Ask any stepmom: what is one of the biggest challenges of your stepmom role? I’m willing to wager that most of them will mention communication. Communication with their husband about their stepchildren. Communication with their stepchildren. Communication with the biological mother. As you can imagine, any techniques that can improve communication within these complex relationships are welcome.
While I was participating in an Introduction to Improv workshop recently, I realized that some of the techniques could be applied to stepfamily communication. Jef, Dalane, Kevin, and Chris of JesterZ Improv led us through a series of exercises to put us at ease and to teach us some of the basic principles of improv. (If you read my last blog post, you discovered that improv is a fear of mine, so I was surprised by how comfortable I felt during the workshop!) In fact, I left the workshop wanting to learn more and to apply the techniques to my life.
3 Improv Techniques to Improve Stepfamily Communication
With improv, you are working with a group of people together to create a scene. Being able to collaborate is important, so the “Yes, and…” idea is exactly what it sounds like: when someone offers an idea, you listen and add another idea. Instead of saying, “Yes, but…” which shuts that person’s ideas down, try accepting the other person’s idea and adding to it. One little word can make such a difference!
Try it out!
On a family outing, let family members know that you’d like to try something new and the rule for the next hour (or five!) is that instead of saying “Yes, but…” to someone’s idea, say “Yes, and…” Talk to them about the importance of working together as a family team and building each other up. You might be surprised by their response!
When you’re part of an improv skit, you have no idea what is going to come out of the other person’s mouth. And you need to know what they are going to say because they’ll give you clues about the scene: where you are and who you are. This means that you need to listen carefully and then respond. You can’t plan what you’re going to say while they’re speaking.
How often do you halfheartedly listen to what your stepchildren or spouse say, but spend most of the time planning what you’re going to say? Imagine the impact if you were more intentional about fully listening to what they are saying.
Try it out!
One exercise that you could try out with your stepfamily is the “one word story.” The rules are simple: with a partner, you tell a story using only one word at a time. One person starts by saying a word and the other person listens and then continues the story by saying a word. What you’ll notice is that you can’t really plan what is going to happen in the story because you don’t know what the other person is going to say. This is also a great exercise in letting go of control because you have no control over where the story will lead. The story will have twists and turns because you and your partner are working together to create it.
Live in the moment
In an improv skit, you’re fully present in that moment. You’re engaged in the exchange between you and the other people on stage. You’re not concerned with what happened in the past or what will happen in the future. (Who knows WHAT will happen next? That’s all part of the beauty of improvisation!) What would happen if we applied this concept to our stepfamily life? How would our exchanges with our stepfamily members improve?
Try it out!
When you’re having a family meal, have everyone put their cell phones away. Don’t worry about taking pictures or posting to Instagram. Share what you enjoy about each person or what you enjoy about that moment with each other. Try doing this more often when you’re together as a family.
Overall, I loved the central idea of collaboration over competition in improv. If we apply this idea to our stepfamily interactions, our relationships will improve. Think about how we could build each other up rather than tear each other down! How do you think these techniques could help you? Have any other ideas about how improv techniques could be applied to communication with stepfamily members? Share in the comments!
Wanna learn more about improv? Interested in checking out a class? Try JesterZ!
Celebrate National Stepfamily Day at JesterZ
If you’re in the Phoenix area, join Elizabeth Mosaidis, author of The Stepmom Project, for a special Stepfamily Appreciation Night at JesterZ on September 16th. See all the details and buy tickets HERE!