7 Skills Improv Teaches You About Managing Change

While this article was originally published in 2018, the advice stands the test of time. Plus, we would underline the part about being prepared. It’s the ultimate improvisational skill to help you manage change. As improvisers, we think about preparedness as rehearsal or practice.

Rehearsal is the antidote to change.

Of the seven skills below, preparedness is the one that people least associate with improvisation. Actually, improvisation and the ability to manage change successfully rely on preparing, rehearsing, and working to understand everything that you possibly can in advance of the actual work. Then if you are faced with the unexpected, with a surprise, you have a foundation to spring from and have the strength to be agile.

Rehearsal is the actor’s process of trying something new, falling down, making mistakes, trying again, learning and continuing to get better. It amazes me when someone thinks they can give a presentation or run a project without any kind of rehearsal. They place so much pressure on themselves to show up perfectly and wonder why when they don’t. You have to practice. Even experts have to practice. Think of it as a growth mindset, a way of thinking that encourages us to make mistakes in order to keep getting better. Then when faced with change we’ll know that we can handle it.

There are a couple things you can count on in life.

One is that change is inevitable.

Any change – even the positive kind – comes with a considerable amount of stress.

The good thing is that there are effective ways to manage that stress, and one of the best is through the use of improv.

Thinking of a TV show like “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”?

You’re in the ballpark, but improv in the corporate world looks a bit different.

Here’s how improv can help to ease the pressure of change.

An openness to risk in change

In improv, the actors are required to think on their feet and be able to turn on a dime.

The willingness to be vulnerable to failure is a quality that lends itself well to managing change in the workplace.

Those little defeats along the way are integral to your eventual success.

Out-of-the-box thinking

Check out how other companies handle processes and take note.

You don’t have to stick to the same industry, either.

For example, what do bread and Amazon have in common?

When the King’s Hawaiian bread company wanted to revamp their procedures, they didn’t look to another bread company – they went to Amazon for ideas and it paid off in the form of a more streamlined, technology-based process.

Be observant

Observation is a huge part of improv.

The ability to take in what’s happening around you is integral to being a successful improviser, and it’s also valuable when you’re faced with change.

Watching and listening carefully can help you to make the right decisions in a stressful situation.

Get the input of non-experts

Often, you can gain valuable insight from someone who isn’t right in the thick of things.

Their thoughts and opinions are unbiased and they can offer a fresh perspective.

In times of change, getting varied points of view is a helpful way to look at the big picture.

Ask the right kinds of questions

Open-ended questions will obviously get you more in-depth, thoughtful answers that can help guide your choices moving forward.

How entertaining would an improv group be if they didn’t use this theory?

Not very! “Yes” or “no” doesn’t leave much in between for more information.

Phrases like “I’d love to know your thoughts on…” or “How do you feel about…” give the responder a lot more room to share ideas.

Be prepared – for anything  –  to confidently tackle change

The very nature of improv would lead you to believe that preparation isn’t a part of the process.

The opposite is true.

Planning is the foundation of improv and it should also be the foundation of change management.

Improvisers over-prepare and over-rehearse because they understand that anything could happen and there’s no way to predict what’s coming next.

When you have a strategy for the change that will inevitably come, you’re able to head off some of the anxiety and stress.

Don’t ignore the physical

Proper breathing techniques are a part of an improv performer’s repertoire.

Because it’s all about relaxation and focus, you can use these same methods during times of stress.

Even positive changes can throw everyone for a loop.

You can combat the anxiety and fear like an improv performer with, not only breathing techniques but also meditation and other focused exercises designed to keep your body loose and fight tension.

You can manage change with confidence

It’s going to happen, like it or not.

Change is like that.

And, it doesn’t have to derail you!

Being observant, asking the right questions, thinking out-of-the-box and integrating some relaxation techniques into your day will help you to handle change like a champ.

When you’re prepared, you can embrace any change that comes your way as an opportunity to grow.

Which of these areas do you feel is your strong suit? Which ones are a struggle?

The techniques of improv can help you to manage change in your professional life. #improvtips

Find an area in which you can begin to integrate these techniques.

This article is 100% written by a human named Karen Hough. She is the Founder & CEO of ImprovEdge, in the top 4% of women-owned businesses in the US, a 3-time Amazon bestselling author, Yale grad, wife and mom of three.