Don’t think Twice is a movie about a New York improv group called The Commune. Commune members Miles, Samantha, Jack, Allison, Bill and Lindsay invent comedy without a script and without a net. They’re clever, fast, and spontaneous – building on each others’ ideas like best friends – or coaching partners.
While Don’t Think Twice is about what fame does to relationships, it’s also a celebration of improv. At the beginning of the film, the cast lays out the Improv’s three rules:
First: Say yes, meaning buy into whatever reality your partner presents you with.
Second: Remember that it’s all about the group, not about you.
And finally: Don’t think. Get out of your head. Live in the moment.
All good advice — onstage, or off but especially helpful to coaches. Improvisation is theater without a script. It can feel out of control. Here there is a real correlation to coaching which can also feel out of control. After all there is no script, each client is different and each conversation unique. Sounds pretty scary until, like the audience in an improve show, you come to relish the surprise and spontaneity of coaching and relax in to it. Saying YES to what ever the client brings to the table.
Some coaches try to maintain control by asking a series of questions that will lead the client to an answer. This is more like the coach’s agenda that the clients and by doing so the coach cannot actively listen and respond in the moment- often missing the underlying reasons behind the client’s challenge. Being 100% present for a client requires the coach to let go and enjoy the not knowing what’s coming next!
Let’s take a closer look at the 3 improv techniques mentioned in the movie and apply them to coaching:
- Say Yes. In improve actors give up control by listening and responding with “yes, and…” to build on what was said. Coaches can practice following together by using “Yes, and…” with their questions. Ask questions that flow from what the client just said. Each question organically builds the conversation. Improv is completely unscripted with no memorized lines. There’s no planning ahead or, as in coaching, list of powerful questions or responses. In coaching, we spend many hours learning how to stop thinking ahead and instead purely listen. And then we take what the client has revealed and we go with it - saying yes and being curious about the client’s situation and perspective.
- Follow Together.No one leads an improv scene. Neither actor knows where the scene is going. They are following together. Each simultaneously follows and leads the other. This requires presence in the moment an essential skill for coaches for work in conjunction with their partner to create a path forward. Neither coach nor client is fully leading at any given moment. Instead there’s a back and forth flow of conversation – a seamless co creative process that produces real results.
- Don’t think. In improve the actors cannot try and be funny. Looking for opportunities to be funny distract them from being present and listening. In improv the actors set the scene together and explore to discover what is funny. The “funny” out of this collective effort. It's the same in coaching. We want to be helpful. We want the questions we ask to create a new awareness for our clients but if we try and do this the result is often a frustrated coach and maybe even a frustrated client. Don’t think about making the coaching powerful. Just coach. Listen carefully, lean into what your client is saying and not saying, then be curious. Think about what questions you have after listening deeply to your client’s “scene.” When we do this, working with the client in this way, the solution will present itself.