On of my favorite fun things to do for fun is to take classes in Improv! Once a week, I meet for two hours with a small group of people as we learn and practice a variety of improvisation activities. In this class I learn to take risks, trust others, and practice different ways of being. I also laugh alot!
It is also helpful in developing my presentation skills and I find so many learnings that have application in healthcare. For example, nurses and patient advocates are being encouraged to speak up about concerns or questions. This requires assertiveness and in my opinion and experience is not easy and it is key for providing (and/or receiving) safe, quality care!
One of the more complex activities we did once was called something like “High-Low Status”. It involved playing a character with either high or low status and morphing into a character with the alternate status. For instance, I started out as a patient with low status while the instructor, David LaGraf, played a doctor with high status. Over the course of this 5 minute role play, I gradually became a patient with high status and David slunk into a low status doc.
It was pretty funny! It was also fascinating in terms of verbal and non-verbal behaviors we used.
As the low status patient, I:
- Spoke softly and muttered
- Used a lot of words
- Felt uncomfortable with silence
- Apologized a lot
- Hunched my shoulders
- Used a lot of anxious gestures like covering my mouth and fidgeting
- Squirmed in my chair and sat on the edge
- Avoided eye contact
- Retracted statements, even when I was making sense
- Used facial expressions that indicated doubt, anxiety, and/or low self esteem.
Meanwhile, as the high status physician, David:
- Spoke clearly and audibly
- Used few words
- Seemed comfortable with silence
- Did not apologize
- Stood with legs apart and with strong and open shoulders/arm
- Sat back in his chair relaxed, yet in charge
- Sought out eye contact
- Had confident, even impatient facial expressions
- Maintained confidence even when what he said didn’t make sense
As we switched our personas, he became quite apologetic for his idiotic suggestions to treat my rash and I left in an arrogant huff because of his obvious incompetence. Can you imagine? A physician colleague once shared that he used his experiences with Improv status activities to intentionally lower his status persona while interviewing a young woman who had recently been raped.
Ever since that class, I’ve enjoyed watching people interact, (including myself) and paying attention to these signals of status. I think it is fascinating that I have the capacity to FEEL inferior and ACT superior or visa versa. In fact, when I was recently speaking in Dallas, TX on “Dealing with Bullying in the Workplace” with a group of ambulatory surgery professionals almost ten times the size I was expecting, I actually thought to myself, ‘don’t worry, Beth you know how to behave confidently from your improv class, even if you feel a little tentative’! And it wasn’t long before I felt confident!
I also find myself wondering, what happens when people of the same status are interacting? How might folks with differing statuses influence each other? When do I give my power away, and when is it taken? And, of course, how can we use these ways of behaving to develop our assertiveness?
For me, the experience provided valuable insights about how I present myself and some practices I can utilize to grow. Practicing is so key for developing any new behavior. And even if it is hard at first, it is a positive cycle. I become more confident as I practice being confident. As I become more confident, it becomes easier to practice being confident. And then one day, or perhaps one moment, I am confident!
Is there an element in the two lists above that you would like to practice doing or not doing? Give it a try and let me know how it goes!
Learn more about David LaGraf and his teaching! Portland Playback