If you’re a guy and a loyal boyfriend or husband, you have spent many hours sitting just outside the fitting rooms of clothing stores waiting for your partner to try on clothes. Personally, I’ve never minded this little ritual because those sitting areas are great places to people watch. Except of course for those chambers of Satan that don’t provide seating for the guys. May your knit coordinates wither on the rack.
One day I was sitting and waiting for my wife to reappear in something lovely. I was people watching and pretending to play with my Blackberry. A woman came in with a very particular, though somewhat conservative look. As she stepped out in her first outfit for feedback, she said “I really want to change my look up… what do you think?” The clerk, a brave professional, said “Well, THAT doesn’t do it! Let me bring you some things”. And off he went to go get more clothes. After he had returned and started handing in the different items he had brought, the dance started.
She rejected pretty much everything the clerk brought her, though he clearly knew what he was doing and hubby clearly liked a number of the outfits. She was uncomfortable not only with the clothes, but even with the way the clerk tried to get her to wear them. He would move around her, fluffing this, and layering that, into a look with some flair. Instinctively she would tug things back ‘into place’, and drift back to colours and cuts that were remarkably similar to the look she came in wearing.
By the time my wife was ready to go (with something she looked fantastic in of course!), the clerk, the husband, and I could see where this was going. If the woman left with anything new at all, it was going to be indistinguishable from the look she came in with.
A coach, professional or not, has a responsibility to show you the possibilities you don’t yet see. But if you don’t trust them, the whole exercise is pointless. If they do know what they are doing, and you do trust them, then a little bit of discomfort should be taken as a sign that you are approaching the changes you were looking for, not as a sign that something is wrong.
In improv, an endowment is when one player “gives” another player an element of their character before the recipient has defined it themselves. For example, Player B may say to Play A “Your are looking really tired!” before Player A has given any indication of being tired. Being a good improviser Player A accepts the endowment and says “Yes, I can’t believe how late I had to stay at work last night!” The endowment is a gift because Player B has helped Player A shape her character.
Of course the whole dynamic only works if the players trust each other and commit to the “Yes, and…” rule of improv.
Two players each receive a ‘secret’ endowment from the facilitator or the audience. This is done by writing the suggestions down on a piece of paper or recipe card and handing one to each player. The key here is that each player knows a secret about the character of the other. Now they run a short scene, each providing clues to the other about their endowment without actually stating the what it is.
For example: Player A might know that Player B is a basketball player (Player B’s endowment). But rather than telling her that she is a basketball player, he might start the scene by saying “So, how was practice this morning?”
The scene ends when both players have correctly guessed their secret endowments, and found an ending for the scene.
This scene calls for a bit more confidence and experience than many of the games I have written about in this series. The post-scene debrief can yield a good pay-off for the effort!
- Once again, the secret to this game, and to life, is to clue in. Your partner has the secret to who you are and you are only going to figure that out if you pay attention and listen. It is amazing to me to watch teams where one partner is doing everything they can to outline the endowment for the other, but that other is so caught up with making the scene go a certain way they are missing one clue after another. A visual demonstration of social cluelessness!
- Its about the subtle stuff. As we have seen in other games, improv requires a 360-degree sensibility. You can’t just stop the scene or focus on one thing to figure out what your partner is trying to tell you! You have to keep telling a story together as you incorporate each others’ clues into the scene. This is what separates improv from so many role-play exercises (as well as being a hell of a lot more fun): the show has to go on and you have to execute the rules of the particular game and be a great partner. Isn’t that life?
- Admit it. You don’t know everything. Not even about yourself. You may not know where the other person is taking you; just trust and follow. This is the underlying essence of the ‘yes, and…’ requirement of all good improv. Don’t try to outguess, or even worse, correct, the story as it unfolds. If your partner suddenly says out of the blue “Those stripes on your skin are very becoming” just accept that they are the expert in that moment and go with it. Don’t question it or block it, accept it and roll on. You will find out you are a tiger!
- The journey is revealing. The cool thing about this game is that even though both partners have a task in hand (to clue the other into their endowment), you never know what other revealing and unexpected things will happen along the way that will teach you all kinds of things about yourself, and the story. How much more fun is that than just being told declaratively (rather than narratively ‘who you are’? All those unforeseen but fun and productive turns your story took would never have happened!
Want to take the blah-blah-blah out of your next retreat or management seminar? To learn how an improv workshop with me can do that, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Improv takes great communication and management strategies, and makes them real and unforgettable.