What Improv Taught Me About Making Friends

When you go on as many new girl dates as I have (about 60 at this point!) there are bound to be ones that are better than others. During some, the conversation flows. It feels as if you’ve met your long lost soul mate, and suddenly a million things you didn’t know you’d been holding in come pouring out. You’re telling her about your job and childhood and that time in 3rd grade when you stole Sally’s chocolate chip cookie (it was a dark dark day that I’d rather not talk about). Others aren’t quite so easy. As with romantic dating, there are some first girl-dates that are a disaster from the start. You can tell immediately that you don’t click, and you learn just how long an hour is when you notice every…second…passing.

The hardest part of bad girl-dates, for me, is the awkward silence. You can almost see it coming down the pike. You both sit there, staring at each other, trying to think of something—anything!—to fill the void.

One of the first tenets of improv is what’s called “Yes, and…” The idea is that you always want to take what your partner gives you in a scene and build on it. So if you say “Billy, it’s so strange that Mom made us wait for her in this dungeon,” a great partner won’t say, “This is the basement not a dungeon, stupid, and that wasn’t even our mom it was my teacher.” Instead she’ll say “Yeah, that is strange, especially since this dungeon is at the bottom of a castle and mom is terrified of castles.” This way you’re building a story, adding layers with each line of dialogue. As my teacher would say, saying no closes the door, saying yes opens it.

I’ve learned over time that this “Yes and” approach works for real-life conversation too. No matter how painful a get-together is, accepting and adding to whatever your date gives you will keep the conversation going. It might even lead it in a positive, not-entirely-unpleasant direction.

The correlation between “Yes, and” and real-life socializing hit me the other night while I was in a cab. My taxi driver started chatting away the minute I closed the door. Normally I would have smiled and nodded but remained silent, a deliberate indication that I’d rather ride in silence. Instead, I decided to “Yes, and…” him.

When the cabbie volunteered that he spent his blizzard days catching up on movies like Green Hornet and Wolverine and X-Men, I countered that, “Yes, I know those movies but I haven’t seen them. You must really like action flicks. You might like The Fighter. Not action, per se, but fighting.”

To which he replied that he was more into “movies with guns” than boxing movies, though “as Oscar contenders go, I really liked the King’s Speech.”

“Yes,” I said “I loved that movie. And I thought Geoffrey Rush was stellar.”

Suddenly my cab driver and I were having a perfectly nice, and totally unexpected, chat about awards season. If I had responded to the comment about his snowy day with “Oh, I didn’t have cable,” it very well might have stopped the conversation before it had begun.

Try it out on your next friend-date. Accept what she says (you don’t have to agree with it, just be open to taking the conversation in that direction) and then add to it. It’s not going to make you suddenly like someone you can’t stand, but it will help the hour pass by faster, which, when you’re stuck in a nightmare encounter, can feel like a miracle in itself.

What are your tricks for getting a bad girl-date on track? If you are out with someone who is clearly not a potential BFF, what helps you get through it?

8 Comments

Filed under The Search

8 responses to “What Improv Taught Me About Making Friends

  1. Ana

    That’s actually great advice for conversation in any relationship/interaction. At the core, it involves actively listening to what the other person is saying, so that you can build on that, instead of shutting her down and starting your own topic, or having awkward silence. I think the approach can especially help draw out a quiet or shy person (like me!), and validate that what she has to say is interesting to you and worthy of discussion.
    This one really struck me Rachel, I’m going to try this at work & home today and see how it goes! thanks🙂

  2. Karen A.

    Wisdom way beyond your years Rachel! Thank You so much, this really is a gem.

  3. I also like the implicit lack of judgment in this. By saying “Yes, and…” we are not deciding whether the person’s comment is valid or not. We build on it anyway!

  4. I’m struck by this. By stating “Yes, and” you put the person at ease and create a positive energy. It’s inviting and coaxes the person to say more.

  5. Annie

    This is brilliant, thank you! I am going to use this not on with future BFFs but also at work! I frequently show clients around my city and can be with them for hours at a time for multiple days. Some clients are so easy and fun to talk to that by the end you feel like friends, others not so much. And because they are clients and I want their business our “relationship” can’t end, it has to keep going. I’m going to practice the “yes, and” today! Thank you!

  6. Maria

    I can’t wait to try this. Just yesterday I was just thinking to myself that I need to work on my conversation skills with new people I meet. This is going to really help.

  7. This is something that I would like to try and will try to try … but I often don’t have anything to put after the “and.” :-/

  8. Well this quite a good idea. I’ll have to try it with my regular friends. As for any tips or tricks, I don’t have too many, if any at all now that I think about. If a potential friend isn’t working out, I would probably just try to salvage what I could and move on.

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