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How one CEO is using improv theater techniques to make better business decisions

An experienced performer, Rodriguez says his improv background helps him think on his feet. Credit: Provided An experienced performer, Rodriguez says his improv background helps him think on his feet.
Credit: Provided

By day, Isaac Rodriguez is the CEO of the Provident Loan Society, the 180-year-old nonprofit lender that was founded by business tycoons including J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt. By night, Rodriguez performs as an improv comedian with Artistic New Directions, a theater group in Manhattan.

Rodriguez says he’s tried to incorporate several lessons he’s learned from his side career as an actor into the corporate world of business. The most significant thing improv has taught him, says Rodriguez, may surprise readers.

“The most important thing would be listening,” says Rodriguez. “How important that is, to listen to someone, and how it feels realizing even more how it feels to not be listened to. It’s one of the worst feelings.”

Rodriguez shares these improv tips for anyone looking to get ahead in the workplace.

Keep the conversation going


The trick to succeeding, says Rodriguez, is not to let the conversation peter out. To do is, Rodriguez says you should use what he calls the “yes, and” principle. “It’s an actor’s job to justify, make positive choices and respect [the] physical and verbal reality of the scene, for example. Apply that to business,” he says. If you end up saying something like “I don’t know” or “We can’t do that,” you are effectively putting an end to any potential negotiations and shutting the door to a potential project.

“If I don’t listen to [the proposal] and interact and keep that scene going, I would never know what their thoughts were and what they were doing or thinking.”

Engage your audience


As anyone who has ever given a presentation or tried to speak with an extremely busy colleague knows, it just takes a moment to lose the interest of your audience. “If an individual is physically involved in something and not verbally responding to you, simply acknowledge it,” advises Rodriguez. “Say, ‘You’re really involved in something, and what we are talking about requires an extensive conversation. What other time can I come in and talk about it?’” Putting someone on the spot forces them to reschedule the meeting or to stop being distracted and talk to you.

Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.
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