On this Valentine’s Day I’m reminded of an important principle of improv comedy: come from a place of love. That’s also useful advice for our everyday communications (and for life in general, of course).
So here are seven ways you can bring the love in order to become a more successful communicator.
But first, an explanation of what love has got to do with it.
The Root of Bad Improv
Beginning improv classes are often dominated by 20-something males competing for Alpha dog status. So they tend to create characters who are angry and belligerent. It’s part testosterone and part glorification of old-school comedy “bad boys” in the mold of Belushi and Ackroyd.
But it also stems from the idea that “conflict” — a basic ingredient of any story — means arguing, shouting and fighting. In reality, there are many shades of conflict, and they don’t all require white-hot anger.
The Love Connection
Even more importantly, a character that is simply mean for the sake of meanness isn’t that interesting. It has to come from somewhere. The character has to actually care about something. After all, even the happiest couples fight, and when they do it’s not because of apathy — it’s because of love.
So in improv you’re told that if you’re ever in doubt about how your character should be behaving on stage, you can’t go wrong by coming from a place of love. Love for the other character, love of an idea, love for yourself. Just start with love and go from there. That helps ensure the scene is constructive, is driven by real stakes, and is grounded in humanity.
Here’s how to manifest that spirit in your daily communications.
1. When Problems Arise, Assume Competence
When someone appears to make a mistake, don’t lay blame or chalk it up to incompetence. Maybe the problem was outside their control or due to someone’s else’s mistake. So instead of saying, “You didn’t send it,” try, “I don’t have a record of receiving it.”
And if something contradicts what you know, don’t automatically assume it’s wrong. It’s possible you don’t have all the facts. Instead of, “This information is wrong,” try, “Are you sure [x] is correct? I thought it was [y].”
2. When Mistakes Happen, Assume Innocence
Don’t start guessing at people’s motivations, as in, “Don’t you care about accuracy?” Focus instead on objective results: “There are a lot of mistakes in this document. What happened?” There may be a reason why your expectations weren’t met. It’s possible that person is overloaded or your expectations weren’t realistic.
3. When Giving Feedback, Sandwich Your Remarks
If you need to give constructive feedback, “sandwich” the negative within something positive. As in, “You work so fast, and I appreciate that. But there are a number of errors in this document. I want you to know that quality is more important than speed.” Emphasizing the positive makes the other person more receptive to your message.
4. When Giving a Talk, Picture a Friendly Face
If you have trouble connecting with your audience when giving a presentation, imagine a loved one is out there in the crowd. Conjuring that feeling of affection may help you convey the warmth and humanity that leads to better rapport.
5. When Expressing Ideas, Find the Passion
If, on the other hand, you find yourself disconnected from your material — the ideas you’re trying to communicate — you need to tap into the passion that drives you. Why do you do what you do? What do you love about it? How will it change the world (or at least help solve a problem)? And if you can’t find the passion, find another line of work. (Or at least cancel the presentation.)
6. When Speaking Up, Think First of Helping
It’s important to contribute in meetings — to offer up an idea or a point of view. That’s the sign of an engaged, interested person. But before you speak up, ask yourself WHY you’re doing it. Is it truly to help others — to enlighten them, to find a solution? Or is it really for your own benefit — to impress others or get attention? Be honest with yourself.
7. At All Times, Don’t Forget the 3 Little Words
No, I don’t mean, “I love you,” though those are good ones. I mean, “Please” and “thank you.” We learn these as children but forget them in business — especially in emails. A little common courtesy goes a long way.
Love is Serious Business
I am a frequent skeptic, an occasional grouch and a general curmudgeon. So I have a low tolerance for new-age, “feel-good” solutions. But there’s nothing touchy-feely about this. Just as love is critical to the art of improv, it has practical implications for business.
By bringing the love, today and every day, you’ll be better able to create a positive work environment, keep people motivated, and improve your ability to connect with and influence people.
And besides all of that, it’s the right thing to do.