My client conference calls always start the same. Everyone awkwardly says hello and then we wait in silence for the last person to jump on the call. The same conversation starts minutes later. “We are dealing with a lot of change,” someone says. “Change is very difficult for everyone right now,” another very important manager adds.
I really don’t have to take notes. “There is constant change.” “Change is difficult.” “Our employees don’t like change.” Yep, I got it. Let me write all of that down.
Was there ever a time when the CEO brought everyone into a room and said, “Good news. We are all done changing. We finished everything up on Friday.”
Even when the economy improves, there will be change. There will always be change. In the future, when we all wear the same monochromatic clothes and live in peace and harmony and have our food provided by replicators, there will be change. It is time to accept constant change. We have to change how we react to change. It is time to give change a big hug and a kiss on the cheek.
Since 1993, improvisation has taught me all about change. It has given me the tools to succeed during constant change. Improvisation is an art form that teaches performers to ride change the same way a surfer rides a wave. Change is embraced, expected and experienced.
Audience members always ask for the secret to performing improvisation. They see a concept with no script, no rehearsal and no plan. How can I be successful if I don’t know what comes next? Most of the time, I really don’t think about it. Everything just happens. I don’t really think, I just act and react.
And then I examined what allowed me to succeed in a state of constant change. During my presentations, I invite three audience members on stage to play an improvisation exercise. I give them about a minute of instruction. What allows everyone to be successful and deal with constant change? Could I apply the tools toward other situations? I think change, more than anything, allows us to be at our best. We all have different job titles, but we all have the same job: We deal with change. We just have to change our attitude. Here are seven thoughts on change:
Be prepared for change. Sometimes I play a quick warm up game with audiences called “Zig, Zag, Zog.” I call out one of the words and the audience has to respond with the next word. They never know what word is coming next. The audience succeeds because they have prepared themselves that they don’t know. Once we stop being surprised by change and accept that change will happen each day, we will start to prepare. Our frame of mind and reaction will change when we are prepared and accept that we have no idea what comes next. Being prepared heightens our senses and prompts us to stay focused and in the moment.
Be focused. During the same “Zig, Zag, Zog” game, I tell the audience it is a competition. The room quickly quiets. Each person ramps up their focus on the game. The next round is faster. The audience is more successful. The next elimination doesn’t happen for several minutes. Why the difference? The audience increases their focus. They listen more intently. Their body language changes. They are alert and ready. The focus allows them to be more flexible with the change and succeed.
Be relaxed. Most of the time, change creates stress. We don’t know what comes next. We might have to learn something new; work differently or work harder. When I am on stage during an improvisation game, I am at my most relaxed state. I am confident in my skills and abilities. I understand that I might make a mistake and I accept it. Once you eliminate the fear of failure, you will naturally relax.
Be positive. There is nothing more powerful than positive support. No matter what happens a few words of encouragement and support will fortify anyone. Do you know what the best part is? Positive support doesn’t take a budget, plan, meeting, PowerPoint presentation or an act of Congress. It only takes a few moments of your time. Improvisation demands a positive environment to succeed. The positive support allows the players to create, build on each other’s ideas and work effectively as a team. And all of this happens in a state of constant change with blazing speed.
Be open and flexible. People don’t like change. Change involves moving stuff. Here’s an example: Ask someone to help you move to a new house. Watch their face crinkle up and eyes dart upward, as they search for an excuse to help you move. Change is going to happen every single day. You are going to have to move stuff, literally and figuratively. How you deal with change determines your success, productivity, creativity, passion and stress. Focus your energies on the changes that really affect your success and happiness. Don’t waste time on changes that really don’t matter. Be open. Be flexible. Live healthier. And always have a good excuse handy when someone asks you to help them move.
Be confident and without fear. The hardest part for new performers is the fear of making a mistake. It is impossible to perform improvisation with that fear. You start to edit and inhibit. If something goes wrong, you lose your confidence and start second guessing. Some change is awesome. Some change is difficult. Some change is hard at the beginning, but then becomes easy. Some change just doesn’t work. Some change is like awful tasting medicine. You don’t want to take it. You know you are going to hate it. But you also know it is for the best. Be confident in your skills and abilities. The person who hired you had confidence in you. Eliminate the fear of change and allow your confidence in your abilities to find success.
Be able to control your reaction to change. Most change is out of our control. We cannot control the economy, stock market, customer mood swings or anything else. Something will break. Something will happen that you were not expecting. I promise. You do have one very important power. You control how you react to change. You control your attitude. Too many times, we allow change to decide our attitude. Change will always choose frustration, impatience and stress. If you get to decide, choose a more patient, positive, energized attitude. This doesn’t mean you won’t have stress, challenges and difficult situations. It means you are dealing with change on your terms. If you are energized and passionate, you will have the right attitude to deal with any situation.
A teacher once told me that you are either getting better or getting worse. You can’t stay the same. How do we get better? We change. We develop new ideas. We try different approaches. We push ourselves to work more effectively. Every change is not going to be embraced. Improvisation teaches us that every change can turn into something better, though. You just have to stay focused and in control.
Joel Zeff (www.joelzeff.com) is a national workplace expert, speaker and humorist on such topics as work/life balance, passion at work, creativity, communication, teamwork and leadership.