Tag Archives | improvisation

Recognition, thanks, honouring.

I am at the airport, waiting to fly home from a rather extraordinary time in the North (Pretoria, Brits, Potchefstroom) doing something really exciting for a client, and I want to write about it before I lose the amazing magic of the work we did.

I was asked whether I could come up with a way to train up a very particular group of workers who work in the service industry. They are women who work for a catering company that services a few private hospitals. To be honest, the importance of their job far outweighs its rewards, particularly financially. I imagine they are earning pretty much the minimum wage, on average. Yet, they have direct contact with the patients. They have huge responsibility. The scope of their daily duties is really wide. And, most importantly, they are scored every month by a survey company that does random calling to ask service related questions. It’s a tough, relatively thankless job.

I wasn’t sure what I could offer them. I specialise improvisation in the corporate sector, and in industrial theatre, used to deliver a specific message. Neither of these two options seemed like what they needed. And then it came to me. More than anything else, these women needed to be recognised in some way. They needed to be seen and thanked, not challenged, tested or trained.

And that’s exactly what I proposed. And it was phenomenal. I watched suspicious, negative, tired faces turn into faces of joy and delight. I watched the truth of the thank you sink in, and I saw as women relaxed and told their stories. I watched six times, on six different occasions, a change take place, without ever calling for it, or naming it, or demanding it. It was transformationnal.

What I heard and saw and was part of has changed me forever. It has turned me into an unofficial HR campaigner. It has reinforced my belief that people are a company’s greatest asset. It has powered my knowledge in team work. It has absolutely confirmed that most people are committed to their work, even in the most trying circumstances, and that acknowledgement and thanks does not have to be grand, or expensive or ridiculous, but heartfelt.

I am going to keep the ‘how’ of this project a secret, because I am definitely going to be doing it again, with other groups and teams and members of the mostly invisible. And, I will push hard for the bosses to go there. And I know for sure it will make a huge difference. If you read this, and are inspired, contact me. Let’s talk.

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Brilliant Gibberish

In South Africa we have 11 official ways of not understanding each other. We are specialists in using language, culture, education, society, class, history, in fact whatever we can think of, to excuse a total lack of communication. And it’s true; we do all approach things from very divergent and extreme places.

This is why I am totally in love with Gibberish. For those of you who can’t remember making up words and speaking nonsense to childhood friends, that’s what Gibberish is. It is actual, made up language, where the words are not from a known existing one. Bersti falgashon elepensy lunses.

We always do a bit of Gibberish in the improvisation workshops that I run. We play games where Gibberish is the only language allowed. After the initial fear, and usual sound effects instead of words, participants start to get the idea. It’s not what you say but how you say it, in the most literal sense of the word. A person’s intention comes across through all the clues that we miss when we concentrate on the words. We read body language and facial expressions. We listen to voice quality, inflection and tone. We use more parts of ourselves. We respond as if we had understood everything, because, somehow we have. When we are speaking in Gibberish we work doubly hard to make sure we have been absolutely clear. The most powerful part of working in Gibberish is being able to cross the language barrier for people who so often are forced to communicate in a language that is not their mother tongue. Communication is much faster and freer. And it is devoid of the usual status differences that fluency, or the lack of it, generally creates. Because we are improvising, making it up as we go along, we really have to hear and feel what somebody else is saying. We have to listen differently; listen for intention and meaning. We have to be there differently; without expectation or preconception.

We also have fun differently when we are playing in Gibberish. We laugh with each other. Our play is more innocent and our responses are more sincere. It’s hard to lie in Gibberish, or to read between the lines. There are no lines. It’s a whole new, much more open and friendly world.

Today I was rehearsing in the same hotel where I ran the improv workshops last week. I saw one of the cleaners who had participated in one of the sessions. When he saw me his face lit up. And he announced his joy at seeing me in a rush of Gibberish! What an absolutely delightful, affirming and delicious moment.

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