Tales from the Unstuffed Shirt

Three 2016 workplace resolutions to replace the ones you’ve already forgotten.

It’s the end of January, and you’re trying to remember what you committed to doing differently at work this year. It’s okay if you’ve forgotten! I’m just thrilled that you already know that the path to lasting workplace cultural change begins with you (and others like you) making individual choices that result in collective change. For all of the focus and energy business leaders invest in transformation these days, top-down initiatives only work if you have a workforce that’s actively taking part.

And, even if your C-suite isn’t driving change, you recognize the power of local action.

Your personal efforts can make a difference for your workgroup, which can make a difference for your department, which can make a difference for your business unit, and so on. It’s like you’re flapping your cute little butterfly wings and goodness results!

With this in mind, here are three easy-to-remember resolutions you can start today that can have a big positive impact on you and the people around you: at work, in the community, or at home.

They’re focused on becoming a better communicator, which is a requirement for any positive cultural change.

After all, if you’re going to be a change agent, you’ve got to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk:

(1) Make eye contact. This is one of the first things you learn as an improvisor—you can’t create strong relationships in a scene without it. What’s startling is that we’ve gotten to the point where we have to spend additional time teaching it.

Research by Quantified Impressions shows that people today only spend 30%-60% of their time in conversations making eye contact, when we need 60%-70% in order to feel truly connected to our conversation partners.

Our plethora of devices and constant multitasking are convenient excuses for the decline in eye contact, but the solution is easy.

Whenever someone walks into your cubicle or stops you in the hallway to ask a question, put down your tools and activities and have a face-to-face conversation. Look the person in the eye: not to challenge, but to let them know that you’ve given your attention to this moment and are ready to listen.

(2) Discover what’s important to others. Too often in conversations, we engage in selfish listening: asking ourselves the question “what’s in it for me?” If the conversation doesn’t serve our needs, we quickly tune out and mentally shift back to whatever had been filling our time. We may nod and act interested, but we’ve missed out on an opportunity to strengthen workplace relationships.

This solution here is pretty simple as well. It involves asking a different question: “why is this important to you?” Instead of starting from a WIIFM point of view,

be willing to explore your conversation partner’s needs with empathy.

This change provides a completely different perspective on the conversation. As you practice, you move beyond face value to understand and empathize with the underlying goals and desires of others. Over time, you realize that it’s oftentimes easier to help people get what they really want vs. what they tell you they want. This insight arises when we

listen with empathy and a desire to understand.

(3) Bring a brick. This is a favorite saying among improvisors, and speaks to the idea that you don’t have to know everything to participate in a conversation. Inexperienced improvisors often try to start or contribute to scenes by narrating an entire environment or backstory, resulting in the audience heading out early for the bar. Fans of improvisation may not be able to put it into words, but they keep coming back because they want to be surprised by people collaborating in new and different ways. Laughter is the icing on the cake—the output of improvisors building a scene together, brick by brick.

Our American workplace culture isn’t much different than a bunch of newbie improvisors.

We’re expected to know all the answers and respond with brilliance every time we open our mouths to speak.

We’re supposed to have all the answers, or we think we’ve somehow failed. This is not only incredibly stressful on the speaker, but it slams the door on any meaningful collaboration.

Instead of laboring to shove an entire pallet full of bricks into a conversation,

how much easier is it to bring a single brick / idea to the discussion and add it to the structure your team is building together?

That’s a rhetorical question; the answer is “a whole lot easier!” And, if you contribute an idea and find that it’s not a good fit, it’s not a big deal to replace it with another one.

Compare this to the awkward silence that blankets a room while everyone tries to figure out how to handle the giant idea dump that didn’t fit the conversation.

There you have it. Three brand new workplace resolutions to get started on today: make eye contact; discover what’s important to others; and, bring a brick. Commit to making a habit out of each of these and you’ll be on your way to transforming your workplace culture, starting with the most important person to change: you!


Steven Beauchem is a strategist and consultant helping clients to excel in the digital world. He studies and performs improv in Chicago and San Francisco, and is passionate about leveraging the ideas, energy and techniques of improv to drive innovation and cultural change in the corporate world. In his spare time, he is a board member at Stage 773, home of the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, and is also developing a new improv performance series (expected to launch in Chicago in spring 2017). Steven's writings here are his own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employers or clients.


Live - Laugh - Love.

As Martin deMaat said, “You are pure potential.”

Thank you for reading. If you’re feeling particularly brave, share your experiences in the comments section below.

Written 6 years, 3 months ago.
We Write About Improv

You will find hints and suggestions to improve your performance as a troupe or an improvisor. We also cover stories from the field of performing on the stage as well as teaching improv. Sometimes we include case studies of our corporate work to show how improv can boost office productivity and morale.

Click here to see all of our blog entries about improv.

Let's Talk

Should you have any questions about our classes, our work, or our essays, feel free to contact us and start a conversation.