Can the rules of improv theater help us with conflict? Marianne Fleischer is a speechwriter-presentations skills executive coach and trainer who has a passion for improv theater. I met her in a leadership group and she explained some of the primary rules for successful improvisational theater. I was struck with how applicable the rules are for conflict management. Here are her rules and my interpretation:
- Mistakes are a gift. None of us are perfect. When we can acknowledge our mistakes, it invites the other person to admit they are imperfect as well and makes it easier to move forward.
- Try to make your scene partner look good. If we see a difficult conversation or situation as something we are in together, and focus on win/win rather than blaming the other, we are more likely to find a good solution.
- Don’t overthink. If we try to figure out every possible response to what we say or focus on worst possible outcomes, we sabotage ourselves. Being honest and staying in the present is a lot more useful.
- Listen—don’t think about your response. Rather than using the other person’s talking time to formulate our next point or counterargument, truly listening with curiosity and kindness and wanting to understand their perspective is much more effective.
- Do what scares you. In conflicts, one of the most frightening things is being vulnerable instead of defended. But a bit of vulnerability and humanness invites a softening in the other person’s stance.
- Forget labels. We frequently make negative assumptions about who other people are or what their motivations are. It is easy to label them “impossible”, to judge what the outcome will be from what happened in the past. When we can discard such labels and start anew, open to what we can achieve together, miracles of communication and understanding can happen.
While participating in a successful difficult conversation is unlikely to be as much fun as doing improv comedy, a conversation that can lessen conflict and mend a relationship is infinitely worthwhile.