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7 Improv Techniques That’ll Make Conversations at Work Less Awkward and More Productive

By | Megan Gray |

Talking to people at work can be challenging and stressful. Whether you’re attending meetings, conversing with clients, or just making small talk in the hallway, nerves can start to take over. What do you do with your hands? How long should you hold eye contact? What do you even talk about? And if you’re used to working from home—let’s say, if a global pandemic forces you and all your colleagues to go remote for many many months—face-to-face interactions can feel even more overwhelming.

Improvisation can help.

Improv is a form of unscripted theater where the actors don’t know in advance what they’ll say or do—or what other actors will say or do. There are no costumes or props, only a bare stage and chairs. The show often begins with a random word suggested by the audience. In order to create something out of nothing, improv performers have developed a whole range of techniques to keep themselves focused and in the moment.

For the past 14 years I’ve taught improvisation to people of all ages in theaters, at schools, on cruise ships, and online. I’ve also worked with companies including TikTok, Google, and YouTube to use improv techniques to improve collaboration, communication, and confidence. With everyone from kids to CEOs, I’ve found that improv principles can help. We’ll take a look at some of these techniques and break down how they can be applied specifically to the workplace and work-related interactions.

1. Practice Active Listening

Listening is an improviser’s main tool. In order to respond to your partner and build off of what they said, you have to actually listen to what they’re saying! Not just listen, but actively listen. Most of the time we’re passively listening, focused on what we’ll say next or imagining what the person we’re talking to is going to say, and we miss key elements of the conversation. We’re so busy anticipating that we end up listening to only half of what is said.

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