Applied Improv Principles: Make Your Partner(s) Look Good

In the article What is Applied Improv? I discussed seven principles of improv that apply in the work environment. Here I expand on the concept of "Making your Partner Look Good." Making your partner look good means listening, encouraging, and looking for ways to support what others are doing and is necessary for collaboration. It means suspending our tendency to make ourselves look good, and let go of competitive, adversarial and antagonistic behaviors that can be present in group dynamics. The good of the group is best served by everyone helping to push forward ideas.

Partner is a term that comes from acting and means your scene partner. When you apply the concept more widely in an applied improv setting it could be a co-worker, spouse, child, parent, boss, client, or the person who takes your ticket at the movies. In each case the way in which you can make them look good might be different, but the concept is the same. For here, I'll just say partner.

What makes your partner look good? Pointing out their mistakes publicly, sarcastic remarks, or silently letting them go down in flames in a meeting are all examples you may have seen that do NOT accomplish the goal. Look for ways to help them, have compassion, be graceful, let them off the hook, empathize. Even more than that you could turn it around, improve, build, expand, transform, or celebrate what they have done or said.

In the chapter on saying Yes in Improv Wisdom * by Patricia Ryan Madson. She suggests an experiment of looking for any way to say yes and build on the ideas and desires of the people around you. This is an excellent way of making them look good. Find the goodness in everything they do and tell them! Don't fake it - really search for the truth of the goodness. If you are open to it, you can find it.

* Madson, Patricia Ryan 2001. improv wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up