How Acting Skills can Benefit Business

Blog post
By Pam Ashby | 7 March 2018

John Lewis has announced that they're providing theatrical training for the staff of their new London Westfields store "because actors are excellent communicators and that's an important element in offering outstanding personal service."

That's interesting because communication is a core skill for excellence in collaboration of all kinds, leadership, and stakeholder engagement.

Considering the people I know who make good role models for these behavioural skills, I've realised that my actor friends are high on the list. It's no coincidence either that the coaching skills course I went on was run by an actor.

So what is it that actors learn and know that is so valuable?

The crux of it seems to be that actors are trained to develop a profound understanding of human behaviour. To mimic particular mindsets, temperaments and behaviour patterns, actors need first to understand them. Business management courses talk about ‘stepping into the shoes of others’ to view a problem, a conflict, a bias, or a need, from a different perspective. Actors learn to do this through close and careful observation and practice.

Understanding different perspectives

Change management guidance suggests we ‘meet people at their bus stop’. In other words, it’s pointless to assume shared beliefs that simply don’t exist. Our starting point for all communication and stakeholder engagement programmes has to be an attempt to understand how our customer or our stakeholders really see things. To do that we have to realise that everyone’s map of the world is completely different. We can all have the same experience but what we ‘see’ varies. Take a look at this video:

So much of what we see is influenced by what we are looking for, and what we expect to see. Our brains can only hold a very limited number of ideas at any one time. Using our personal experience as a reference point, we filter out any extraneous information when we focus on what we feel matters most. The important issue here is that everyone’s filters work in a different way, which is why exactly the same situation can look so very different.

Establishing rapport

To be an effective leader, and to be able to influence others, we need to be able to establish rapport. Dr Stephen Covey in his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ highlights that, mostly, people don’t listen – they just take turns to speak. We tend to enjoy explaining our own views and experiences far more than listening to those of others. But this is what actors learn to do, to really focus on the person in front of them with a commitment to find out what ‘makes them tick’ and what their motivators are. Humans ‘warm’ to those who appear to understand us, and we become more open to accepting new ideas and suggestions from those who seem to share our world view. 

Communicating change

One of the biggest challenges of the business world is the increasing pace of change. The essence of Agile Business is creating an adaptive organisation that responds quickly to generate results. Organisations no longer function from command and control hierarchies. They are relationship driven and communication driven, with motivated teams that collaborate effectively to achieve well aligned goals. Actors know how to adapt language and tone, which any marketer knows is essential to ensure that messages are accessible to their intended audience.

Sheila Chawla, who manages training at the National Theatre and is working with John Lewis, explains "We all find it more engaging when someone brings some of their personality to a conversation, meeting or presentation."

Let’s face it, acting has to be one of the most adaptive professions. There’s much we can all learn.






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