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Applied Improvisation For Developing The Competencies of Emotional Intelligence - games, exercises and resources

This is the hand-out to a workshop offered at Lifestage, Inc, part of a monthly series on Applied Improvisation for developing Emotional Intelligence  

“Emotional competence requires being able to pilot through the emotional undercurrents always at play rather than being pulled under by them.”
Daniel Goleman, Working With Emotional Intelligence, Bantam Books, 1998

The four branch model of emotional intelligence describes four areas of capacities or skills that collectively describe many of areas of emotional intelligence, involving the abilities to:
·  Accurately perceive emotions in oneself and others;
·  Use emotions to facilitate thinking;
·  Understand emotional meanings and
        manage emotions;

Perceiving Emotions deals with the nonverbal reception and expression of emotion. Evolutionary biologists and psychologists have pointed out that emotional expression evolved in animal species as a form of crucial social communication. The capacity to accurately perceive emotions in the face or voice of others provides a crucial starting point for more advanced understanding of emotions.

Using Emotions to Facilitate Thought deals with the capacity of the emotions to enter into and guide the cognitive system and promote thinking. Cognitive scientists point out that emotions prioritize thinking. In other words: something we respond to emotionall is something that grabs our attention. Having a good system of emotional input, therefore, should help to direct thinking toward matters that are truly important. As a second example, a number of researchers have suggested that emotions are important for certain kinds of creativity to emerge. For example, both mood swings and positive moods have been implicated in the capacity to carry out creative thought.

UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS deals with the concept that emotions convey information. Each emotion conveys its own pattern of possible messages, and actions associated with those messages. A message of anger, for example, may mean that the individual feels treated unfairly. The anger, in turn, might be associated with specific sets of possible actions: peacemaking, attacking, retribution and revenge-seeking, or withdrawal to seek calmness. Understanding emotional messages and the actions associated with them is one important aspect of this area of skill. Fully understanding emotions, in other words, involves the comprehension of the meaning of emotions, coupled with the capacity to reason about those meanings. It is central to this group of emotionally intelligent skills.

MANAGING EMOTIONS deals with the skills to choose how to express one’s own emotions and respond to those of others. A person needs to understand how emotions convey information and to the extent that they are under voluntary control, may want to remain open to emotional signals so long as they are not too painful, and block out those that are overwhelming. In between, within the person's emotional comfort zone, it becomes possible to regulate and manage one's own and others' emotions so as to promote one's own and others' personal and social goals. The means and methods for emotional self-regulation has become a topic of increasing research.

    Improvisation is a process of playful interaction that heightens awareness of mental habits and patterns, provides an opportunity to decide whether or not they are effective and useful while shaping more creative, spontaneous choices. Our automatic, subconscious structures and defenses are challenged almost immediately by the process of improvisation. Simply not knowing what is going to happen next in a scene or joining in a game that appears to be silly and pointless can and does trigger tension, and that for reason it can be uncomfortable. What is special about improvisation as a creative process is that while it can make us acutely aware of the mental structures and internal controls from which we are operating - especially when under stress - it is at the same time lighting up the neural pathways and biochemistry associated with reward. Novelty, surprise and unpredictability are stimulating to both the thinking and emotional brain, which produces a sense of aliveness and fun. 
     The process of developing Emotional Intelligence is exactly the same. By becoming
aware of the defenses and self-protections we employ to feel a sense of psychological safety we are more available to conscious, creative choices in response to the same conditions. In the capacity to self-regulate and choose our attitudes and behavior is a tremendous freedom. 
     Self-awareness is associated with emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, co-director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations and author of numerous books about Emotional Intelligence defines self-awareness as "the ability to monitor our inner world – our thoughts and feelings." 
     An article on Harvard Business Review’s website titled “For A More Flexible Workforce Hire Self-Aware People” links higher self-awareness to the capacity to be flexible and shift in response to changing situations. “Understanding that one has certain tendencies leads to recognition that those tendencies serve one better in some situations than others. That recognition in turn leads to a willingness to assess a situation and adjust one’s approach to it, if called for…Self-awareness is a millennia-old area of study – the aphorism “know thyself” dates back to at least to Socrates. Why is it important to organizational performance? According to Gary Yukl, a researcher on leadership “self-awareness makes it easier to understand one’s own needs and likely reactions if certain events occurred, thereby facilitating evaluation of alternative solutions.” He defines the concept as including “understanding of one’s own needs, emotions, abilities, and behavior,” indicating that a person able to identify his or her own strengths and weaknesses will be more effective.”  

                                                      GAMES AND EXERCISES
Facetime “status” posts – sit in a circle. Each participant states his/her name and makes a brief statement about what they are thinking about or feeling at the moment, in a verbal version of a facebook status post. Other participants can “comment” on the status updates of others by saying their name and making the comment, or they can “link” to something that relates to and supports the person.

WHAT IS IT? Emotional Intelligence competencies: managing uncertainty; social engagement; expressing specific emotional tones;

Use an object for something other than what it would normally be used and complete an action with it complete with an attitude and emotional tone, e.g. an umbrella becomes a bored policeman's nightstick, the world's largest pencil wielded by an eager student, orp a bouquet of roses carried on the arm of an emotional beauty queen. The group responds if appropriate, or can simply acknowledge their recognition of the new meaning assigned to the object. Pass the object around the circle or place in the center of the circle and everyone can pick it up when inspired to create something else out of the object. Best to use an object that has versatility, e.g. an umbrella with a long handle or a snow brush that can be extended or shortened.

Star, Interviewer, Publicist – Emotional intelligence competencies: emotional self-expression; listening and communicating what we perceive; picking up on the emotional tone of what another person is communicating; using emotion to convey meaning; using emotion to connect to other players;

The group is divided into small groups of 3. Each member of a small group is given a paper with an S for Star, an I for Interviewer or a P for Publicist. The Star then talks about a topic (e.g., tell a story about your name, talk about something you are proud of, talk about one of your strengths); the Interviewer asks questions to draw the Star out to share more; the Publicist heightens the emotional tone of what the Star is saying and highlights important details. Switch cards and do the exercise again with new roles and a new topic until everyone has played all 3 roles.
Debrief – what was it like to have the publicist promoting your message? What was it like to promote the other star? How did the publicist’s input influence the interviewer?
To build on the skills and explore the dynamic repeat the exercise with the whole group and  vary the roles, e.g.,add an evaluator to the same set of roles; replace the publicist with a skeptic. Discuss how having an evaluator or skeptic rather than a promoter changes the way each role feels and the dynamic in the interaction.

SCULPTURE- Emotional intelligence competencies: manage uncertaintybe inventive and think on one’s feet; make the most of what is given in a situation; express and identify emotions in a creative space; see the same thing in diverse ways;

 A group of volunteers walk about the space until a bell or other cue is given. At the cue, team members quickly assume a physical pose in response. A volunteer “curator” names the sculpture and improvises a story about its meaning. Often there will be alternative stories triggered by others in the group so allow for all the “curators” to share.

SELF-HELP GROUP Emotional Intelligence compentencies: express and identify emotions in subtle and overt ways; situational awareness; collaboration with others and team-building; creative expression;
A pair of volunteers leave the room. Remaining group members invent a self-help group of some kind – e.g. people trying to overcome fear of windows, people overcoming fear of germs transmitted by elbows touching. When the team of volunteers enters, the group behaves in ways that communicate their dilemma and the volunteers work together to figure out what kind of self-help group this is.

BOOK CLUB Emotional Intelligence compentencies: Listening with empathy; accepting and collaboration skills, emotional awareness, emotional connections, creative thinking skills;
Brainstorm a variety of experts – write those on pieces of paper and put in a bowl.

Brainstorm adjectives and include adjectives that convey an emotional tone, like “loving” “horrifying” etc- write each one on a piece of paper and put in another bowl
Book Club: 3-4 volunteers form the book club. Improvise a scene of the group talking about a book they have all read for tonight’s meeting. 
Each volunteer then pulls an emotional adjective from the basket and begin to improvise that emotion having the same conversation as before.

Author Comes To the Book Club:  A pair of “authors” leave the room. Remaining group members pulls an emotional adjective and a profession/expert to form an improvised book title, e..g “The Horrified Pilot.” The “authors” return and interact with the group, all of whom are behaving and speaking in ways that describe the book’s emotion and theme, based on the title. The “authors” must try to figure out what their book is titled based on the interactions with the group.

Variation: A pair of “authors” pull an emotional adjective and a profession/expert from the baskets, discover their book’s title and then together relate to the rest of the group based on the emotion and the profession. The group members ask questions and responded until they have worked out the title.

Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP is a trainer/consultant, writer/performer and host/creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS, a monthly storytelling show. 

Lifestage, Inc.  496 Smithtown Bypass * Suite 202 * Smithtown, NY 11787                

(631) 366-4265


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