written by Amy Goldfarb
During an audition for an improv comedy troupe in the 80’s I learned an activity called “jump emotions”. The challenge was to use my full body and voice to jump from one emotion to another without changing the topic on which I was speaking. The activity was fun, and as soon as I started this part of the audition I got so lost in enacting my emotions in a grand over-the-top way, that I forgot it was an audition. I just started enjoying letting my voice and body get big and then small and it was as if I were following some inner compulsion to express these feelings. They weren’t even organic emotions rising in my body, and yet I took such great pleasure in using my body to give expression to them.
They were all familiar emotions, happiness, love, sadness, pride, fear, anger, embarrassment. That audition won me a spot in Guilty Children Improvisational Comedy Troupe.
These days, and for the past twenty years, I have been using that very same activity to help my clients, leaders from all industries in many parts of the world, to improve their abilities to give expression to their feelings. If we look back to the concept of psychological safety, and how we can make our audiences more relaxed and comfortable around us, we see that people trust and feel safe with people that they can easily read. I can hear what you are thinking because I have heard it so many times. “I don’t want my people to know what I am thinking when I am really upset, frustrated or just plain annoyed.” I know what you mean, and while some emotional management is a necessary ingredient for successful leadership, too much emotional management leaves your audience wondering what you really think and feel. And worst of all, when your words don’t match your body language…when the content of the words you are saying is incongruous with what your body and face are saying then your audience very quickly loses faith in your words. Our BS detectors believe the body because we know it is more reliable than the words.
Leading Jump Emotions in programs for all these years I have discovered some things about giving a group of people permission to act out these shared human emotions in an exaggerated way. The collective mood is drastically improved. The energy in the room doubles or triples. The ease with which people start to share more of themselves is amazing to me. It is as if our bodies inform our brains that we are safe. If we have experienced, expressed, and witnessed this intense sharing of emotions, then we must be in a safe place. It isn’t a conscious thought, but the way our brains are wired. We just feel safer, and when we feel safer we express more.
Before your next team presentation take ten minutes with your team to play JumpEmotions. Get into pairs and one partner gives the other a topic on which to speak (not work related) and then calls out the different emotions every 15 seconds, and the other uses his or her full expressive capacity…body, voice, face, and words to give expression to the emotions. Then switch roles. Notice what happens to the energy, spirit, and mood of your team. You won’t be sorry!