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Some Unsolicited Advice

By Linnea N. Meyer '14  |  june, 2013, Issue 1
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Linnea has some quarter-end advice. Listen up!


As spring quarter wraps up, the halls of Harper are echoing with "how-to" words of wisdom: "How to survive your summer internship," "how to present to senior executives," "how to dress for success"...the list goes on and on. As much as you've learned from Booth alumni, professors and student leaders, I know you're asking: What nuggets of knowledge can Linnea provide from improvisational theater?

Fortunately, ChiBus has allowed me this soap-box of an article to feed my ego, er, enlighten you. So, courtesy of improv, here are three tips to top off the pile of pontifications!

1. Games reveal relationships. In improv, relationships between characters are built on games exploiting differences in power or emotion. These games are typically physical or vocal patterns of social behavior, such as "noblemen" scrambling to be physically lower than a "king," or a "lovesick dork" agreeing with every insult his "crush" gives him. Playing these games helps audience members (plus other players) figure out who is who on-stage.

Figuring out real-life relationships isn't much different. Consider the corporate world: People play games revealing their status and feelings all the time. There's the enthusiastic "yes-man" eagerly supporting the boss, the underappreciated assistant slowly responding to staff requests, the anxious newbie hiding struggles from her manager, and so on. Watch for these games; they won't be as extreme as in improv (unless you're joining The Office), but they'll nevertheless reveal who's who in terms of power and popularity, helping you map out office politics.

2. Humility kills 'em, every time. Practicing improv is incredibly humbling, as you realize how not funny you are. Ironically, humility is one of improv's most powerful tools to get a laugh. Your pirate accent turned Southern? Call it out, explaining you learned to pillage while sailing the Louisiana bayous. Walked through the "dinner table" you previously mimed on stage? Call it out, praising your "Jell-O" furniture. Publicly owning and incorporating mistakes earns you audience goodwill and often laughter.

Humility similarly sways everyday audiences. Forget people's names? Admit it, apologize and laugh at yourself. Make a noticeable slip of the tongue during a presentation? Admit it good-naturedly and move on. Find an error in your financial model? Don't hide it; get help and fix it. Whether your slip-ups are low or high stakes, owning them shows others you're human and self-aware; you become relatable and trustworthy.

3. Everyone's a hero. Sophisticated improvisers play the character, not the caricature. Evil villains, ditzy teenagers and stuck-up French waiters all have worldviews justifying their behaviors. Maybe the evil villain is threatening his victims with death because he is obeying an even scarier boss, feeding his low self-esteem or practicing for an evil-villain-competition. The reason doesn't matter, as long it justifies the character's self-view as a protagonist or hero.

This universal heroism extends to real-life. Each of us thinks we're a hero; few (except sociopaths) intentionally play the villain, doing harm simply for the sake of it. Yet we often forget this when caught up in our fast-paced jobs. Your client didn't respond to your urgent email: Is he a jerk...or just swamped with work? Your manager made you pull an all-nighter: Is she a workaholic...or just under pressure from the partner? Remembering that you're not the only hero helps you empathize, de-escalating the conflicts that often arise at work.

With that said, it's time for this hero to jump off her soapbox and ride off into the sunset of summer break. Good luck everyone!

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