What do you think is inside? Socks, a gift card, a new Bluetooth speaker, or maybe a half empty jar of mayonnaise? How would you react to each of those possibilities?
At the beginning of the month I attended a conference in Portland, Oregon. The final keynote was a local improv group, Brainwave Improv Company. The conference attendees were separated into five teams. At the end of the keynote each team would actually play an improv game and be awarded points. Think Whose Line is it Anyway.
While working in our groups the members of Brainwaves taught us a few different improv games (one of which would be the one we were judged on). Through those games the actors discussed aspects of improv that correlated to dealing with people at work and life. The same principles that made for a great improv session can be used to build strong relationships at work and home. One of my team’s games was “Gift Giving”.
The idea is simple. Two people exchange gifts. The person giving the gift could not say what it was, but through their actions give a hint to what it might be. A person might seem to be lifting a huge box to give to the other person, or act like the box was moving. The person receiving the gift had to take the gift, “open” it, and share what the gift actually was. Of course the whole game is to be funny, but the lesson the actors shared was powerful.
Brainwaves first shared the idea that in improv everything is a gift; a line, a situation, a moment of silence, anything can be used by the actors to make the game / scene funny. As actors they had to be open to whatever the “gift” might be and adapt, even if they had an idea ready to use. To make a scene flow they had to embrace the gift of the situation. They then moved the idea to work and life by teaching us how to play the game, “Gift Giving”. See, the real responsibility for the game is on the person receiving the gift. The whole game centers on how that person reacts to the gift, even when it is something crazy or unwanted.
If the person receiving the gift responds in a negative way the whole scene falls apart… You see where this is going don’t you? We have all been on both sides of this situation. We have received a gift that we didn’t like. We have given a gift only to seen the rejection in their face when they opened it. The scene falls apart.
To play the game we had to love what was in the gift. We had to carry the game with our reaction. But the actors took the idea a step deeper. Remember that in improv anything is a gift to the other actors. Brainwaves pushed that idea to dealing with everyday life. How did we act when presented with situations at work? How did we responded when we have to work with someone we don’t like? How do we respond to a child spilling milk? Yes, it is the attitude cliche. We have all heard, in some way, that your attitude is the key to handling life. But what got me about how Brainwaves addressed the issue was the metaphor of a gift.
In my house a gift is a way someone shows that they care about you. (Yes, it is one of my dadisms for my kids.) Now, I’m not naive. I know that tragic things happen to us. We get our hearts broken. Life can blindside us and drop us to our knees. Yet, how many success stories come from those tragedies? How many people took the situation as a gift and ran with it? Not to mention just using the idea to handle our everyday mishaps. What gift have you been given today? Did the scene fall apart? Or did you run with it?