How Improv Comedy Helps Conversation Skills

Practicing “Yes, and…” requires self-restraint in setting our agenda aside and being fully present in a conversation. Simultaneously, we need to have self-confidence in who we are and who we are not. It takes courage and vulnerability to show up as yourself, to be fully present, to listen deeply, to contribute where appropriate and to honor what others bring.

I’ve found that it is much easier for me to be vulnerable when I feel in charge or in control, but I know that is not being authentic and interdependent. That is more of an illusion of vulnerability than the reality of authentic interdependence.


At times we may feel awkward or stumble a bit in our conversations with colleagues, we may not be sure how to respond, or colleagues go away without understanding or connecting with us. Using the rules for improvisational theater to improve conversational skills at work can:

  • eliminate awkward silences
  • help to make conversations flow smoothly
  • help you Listen better
  • help you connect more deeply without effort

Great conversations do not always happen spontaneously; you are not always on the same wavelength as your colleagues. Each of you have a different set of strengths which influences your perceptions and mindsets – you can not use a standard script or list questions to ask everyone you encounter. Your success in being confidently spontaneous with conversations greatly improves your engagement with others.

When you have a set agenda for the outcome of a conversation you are not fully present to listen… Click To Tweet

In improv comedy, participants collaborate and support everyone, working towards a common goal. Players need to be flexible and agile. Players need to carefully listen to and observe the other person. For improv to work well people need to be in service of one another, in service of the greater good or outcome. In strengths language it is Interdependence – we serve each other so we can serve others.

In the book Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City, by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton, the authors describe how players spontaneously engage in exchanges that are inspired.

They do not come on stage with expectations about where the scenario should or will end up. They watch for emotional signals and respond to everything presented, both non-verbally and verbally. Great conversations and connections are created in the same way.

When you have a set agenda for the outcome of a conversation you are not fully present to listen or observe. If you are constantly debating, arguing, selling or trying to change minds, you do not create a feeling of trust, likability or collaboration.

When people try to control or direct the flow of conversation they miss out on important clues to what others are really thinking. You can apply these fundamental rules of improv to your work conversations.


Rule # 1: “Yes, and…”

This is the first rule of improv: no matter what the other person says, you must respond with “Yes, and…” in order to build and expand the conversation. The key here is to accept and go with what is said — regardless of what you may think of it — and to add to it. This is absolutely foundational to improv.

We can understand why. When someone responds with “No,” or “Yes, but…” it shuts down the scene and it’s not funny. This same thing happens in conversations with colleagues. Responding to another with “Yes, and…” is an easy concept to understand — but in actual practice it is hard to commit to doing.

In my work as a strengths coach, we practice this and other guidelines for creating interdependent dialog that deepens connections with those whom you interact.

So I will extend this challenge to you once more. This week, use the phrase “Yes, and…” as often as possible in your conversations. See what happens. Then share what that was like. Contact me or lets connect on LinkedIn.


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