When I tell people that I teach improvisation (improv for short) to Zip Coders, there is sometimes a little bit of trepidation — even by the students themselves. I’m often met with responses such as “I can’t think that fast” or “I’m not that witty!” Other times, I’ll be asked, “How does teaching improv have anything to do with students who are learning how to code?”
Here is the secret to improv: it has little to do with wit and almost everything to do with listening — a vital skill in interviewing, networking, and…let’s face it…life. And since we also put a strong emphasis on professional and personal development at Zip Code, these skills are crucial in getting our students ready for the next big step of transitioning to full-time software developers.
What Is Improvisation?
The dictionary definition of improvisation is, “…composing, uttering, executing, or arranging anything without previous preparation.” However, I’d define improv a little differently as “the ability to actively listen and authentically respond without judgment.” We can achieve this goal through the two most important words in improvisation: “yes, and.”
In a performance setting, “yes, and” empowers improvisers to agree to a shared reality and build on top of it. For example:
Keith: I can’t believe we finally made it to Mars.
Susan: Yes, and let’s go change the battery on that rover.
Keith establishes the initial offer (“we’re on Mars”), while Susan provides context as to why they’re there (“we need to fix the rover”). Susan added information to Keith’s original statement — which she can only accomplish by actively listening to Keith’s offer with no preconceived thoughts or judgment.
“But these are actors, Dan. How can this possibly apply to interviewing or networking?”
Glad you asked…
Improv for Interviewing, Networking, Life, etc.
Using improvisational skills allows you to enter any given situation with an open mind and an ability to respond authentically. Of course, none of this means that you should go into an interview or networking event unprepared (i.e., you need to do your research). However, if you rigidly anticipate and prepare every last thing you expect to say or be asked, you’ll be thrown quite the curveball when you get that one question you didn’t expect.
During our highly interactive improv workshops at Zip Code, students learn that by adopting a “yes, and” mindset, you are listening to understand and not just to respond (which we all often do). Many times, we’re already planning our answers before the interviewer has finished the question — which means we’re not listening! Of course, we can all think of other times we have allowed our inner dialogue to mute what others might be saying (meetings, parenting, etc.). By doing so, we can easily miss information, nuance, emotion, etc. — all of which could present a barrier to effective communication.
By listening to understand, you free your mind to fully absorb the information presented to you (i.e., a question) so that you provide a thoughtful and authentic response. “Yes, and” doesn’t mean that you literally agree with everything everybody else says. Rather, it’s a mindset/approach allowing you to remain in the moment so that you can remain 100% engaged with anybody in any situation.
Benefits of “Yes, And”
- Heightened ability to actively listen
- Remain positive and engaged in your interactions
- Suppress that pesky voice of judgment that may affect your ability to answer authentically
- Adaptability — how to handle those curveball moments that can throw us for a loop
Follow @zipcodewilm on Instagram and catch behind the scenes footage from one of our improv sessions!