Don't be a D ___! Check your Ego and Humanity at the Door.
I was in an improv troupe for many years and our coach was simple but direct in his approach to life and improv. His philosophy was simply “Don’t be a - D _ _ _! On or off the stage" Basically, don’t be mean and remember to leave your ego at the door because improv has no place for ego. The art form is purely about being selfless, inclusive, and straight up kind. Maybe it’s one of the reasons I latched on to the artform so passionately. I viewed it as more of a code I wanted to not only practice on stage. but to live by as well. I had found something that was not only artistically satisfying, but that could also set the tone for how people should strive to be as humans.
On stage, in your safe place, practicing all the tenets of improvisation can help to orchestrate a compelling scene where two people gracefully ping-pong back and forth and an amazing unscripted story unfolds with seamless ease.
The tenets work. Stripped down to its most basic form, improvisation is a code of conduct for being a decent human. All the “Yes, Anding,” listening, being empathetic, staying others focused, remaining open to ideas, and being grateful for all offers combine into a great formula for how to treat others. Ever met an asshole who accepted all your contributions, thanked you for your feedback, made you feel important, listened intently and just generally made you feel like a superstar?
Sometimes, we must remind ourselves that a scene on stage or in life might not be working because we are not in the company of people who are truly embracing and practicing the same code of conduct that we are, or maybe it’s us--maybe we’re the ones who have gotten off track and we need to check ourselves. I’ve certainly crashed a few improv and life scenes by forgetting to forget myself. Truth be told, it can be difficult to put all the tenets to practice and I'll bet no one is nailing it 100% of the time. Improvisation has given me a way to check myself though, so when something isn't working on stage or in life, I ask myself these questions:
Am I being a good listener?
Listen like your life depends on it. Think of the people you consider to be good listeners in your life. Most often, you like, love, and respect them. Isn’t that how we all want to be viewed? We underestimate the value of listening. We feel important when people listen to us and we remember how it felt long after the conversation is over.
Am I putting the needs of others first?
I had a Manager once that would never take credit for anything. She continually praised her employees and colleagues, never stepping into the light herself. Her selfless approach and commitment to making me look good made me want to try even harder to make her look good. Her approach was simple yet more effective than anything I’ve ever experienced. Make it all about the other person and watch them move mountains for you.
Do I acknowledge and thank others for their contributions?
There is nothing worse than having something you feel passionate and proud of disregarded or shut down. It doesn’t take a lot to show gratitude for someone’s efforts. A simple acknowledgment of their input can make a big difference. We won’t even get into what our brain does when we hear the word No.
Is my ego getting in the way?
Self-confidence is one thing, but an over-inflated ego is toxic. Being a humble person who can admit when you are wrong and say “I’m sorry” will go a long way.
“Arrogant leaders refuse to listen as well as learn, making them vulnerable to making poor decisions. They will ignore warnings and advice and may well surround themselves with sycophants, so they don’t have to hear it.” From “Why Ego is Toxic to Leadership” by Adam Gale
Kristy West is the Founder of BraveSpace an Applied Improv Facilitator and Speaker in Atlanta, GA and she continues to live by the code of, “Don’t be a _ _ _ _!”