What do chopsticks, improv, and teambuilding all have in common?
You are on a first date at the hot new Asian food restaurant everyone is raving about. As you look around, you see how others make it look so easy. They effortlessly use their chopsticks to pick up a single grain of fried rice that has strayed too far from the rest. You are doing your best… but you are just moments away from stabbing the sweet and sour shrimp that’s taunting you as it slips out of your grasp for the fourth time. Perhaps your date, who you wanted desperately to impress, tries to talk you through how to use chopsticks. They walk you through which fingers to use, where to place your fingers, and how to squeeze just right. While the double entendre is enticing, you’re struggling to apply everything they’re telling you and it’s just not working. You’re fully convinced that the sauced up shrimp is going to get the better of you. Luckily the waiter takes pity on you and shows you how to make a contraption using the wrapper and a rubber band. Now you have a set of thong-chopsticks. At least you’re not going to starve.
Date number two
This time your date doesn’t just tell you how to do it differently, they show you how to hold the chopsticks differently. The shrimp that were once vexing you are now rarely escaping your grasp. Now that you have the physical motion down you’re not worried you’ll have to go to bed without dinner. Each shrimp you manage to catch gets exponentially easier and the more you practice the easier it becomes. Your willingness to try something new and maybe look a bit goofy, learn through lots of repetition, and then practicing what you learned were the keys to success.
Chopsticks and EQ
Emotional Intelligence is a lot like learning to eat with chopsticks. They both take practice and you can become more skilled the more you practice.
Your Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a measure of your ability to reason about emotions and emotional information. This includes recognizing, understanding and managing feelings in ourselves and using this to interact with other people effectively. Unlike your IQ which is determined at the beginning of your life and relatively constant after that, your EQ can be trained and improved as you grow older.
No one is born with the skills to be a master at either chopsticks or EQ. But with practice, commitment to improving, and people who are willing to show the way you can learn to use both effectively. Mastering both of them may help you to get that third date.
Or… land your next step in your career. Many experts feel that EQ is just as important, if not more important, than your IQ for being successful at work.
- In their book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves say, “People with the highest levels of intelligence (IQ) outperform those with average IQs just 20% of the time, while people with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70% of the time.”
- When writing about EQ for Fast Company Kes Thygesen says, “When someone has these qualities, they have the ability to work well with others and are effective in leading change. However, when someone is just “book smart,” they may not necessarily have emotional intelligence and therefore have a harder time learning from their mistakes.”
So while being intelligent is good, being able to work with others in an effective way is better. If I were asked by a genie if I’d rather have a high IQ or a high EQ, I’d answer, “Both”. As it turns out if I wanted to be more effective in building relationships I’d most likely be better to go after the EQ.
EQ can be taught
Just like using chopsticks, there are many in the academic world who want to conduct research to see if we can improve our skills as life goes on. Ok. Maybe there is not as much research on chopsticks. On the other hand, John D. Mayer is a professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire and is an expert in personality psychology and measurement. He was interviewed for an article in Scientific American and he lays out the case that adults can improve what he calls “emotional competence”. When talking about curricula focused on a person’s emotional functioning or ability to learn about emotions he says, “…the programs improve students’ social interactions, well-being and sometimes even academic achievement. The few studies that have focused exclusively on adult learning appear to follow the same pattern, so there is a good reason to believe that emotional knowledge and functioning can be enhanced in adulthood.”
the good news is that unlike your IQ your emotional intelligence can be improved. Sure, it takes some training and practice but in the end, you have the ability to improve one of the most important building blocks which defines who you are and how successful you’re likely to be.
Improv as an effective way to train your EQ
/im · prov/: a form of theatre in which most or all of what is performed is unplanned or unscripted. It is created spontaneously by the performers. – Wikipedia
Successful improvisers get together regularly to “practice”. Practicing seems to be the antithesis of unplanned and unscripted. But in actuality, it is an integral part to the success of creating spontaneously. You see, improvisers have a set of “rules” they follow that help make sure they are all working together and going in the same direction, especially when no one knows the final destination. A good deal of an improviser’s practice time is dedicated to activities that focus on training EQ at the ensemble level so all of the players on a team have these skills. At ImprovThis we’ve distilled these rules into the Three Pillars of Improv™:
- Say “YES! And…”
- Suspend Judgements
- Make my partner look good
Approaching every conversation with the energy of “Yes! And..” leads to finding answers to sticky problems, being more creative in your solutions, and creating a culture of ownership and investment. Suspending judgments of other people’s ideas so that a full discussion of the idea can happen helps to keep emotions in check when the going gets rough. When a team is actively focused on making their partners look good it creates a culture of responsibility and accountability, blaming others and “not my circus, not my monkeys” is rarely heard.
If you read the above paragraph from the point of view of a theater troupe, now take a second to re-read it with the point of view of a manager running a marketing team. Or a call center team leader. Or just about any team in a corporate environment from the C-Suite all the way to the front line sales people. These tools are effective in building strong teams in just about every aspect of life.
Using these skills on a daily basis will help to improve your EQ. But the real power of doing Improv training is that it is a format where your entire team can learn these skills together. Having your team work together on exercises specifically designed to build what Bradberry & Greaves describe as “social competence skills” can help them to recognize ways they can increase Emotional Intelligence across the organization. Taking that step in unison can have a profound impact on the culture of a corporate team.
What sets ImprovThis apart from the rest
Other companies who do improv training may do a great job of entertaining you and your team with a funny show. Often corporate training is a side business compared to their theater shows and comedy classes. We will be entertaining as facilitators, don’t you worry. But our focus is on helping you build a positive, creative, and passionate corporate culture.
At ImprovThis our sole mission is to create fun, hands-on workshop style training sessions to build closer, more collaborative teams. We also focus on working with your team so these skills are implemented after the workshop and provide tools to ensure the learning becomes part of the culture.
To learn more about ImprovThis or to schedule a time to talk to us, check us out at: