Posts Tagged ‘Follow Your Fear’

Conflict in the Workplace? Follow Your Fear!

(Revised from a piece published September 30, 2009)

A Theatrical Intelligence blog reader posted a question a while ago about everyday conflict in the workplace, wondering if theatrical intelligence can help. Depending on the conflict of course, the answer is yes. As long as one is open to alternative ways of facing the challenge!

Conflicts at work are often reminiscent of family quarrels and hierarchies from our past: we feel embarrassed, uncomfortable, powerless, and usually that familiar 4-letter-word rears its ugly head: FEAR.

One of the great secrets in improvisation is to “follow your fear”, an expression coined 50 years ago at Second City by the late great Del Close.  Using this technique (even though it may seem counterintuitive) can yield surprising results.

Professional actors follow their fear in rehearsal and performance by looking for obstacles to overcome.  This creates dramatic tension, and requires them to step into unknown territory, which results in emotionally unpredictable, sometimes humorous behavior. When this behavior happens in places other than improvisation, we can laugh about it and learn from it – when it’s over!

The only way to really screw up in improvisation, is to deny “reality”. In this case “imaginary circumstances” = “reality”. This is another little jewel we can steal from improv.

For example, when two actors are on stage and one of them puts her jacket over her head to protect her from… no one knows what, yet… the reality of those imaginary circumstances are a GIFT to the other actor. (Is it raining? Are there pigeons above? Is there an enemy overhead?) One of the actors establishes what the jacket is protecting them from, the other actor accepts it as a gift, and that’s the reality upon which they build their story. 

In many workplaces a denial of reality is the norm: it’s “the elephant in the room” or “the dead moose on the table”, meaning no one dares mention the thing everyone knows is going on. Here’s the common wisdom: 

Denial of reality breaks down trust and builds up fear

Acceptance of reality opens up worlds of possibility

So, imagine this: the next time the current-conflict-at-hand happens yet again at work…  what if you follow your fear?  Accept the reality and have the courage to say “That dead moose on the table stinks – what are we going to do about it?” Or, to mimic a possible workplace scenario: “Is that another of your witty insults – again at my expense?”

Opportunities will leap out of nowhere for you and your colleagues. Why?  Because you’ve broken through the denial, acknowledged what is real, and cracked the conflict wide open. Can’t you just hear it? Try it! FOLLOW YOUR FEAR.

And please let us all know where your courage takes you – I suspect is worthy of acknowledegment. 

 

Follow Your Fear

(Or “Is That a Dead Moose on the Table?!”)

 

Recently a Theatrical Intelligence blog reader posted a question about conflict in the workplace; she wondered if using theatrical intelligence could help resolve the tricky issues of conflict that frequently occur at work. The answer is yes, Yasmin, and thank you for asking.

Many of us have a fear of conflict at work, which is often reminiscent of family quarrels and hierarchy. We tend to go to great lengths to avoid it, because it makes us feel embarrassed, uncomfortable, and often powerless.

It would benefit us to follow one of the guiding principles of improvisation: “follow your fear”.1

When professional actors improvise in performance, they actually look for obstacles to overcome. Obstacles provide dramatic conflict and the opportunity to venture into unexplored territory. “Following one’s fear…” authentically, under imaginary circumstances, is a proven improvisational technique; it produces behavior that can be eccentric, paranoid, emotionally unpredictable and frequently humorous in a surprising kind of way.

There is only one way to really screw up in improvisation: deny reality.  For example, when two actors are on stage and one of them puts her jacket over her head to protect her from… whatever… the reality of the imaginary circumstances has been established. The other actor accepts it as a gift and immediately uses it. Is it raining? Snowing? Are there pigeons above? Is paint dripping? One or the other will establish what the jacket is protecting them from, and that will be the reality they share and build upon.

Acceptance of the reality, as it is being established, is paramount, in order to build a concrete story.

In many workplaces a denial of reality is the norm. We’ve all experienced situations where there is no acknowledgment of what is really happening (hence the expressions: “the elephant in the room” or “the dead moose on the table”).

Denial of reality inevitably breaks down trust and builds up fear. Acceptance of reality opens up worlds of possibility.  What if you were to “follow your fear” in the face of a workplace conflict? What if you were to have the courage to say “The dead moose on the table is beginning to smell – what shall we do about it?”

I suspect that you and your colleagues at work might discover unexpected behavior and opportunity. Accept the response as a gift, just like in improvisation. Follow your fear, and see what happens.

1 This expression was coined by the late great Del Close at Second City, about 50 years ago.