What’s in a name?

When I tell people that I am doing a course in improvised comedy a common reaction is horror. Many say they would rather volunteer for a day in the dentist’s chair.

There is some real fear around being put on the spot, performing in front of others and feeling required to be funny. So I understand that improv is not everybody’s cup of tea. But what if we used Robert Poyton’s phrase from ‘ Do Improvise’ and called it “creative adaptation”? That seems more do-able, less scary, and more natural. And you’ll notice that “creative adaptation” make no reference to humour. That’s useful and important because one thing I am learning from my course with Hoopla is that trying to be funny does not work. Or, more accurately, it does not work as well as responding honestly and simply to other members of an ensemble. When you do that, you make a connection, and when there is connection, humour often naturally arises.

In a similar vein, I was recently part of a team that ran some workshops in Germany, Spain and the UK on managing conflict. Participants arrived with high expectations because our previous workshops for their company had been very well received. But they also carried some fear. They knew they would be asked to engage with real conflicts and to have some difficult conversations with actors in front of a small group of colleagues. What our team (Sarah Brammeier, David Trevaskis, Angela Reynolds and I) actually did was create a rehearsal space for participants to speak their truth, understand the other and look for common ground. So what would they feel if we called the workshop “rehearsing your truth”, “listening for difference” or “finding the common ground”? Perhaps part of their fear comes from the connotations of “conflict”: confrontation, possible injury and danger. What might the impact be if the label we used implied creating a gateway rather than dealing with a blockage or difficulty?

This matters because good coaches need to be sensitive to the possible significance of the words clients use. We use ‘reframing’ as a technique to help clients widen their perspective or see the positive potential in a situation. Equally, clients often have a dominant narrative about themselves which limits the range of possibilities they can see. Coaches can help their clients become more aware of this effect. Reflecting back the words that carry the emotional weight is an essential part of this work. It opens up the possibility for the client to choose positive words, to do some renaming in line with their intention or desired outcome.

So what’s in a name? Potentially so much: it can be a reflection of the past, a glimpse of the present and a view of the future.  We can help our clients name with care, and do the same ourselves.

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