Disarming Conflict like an Improviser

Social media connects us instantaneously with people all around the world but our in-person social skills are declining. Research indicates that social media use leads to a decrease in in-person social skills. Fortunately social intelligence is an innate human skill and with a little training we can bring out our natural abilities and add some pop to our interactions. This post marks the beginning of a series of articles on emotional intelligence and we’ll start with a personal story of how I navigated a fun situation in Budapest.

I used to live in a flat on the first floor above an open courtyard and a few months after I moved in a health center opened in the street-level store front. Employees took smoke breaks in the courtyard – right under a “No Smoking” sign. Every day at lunch musky tobacco smell invaded my room through the open window. Not one to avoid conflict, I decided to fix my situation by politely introducing myself and asking them to smoke outside. The response: “Aww baby, we’re not going to do that."

The number one principle of persuasive communication is to speak in terms that will motivate the other. In other words: why should they move? Smoking in the courtyard was convenient and pleasant so there was no positive incentive for them to move. I needed negative incentives.

I’ve always been mischievous, perhaps that’s why improv spoke to me – I’m in touch with my inner child. So I walked into a children’s toy store where a smiling sales assistant helped me pick out the perfect water gun: small enough to not damage clothing, big enough to cause trouble.

Timing is key: I picked a Friday afternoon to give everyone the weekend to calm tempers. Around 2PM as I smelled the beautiful bouquet of tar and nicotine I walked to the balcony and opened fire. After the initial shock and duck for cover, many were annoyed while some smiled. A few minutes later the boss came up with two huge friends to intimidate me. After a tense 10 minute argument they agreed that by next week everyone would go outside to smoke.

What’s the bottom line? Even as our digital screens more and more replace actual reality, we still live in the real world and face real world problems. Many are afraid of conflict and thus live through situations they shouldn’t have to deal with. On the other hand, many are too aggressive and cause more problems than they solve. There were many actions I could have taken that would have made my living situation hell but a little social intelligence, a lot of confidence, and a pinch of creativity allow me to tackle this and most every-day conflicts. Plus they make good stories. Improv IS emotional intelligence so stay tuned for future posts about emotional intelligence, lies we tell ourselves about emotional intelligence and action items to add a kick of fun to your life.

Play on - Peter

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