Certain skills in law enforcement aren’t easy to learn. It can take years. And not knowing them early on in the job can strongly influence our long-term success or failure in a law enforcement role. It can even put ourselves or our colleagues in danger.

Thinking on our feet is one of these valuable skills. And improv is the safe, effective and fun way to hone this priceless job skill. Let’s take a look at how improv helps us learn to think on our feet.

  1. Anticipate the Actions of Others

Most of us have been around someone who can easily “play off” the actions of others. These individuals think on their feet to respond. But they’re also so in tune with others that they can anticipate their movements.

That’s a valuable skill in law enforcement. But how do they do it?

They learn that certain actions, facial expressions, tone, etc. often precede another action. Learning this skill on the job isn’t easy, especially in a situation that may even be life or death.

In an improv class, a group of friends or colleagues are given a theme. They then act out that theme. As they do, they practice playing off each other’s actions. The atmosphere is very laid back and spontaneous laughter is common. This is the fun, fast and effective way to learn this valuable skill.

  1. Become a More Active Listener

Active listening is a valuable “thinking out your feet” skill. If we’re not listening to people, we can’t respond appropriately. Misunderstandings are common. Most of us aren’t very good listeners. We may have excessive thought noise playing on repeat in our brains, especially in high-stress situations. Or we’re thinking about what we’re going to say.

Improv is fast-paced. And the more time a person spends doing improv the faster they get. With a little practice, improv participants learn to stay in the moment, allowing no time for brain noise. They listen more intently and really hear the words, emotions and body language of others.

  1. Say the Right Thing

Through improv, officers learn that they don’t need to plan what they will say to “say the right thing”. They engage in the flow of human conversation. This doesn’t mean we act impulsively. Rather, we’re able to take in the information around us more quickly before we speak or act.

  1. Empathize with Civilians

What’s actually happening in one through three? We’re learning the art of empathy. Empathy is valuable in the interrogation room or speaking to people on the street. It’s valuable at community events and even during a traffic stop.

While this may come very naturally to some of us, for others this isn’t a skill learned in childhood. But it’s never too late.

  1. Build Trust

When we think on our feet, we connect with all kinds of people in the community. We can effectively build valuable trust with those we serve. When we build trust in our communities, people are more willing to share information and report crime.

Many in our communities have grown up in environments where the blue uniform is the enemy. But when we build trust, people learn to see beyond that prejudice to see us as people just like them.

If your department could benefit from officers who can think on their feet, explore the power of improv.


Empathic Workplace offers an applied improv approach to team building, communication, creativity and learning emotional intelligence for executives, managers and employees.

A few example modules include:

  • Magic Words: Communication and “Yes, And”
  • On the Spot: Public Speaking and Performance Anxiety/Stage Fright
  • Heal Thyself: Humor and Self Care
  • Let Go: Stress Reduction Through Improv
  • Us is More: Group Mind and Team-Building
  • Feelin’ It: Emotional Intelligence and Empathy
  • and many more . . .