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What if communication goes right?

A fellow facilitator described how he had worked with a high-performing team and tested the team with an activity with which some of you may be familiar.

It’s called ‘Telephone’ and it involves each player in the team passing a mimed message along the line, one person at a time. Usually the physical signals mutate and the message at the end barely resembles that at the beginning. It’s amusing to watch and can hammer home the ideas that communication Is difficult and that it often goes wrong.

In this instance, the team had passed the message along with great fidelity and the facilitator was stumped. He expected and needed them to fail so that he could teach them a lesson about how to do it better. For example, they might come up with the idea of checking that the person next in line has got the message correct before passing it along. His view was that without mistakes, there could be no discussion where that potentially useful suggestion would be made.

To his credit and experience, on his feet, he came up with an affirmation of the team’s ability, saying ‘you certainly are a good team’. What did not occur to him at the time because of this fixation on failure and his assumption that this is how this communication game is supposed to work, was to ask some different questions. It was a wonderful opportunity to ask the team how they managed to accomplish such a high standard of performance in this task:

  • Could they repeat it?
  • If it were desirable, could they do it again even faster with some new signals?
  • How are they applying their skills and methods to their regular communications in the workplace?


In short, he would have been helped by the LIFEPASS improvisation principle, ‘Spot success’*. This principle reminds us that good improvisation consists of using what’s available, and in particular using what’s there that is working, (or if nothing is working, then what’s available that can be made to work) in order to advance. It’s the grand idea from hypno-therapist Milton Erickson of ‘utilisation’, or – in improvisers’ language – the selection of what to say ‘Yes’ to, so that you can add an ‘And’.  

By spotting successes, participants in any discussion or activity are put into a resourceful state with which to take on new challenges and (as in this case) perhaps to become an even more consistent or accomplished team. Whatever the facilitator might have assumed, they didn’t need to get something wrong to produce an opportunity to learn or to get the next thing right.

*’S’ is the final LIFEPASS improvisation principle

Read more about the eight LIFEPASS principles including Letting Go on Easy: Your LIFEPASS to Creativity and Confidence. 

Read more blogs about LIFEPASS: Eight secrets for applying improvisation in life and at work

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