Have you ever encountered someone who just seems to have a knack for making good conversation? They are never uncomfortable in new situations or stumped in job interviews, and people seem to gravitate towards them at parties and events. Regardless of circumstances, they can keep a conversation moving forward. It’s a gift … Or is it?
“You have a gift for …”
How many times have you heard someone start a compliment in that way? We often look at people who are “good” at something with admiration and then attribute it to a gift (as if they had nothing to do with it, but that’s another post). Certainly, we all have some natural abilities ~ an eye for decorating, a heart for people in need, a knack for organization. Still, many times the very “gift” we admire is something that has been cultivated with hard work helped out by a few tricks along the way.
Being a good conversationalist may well be a gift, but some techniques from the world of improvisational comedy might prove to be useful tools to the everyday person. In an article for Real Simple magazine, life coach Gail Blanke studied a troupe of performers to see what she could learn from this art form. Certainly, Improv is one of the ultimate tests of thinking on your feet. Blanke reports that the actors utilize three primary principles in their work:
- The “yes and …” phrase;
- Go with your gut; and
- Make everyone else in your group look good!
By consistently applying these principles over and over again ~ think of it as their “recipe” ~ the actors made their difficult work and gifted banter seem effortless. Each principle she mentioned has its own value worth studying, but I was particularly inspired by the “yes and…” technique. According to Blanke, here’s how it works:
Say two actors are given the words “blueberry pie” with which to create a scene. It might go:
Actor 1: “I made a blueberry pie.”
Actor 2: “Yes, you made a blueberry pie. And you remember the last time we had blueberry pie?”
Actor 1: “Yes, I remember. We took a picnic into the woods, and that’s when you said you wanted to join a nudist colony.”
You see what’s happening? Suddenly there’s a story; suddenly there’s a direction and a purpose. Using the simple words “yes…and” moves the scene into new territory, and that’s where new possibilities occur.
How to make it work for you: So let’s say it’s Monday and you’re at the gym and that very attractive guy says, “It was a beautiful weekend.” If all you say is “Yes, it was great,” that ends the conversation right there. But if you say, “Yes, it was great. And I really made the most of it. I went to a concert in the park and brought my yellow Lab. He snatched a sandwich right out of the hands of some poor woman having a picnic. But we had fun.”
Now you’ve got something. You can follow up with “Do you like dogs?” or “Have you ever been to a concert in the park?” And, bingo, the next thing you know, you’re on your way to another concert in the park with none other than that very attractive guy. (Maybe minus the dog.)
As Blanke points out, this particular strategy both affirms the other person and allows you to move the conversation in the direction you want it to go. I love this idea and found it directly applicable to the teaching of Anusara Yoga ~ Say ‘Yes’ to Everything!
We can use this same technique in our work with our students. Those of you who were enrolled in teacher training with Christina Sell earlier this summer might recall that this was, in fact, a part of the instruction for conducting student demos. First, we acknowledge what is good about a student’s pose or effort, and THEN we direct the attention to where we’d like to draw more focus. We acknowledge what is beautiful and inspire more work as we move the class in the direction that we want to go.
Whether in conversation, improv comedy, or teaching (a distinct form of improv), the implementation of “yes and …” can make us all appear gifted! Try it today and see how it goes.
Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater. ~ Gail Godwin
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To Consider: Read the full text of Gail Blanke’s article: How to Think on Your Feet. And just for fun, here’s a scene from the improvisational comedy show Whose Line is it Anyway? Watch for the “yes and …” technique at work ~ whether explicitly stated or just implied. It’s totally there.
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