust. We have an unhealthy and unhappy workplace. We also have $600 billion dollar disengaged employee problem, according to Gallop Research.

But when teams of individuals learn to connect with each other on a more meaningful level, they truly hear and see each other. They work together, growing stronger as a unit as they strengthen the company as a whole.

Improv may be just the tool we need to actively promote more empathic communication in the workplace.

Are you interested in learning more about ways to engage employees by developing workplace empathy? We’d love to talk!