I Don't Want No Blocks

19 Sep 2015

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TLC Album Cover TLC: “a block ain’t gonna get no love from me”

An offer is a concept from the world of improv, that refers to any choice made by an improviser, be it verbal, physical or otherwise. An individual’s choice is only a potentially true piece of a scene if it has been offered as true and validated/used by a partner. Improvisers are encouraged to ‘Yes And’ all offers - as opposed to blocking them.

Offers and blocks do not only occur in improv class or on stage - they happen all the time in our day-to-day life.

Blocking: Rejecting information or ideas offered by another person. To block an offer is to ignore or disregard or shutdown or negate offers that have been given. It can sometimes happen when we are not present in the moment or when we get ourselves into a negative mindset.

Example 1

A: “I’ve just come up with a great idea for a new productivity tool!”

B: “We don’t need any more productivity tools.”

Here, the topic and existence of an idea for a productivity tool is agreed upon. However, this dialogue features a common status maneuver whereby B raises themselves. They lower A by disqualifying part of the content of the statement.

Example 2

A “I’ve just come up with a great idea for a new productivity tool!”

B (bored): “Cool.”

Blocking can also occur when one player disqualifies another by body or facial gesture, or (as per this example) by vocal inflection.

Not only is B refusing A’s emotional offer (enthusiasm) he is not ‘advancing the action’, or contributing anything in return.

What is happening during this offer process?

Other people are essentially limiting your choices when they make offers and this can be difficult for us to accept - since our culture places a high value on expressing individuality.

What other options do you have?

‘Yes And!’’ This concept is very simple - at least in theory, if not in practice.

I break it down in two ways…

YES - this doesn’t mean literally agreeing, instead it means:

  • Accept
  • Appreciate
  • Acknowledge
  • Encourage
  • Respect

AND - means:

  • Add to / Build from
  • Connect
  • Integrate
  • Expand upon

There is nearly always an increase in positive energy in having your offer fully accepted by another, especially when the other player advances the action by building a further offer upon the initial offer. This can lead to an almost euphoric experience for both players:

A: “I’ve just come up with a great idea for a new productivity tool!”

B: “Sweet! Maybe you could sketch it out on this whiteboard so we can walk through its purpose and value.”

A: “Yes and, if it seems viable and worthwhile, maybe you can help build it.”

B: “Yes, I’d love an opportunity to get back into code. I have a friend who wants to get into UI design, so she might be interested in helping out as part of her learning process too.”

A: “Great, let’s find a meeting room now!”


Should caution be applied?

Being a “yes-man” can have negative connotations. It may even be that to accept the assertions of another in an unqualified manner invites the original offerer to suspect that he is being mocked, pushed into a too-trusting stance, or in some way being duped.

Con-men, knowing this, employ a technique called “qualifying the mark” whereby they appear initially suspicious or reluctant to accept the mark’s offer of funds and have to be “persuaded” to accept the money. Because saying yes too soon with enthusiasm seems too good to be true - it seems unreal.

People sometimes criticize or have difficulty with the concept of Yes And for the reason that it isn’t “realistic” - i.e. that unqualified and uncritical acceptance of the real world will lead to delusion, stupidity, exploitation or other generally bad stuff.

However, I think you should try it out, you’ll be surprised.

How do we begin to move into the ‘Yes And’ mindset?

Since improv suspends the constraints placed on our imagination and emotions, it makes it extra safe to experiment. We can take these experiences from the improv space into our day-to-day lives.

To begin with, you should heighten your attention - begin to notice when you might be witnessing blocking, directly or indirectly (and of course, when you might be doing it yourself). If you witness it indirectly, you can step outside the situation and notice how the block manifested and how it affected others. If directly, make a mental note to discuss this observation with the blocker - let them know how their block made you feel and offer them some suggestions for other ways to respond. Look for communication methods that will allow you both to be heard and meet your objectives.

Next post: Agile Improv Blog Is Moving To Medium

Previous post: An Unexpected Way To Increase Emotional Intelligence

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