3 Improvisation Tips for Conflict Resolution

By Dennis Wesley

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

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“A corporate brainstorm should be a joyful YES ANDing process but is more often than not a bitter clash of egos. Good brainstorming isn’t about having ideas which are all equally good; it’s about treating all ideas as equally good.” – The Improv Handbook

Work Work Work: The Working of the Wheel

When a conflict emerges at a workplace, it is highly unlikely that the disagreements and general palpable tension in the air are limited to the current situation. It is oftentimes the case that many instances of dissatisfaction and differences have accumulated over time, resulting in this eruption.

And once the eruption has taken place, the manager is in a delicate position wherein they will need to sail the team toward reaching a resolution, while not favoring either of the sides explicitly. If the manager takes either side overtly, a chance for a possible resolution can be lost.

And an opportunity to set a managerial precedent for the team will be lost. 

Play Play Play: Why Improv?

Improvisation is something we all are very familiar with and a highly unique experience.

We improvise in the ways we respond to the unpredictability of everyday life. In a setting of improvisational training, the skills of listening, being present, and problem-solving are consciously heightened. 

When these skills meet the palpable tensions of a workplace, some magic can take place. Improv training is great business training.

Even if not training for performance, improv tenets can help in conflict resolution in the following ways:

1. Being Present: Listening to the Voice of a Conflict

When a manager listens to the two sides of a conflict, they’re also listening to judgments, opinions, and subjective versions of occurrences. For an amicable resolution to take place, it is important that they remain unbiased. An important lesson from improv can help the manager in this scenario.

The skill of ‘being present’ refers to the ideal state of play where the improviser has no pre-decided script or responses ready for a situation but takes a moment as it comes.

In case of a workplace conflict, it would mean that the manager will have to enter the role of a  decision maker like an improviser. They should treat each piece of unique information in an unbiased manner and with curiosity.

This conveys to both parties that they’re an impartial judge without an agenda.   

2. Trusting the Empty Space: The Process Takes Time

All successful improvisers agree that good scene work emerges from patience and faith. So do concrete resolutions and the future scope for the company. When a manager steps in to fix a situation with their employees, they should go in with a trusting attitude.

This includes acknowledging the fact that the resolution might reach the desired level of quality only in time. The facilitation of conflict resolution will be a patient and continuous process until that goal is reached.

This is akin to scene work where, initially, everything seems haywire, and only slowly does the story unfold. Even better, these turn out to be the most educative lessons.  

3. Skill of Persuasive Story: A Common Goal

While finding the resolution to a conflict, it is important to persuade the employees that you all are on the same team. A common goal is imperative to solving conflicts. It is important to dissolve egocentrism and shift the focus from people to the process.

In improv, this tenet is called not looking at people as obstacles but as co-creators of solutions. This can be achieved through techniques ranging from persuasive language to changing the setting of decision-making. 

Improv Tenets

In summation, these three easy tips, inspired by improv tenets, can help a manager navigate through the troubled waters of conflicts more smoothly.  

How Can Improvisation Help With Conflict Resolution?

If you have ideas you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dennis Wesley
Dennis Wesley
Dennis Wesley is an independent educational researcher and budding blogger. His interests include management and STEM education, especially interdisciplinary practices and methods. You can follow his personal blog here.
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