Many people assume that improvisation is something that some people are just good at and that it’s all about performing and being funny on a stage. The truth is that improvisation concepts and skills can be learned and practiced. They can also be a game changer in your coaching — and in every other aspect of your work and life.
Here are some key ways that learning and practicing improvisation can enhance your coaching effectiveness, confidence, and growth.
1. Deepen your fundamental coaching skills.
Improvisation requires us to practice staying present, listening actively, taking in nonverbal information, and tapping into our intuition. Strengthening these skills through improvisation can directly translate to improved coaching presence and active listening.
Practice with improvisation helps us become more observant and responsive — two key components of coaching presence. When we improvise, we continuously hone our spontaneous responsiveness. This entails taking in as much information as possible: verbal, visual, energetic, and intuitive; incorporating it into the shared reality; and responding to it in the moment from a place of full presence. Consequently, when we bring skills honed through improvisation into our coaching, we take in information we might have missed otherwise and engage it more effectively to support our clients.
2. Help clients break through internal obstacles.
Our clients come to us eager for change or progress towards their goals — and yet, they may get tangled up in conflicting needs, fears, and other internal obstacles. Improvisation concepts and skills help us spot insidious ways that our clients are sabotaging their progress and empower us to coach clients through these blocks more efficiently. Thinking like an improviser is like having a special flashlight that reveals a new layer of awareness. Improvisation concepts serve as very simple, powerful interventions that create perspective shifts and cut through patterns of stuckness, clearing the way for our clients to generate options; create peace and acceptance; get into action; and reach goals more effectively, more efficiently, and with greater ease.
3. Discover your own awareness gaps.
Like all humans, coaches are subject to our own patterns, filters, awareness gaps, and biases. In practicing improvisation, you may discover previously unconscious energy, instincts, or tendencies that are blocking full presence, listening, and collaboration. Improvisation supports you in becoming a more conscious, equitable, and inclusive coach. Because improvisation deepens our awareness of others, it increases our empathy and decreases the likelihood that our focus on our own perspective will become a block to taking in the perspectives of others. Practicing improvisation can result in skills and discoveries that improve our self-awareness, ability to create buy-in, embodied inclusion and equity, and much more.
4. Become more flexible, agile, effective, and confident.
Planning, structure, and preparation are essential components of our everyday work and lives, and so is improvisation. When we gain insights and practice skills to help us truly dance in the moment, we feel prepared to handle all the surprises, snafus, and unexpected opportunities that inevitably emerge. Improving your improvisation skills increases your confidence as you encounter those things you couldn’t possibly have predicted or planned for. Improvisation can help you recognize and release your agenda, your prediction of where the client is going, or your assumptions about what is needed. As a result, you encourage the client’s power, agency, resourcefulness, creativity, and accountability.
5. Improve your networking, ideation, innovation, resilience, and creativity as a business owner.
Improvisation skills and mindset can help you in every non-coaching aspect of your work, too! The skills you gain will help you create and spot opportunities that you might otherwise have missed; create a win in every situation; build relationships with colleagues, prospective clients, and organizations more joyfully and effectively; grow your confidence and skill as a speaker; and be more resilient and confident as you navigate the ups and downs of business.
6. Return to beginner’s mind.
As you develop greater expertise, skill, and experience as a coach, tools that can help you step back into a beginner’s mindset are pure gold. Improvisation is one such tool. Improvisation practice helps even the most seasoned coaches to make new discoveries and avoid getting stuck in a comfort zone or expert trap. In a structured improvisation exercise, you practice taking risks, making yourself vulnerable, authentically responding in the moment, and deeply collaborating — all experiences that lead to discovery and growth. Improvisation can also help you shift out of your ego and the pressure or attachment you feel to “being good,” and reground you in your coaching competencies.
7. Help your clients do all of the above.
You’ve probably discovered that when you grow, your ability to help your clients grow … grows too! Whether you explicitly share improvisation concepts and skills as a strategy with clients or embody them yourself behind the scenes, the improvisation approach can have a powerful ripple effect on clients.
© 2023 Carrie Spaulding. All rights reserved.
Carrie Spaulding, PCC, will be exploring this topic more in-depth at ICF Converge 2023, which is taking place August 23-26 in Orlando, Florida, USA. Join her session “An Inside Job: Coaching Clients Through Internal Obstacles with Improvisation” in the Envision theme on Saturday, August 26 at 9 a.m. (local conference time). By attending this session, you can earn 1 Continuing Coach Education unit in Core Competency and 0.5 in Resource Development.