You get a nasty email from a customer with a cc for your boss. Your top seller leaves at the beginning of Q3 for a dream job with Google. A "signal malfunction" somewhere in the subway system leaves you 30 minutes late for coffee with a potential client. Oh, and the staff can't stop arguing about the temperature in the office.
Sound familiar? Let's face it, we all have to deal with a lot of crap -- situations and people we find annoying, maddening or worse. But even as it makes you want to flip a table, you have a secret weapon. If you dip into the toolbox of improvisation, you can create with all the crap that life throws your way.
I, like many, have a lot to say about the importance of listening. More specifically, though, I find value in listening for "offers" -- a fundamental tenet of the art of improv that means accepting and creating with whatever situation or conditions you are given... including crap. Why is this important? Because if you relate to crap as an offer -- albeit a daunting and unanticipated one -- then you have to create with it.
Creating with crap forces you to think outside the box (and probably outside your comfort zone) to find a new and more accepting way to respond to the situation at hand (that's the offer). Here are some of my favorite ways to embrace the unwelcome, and mine it for the value that's hidden in its crappy depths:
1. Take a do-over.
Next time you're handed some crap to deal with, say to yourself "This is a steaming pile of (you fill in the blank)! But what can I do now that wasn't either possible or relevant before?" Maybe instead of responding to an unproductive or disrespectful conversation with a colleague by firing off an angry email that (1) you'll regret later and (2) will do even more damage to that relationship, take a deep breath. Then another.
Now that the rush of adrenaline has subsided a bit, use this moment as an opportunity to try a new performance: Pick up the phone or walk into their office and say, "I'd love to get a 'take two' on our conversation." (You might want to bring a copy of this article with you.)
2. Make something out of it.
When I say create, I'm serious. The next time something crappy happens at work (no matter how small or large), take pen to paper and come up with a poem, or a rap, or a short play. Turn your frustrations into a modern dance piece or a funny video. Add a Snapchat filter and sing to your followers about all the work you lost when your foot accidentally hit the power button on your surge protector.
3. Ask if yours stinks, too.
Finally, start becoming more aware of the crap you spread around. Since you, like all of us, probably believe you're right, or at least feel totally justified in responding to difficult situations in less than gracious ways, your own crap can be harder to identify. So ask a friend or colleague you trust, "Am I being a jerk right now? How about recently?" This, too, is a way to create with crap -- you're educating yourself about the ways you make other people want to tear out their hair.
No matter what you create when the crap hits the fan -- whether it's a silly poem you recite to your kids over dinner, a new project management system that you implement for your team, or a candid conversation that gives you a healthy dose of self-awareness -- what's important is that you're using the opportunity to create something new that wouldn't have been possible if things hadn't gone wrong.