“Try the scene again”, I say. “Please start your scene with positivity instead”.
A confused look. A raised eyebrow. A scene starts again. Once more, it starts with a complaint, a source of instant conflict.
“Great, I love your energy”, I say encouragingly. “I’d like you to see how it feels to start a scene with positivity instead”.
I often hear beginning improvisers say it feels unnatural to focus so much on positivity when they start improv scenes. Conflict feels more natural and an easier place to start. I can’t blame them. Generally speaking, we are a culture trained to find problems instead of solutions, and saying no, or disagreeing can make us feel smart and opinionated. It can take a lot of practice to start from a place of not only agreement but also, positivity.
One of the principles, or rules, of Improv I concentrate on is: “start positive“.
Previous posts have touched on research concerning the benefits of positive work cultures, and proof that we can train our brains to be more positive.
Through Improv we can train ourselves to live more in the moment, be less in our heads, become more flexible, more accepting, less contentious, more supportive, and YES… more positive.
Off of the Improv stage, we can think of many ways to practice starting positive including performance reviews, company meetings and increasing praise.
Doug Conant, former president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company put this principle into action. He improved staff morale by writing an incredible 30,000 handwritten notes in 10 years to members of his staff praising specific achievements. In their highly acclaimed book, “Switch”, Dan and Chip Heath say: Find the bright spots and learn how to replicate those. It is a choice to focus on the positive instead of the negative.
In experiential training, it’s important for students to experience the difference between starting positive and starting with conflict. It’s a conscious choice we can make and a mindset we can develop. What can you do to create a more positive work culture and how has it changed the performances your employees give?