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New Highs for Stress and Workplace Anger



New Highs for Stress and Workplace Anger

The moniker “silent killer” is not for nothing. According to research from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, stress at work claims the lives of 120,000 Americans annually. Professional employees are feeling overburdened more and more; according to OSHA, 83% of US workers experience stress at work, and 54% of workers say that this stress affects their personal lives as well. This mental strain exacerbates aggression and lowers sleep quality, which increases the risk of numerous cardiovascular diseases and psychological disorders.

Crucially, it also kills workplace productivity, with lower productivity translating into lower-quality work and lower-quality outcomes. For organizations, the act of merely lowering professional staff stress levels can have immediate advantages. The utilization of Applied Improvisation (AIM) has become essential in attaining those favorable outcomes. AIM offers a method for professional staff to develop trust, interact with one another, collaborate, and become more assured in their group abilities to overcome obstacles and lessen the fear of challenging situations, much like a symphony orchestra practices cues and tempo to achieve synchronization.

Applied improvisation (AIM) is a team- or group-based exercise that improves management skills, increases self-awareness, and fosters interpersonal relationships. Empirical studies demonstrate that improvisation training improves teamwork, creativity, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and, above all, leadership abilities. Humans have been entertaining one another with improvised stories for thousands of years, even before the invention of written language. Improvisation was only an art form used for entertainment purposes in theatrical settings until the middle of the 20th century. All of this was altered by Keith Johnstone and Viola Spolin, who established AIM by modifying theatrical components such as cooperation and teamwork to enhance leadership skills. It can now transform today’s leaders into proficient communicators and collaborators equipped to take on the volatility and ambiguity of business.

Using Applied Improvisation increases mental security

A person’s psychological safety, or their comfort level in speaking their mind, is greatly influenced by trust. Professional employees are more comfortable taking chances, speaking up when necessary, and taking responsibility for mistakes made in a psychologically safe work environment. When management and seasoned employees believe in themselves and share that belief with their colleagues, they foster such an environment. Workplaces that are psychologically unsafe are uncomfortable, discourage creativity, and affect an organization’s capacity to compete.

Building trust is one of AIM’s main tenets. Researchers at the University of Helsinki looking into the effects of improvisation came to the conclusion that “improvisation training cultivates a specific skill set of tolerating mistakes, listening skills, spontaneity, presence, performance confidence, and collaboration skills.” This set of abilities inherently facilitates introspection and relaxation, thereby serving as the cornerstone of a psychologically secure environment that eases tension in both the body and mind.

By giving participants the freedom to express themselves and think outside the box, AIM fosters a safe environment where ideas and trust can grow. For everyone concerned, it’s a worthwhile cause because trust increases motivation at work by 260% and lowers absenteeism by 41%.

Indeed, studies published in the Journal of Mental Health by Kristin Krueger, Jonathan Murphy, and Andrea Bink show a clear connection between improved mental health in general and the exercises offered by AIM. “The study’s findings suggest that patients with anxiety and depression could benefit greatly from a brief intervention centered on improv exercises.”

An AIM program, usually presented by a firm during a well-organized event, puts the scientific underpinnings of AIM on full display. Programs are put together with a specific business goal in mind. They include targeted activities and thoughtful debriefs that are supervised by a skilled facilitator. Their length, complexity, and depth are all negotiable. To support altered staff, management, and executive behaviors, they can take the form of intensive classes spread over several weeks or months, or they can be hour-long introductory programs.

A facilitator might assign participants to work in groups of four and give them an absurd problem to solve as an example of an AIM exercise. The twist is that each participant must concur with the preceding ideas and solutions as they take turns coming up with new ones.

Each person takes a turn coming up with ideas and solutions, but there’s a catch: each person has to accept the previous suggestions and incorporate them into their own. It is refined and expanded upon until a solution that prominently incorporates the feedback from all parties is reached. By improving their listening, teamwork, and communication abilities, participants increase their trust, engagement, and output. A company’s ultimate goal, profitability, can be attained more quickly or with greater efficiency when it comes to productivity.

This exercise involves action, but the debriefing session that follows is where the learning happens. The activity’s facilitator explains how it made participants think quickly and put them in a chaotic situation where failure was not an option. The exercise also emphasizes the value of creativity, active listening, and teamwork toward a common objective. Participants can trust themselves and their peers by answering “yes” and letting go of any defensiveness.

Using improvisation to reduce stress

Exercises such as the one described above teach strategies for actively lowering stress levels while also improving professional competencies like leadership and communication. By improving their listening, teamwork, and communication abilities, participants increase their trust, engagement, and output. A company’s ultimate goal, profitability, can be attained more quickly or with greater efficiency when it comes to productivity.

By the end of the seven-week improv course, participants were “more relaxed and less stressed as they waited to perform in front of an audience spontaneously,” according to a 2020 study that tested whether or not improv could reduce social stress. Additionally, they discovered that individuals in the intervention group who had low interpersonal confidence at the beginning of the study reported feeling less stressed when completing the [Trier Social Stress Test] task. According to the researchers’ hypothesis, the participants who had low interpersonal confidence demonstrated the greatest reduction in stress levels. They attribute this finding to improv’s emphasis on accepting mistakes.

By creating a safe space, AIM helps managers become more approachable and humane to the professional employees they oversee. This lowers conflict in the workplace. Reduced stress has a positive impact on management and their organizations in terms of improved productivity, efficiency, and professional staff health.

Mary Lemmer, the founder of Improve, states that “Improvising has ingrained in me the ability to say “yes,” acknowledge the reality of a situation, “and” then do whatever it is I need to do because of it. Just like there’s no denying in improv, I’ve adopted not denying the reality of my life. This equips me to be a more creative problem solver and adapt to changing circumstances.”


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