Beth teaching improv with health risk managers

February Improv for Business Visionaries – “Radical Acceptance”!

Improv of the Month Series

As discussed in the introduction to this series, integrating improv activities into your day to day work can be part of an organizational development effort to boost to morale, improve communication skills, build positive relationships and cultures. This month we’ll explore an incredibly simple activity called “Radical Acceptance” which is also called “3 Things” (Not to be confused with “5 Things” which was January’s Improv of the Month).  Please take a few minutes to review the introduction to learn more about setting up your process. Also note, I have added an addendum so this activity can by used by teachers of any subject at grades 3 and up! 🙂

“Radical Acceptance” or “3 Things”

You’ll see, the more you get into Medical Improv or  Applied Improv that instructors often tweak activities and names while trying our best to cite originators.  

I first I learned this activity from Jude Treder-Wolff in a workshop on managing change and often teach “Radical Acceptance” as a first improv activity in my workshops. It is a great way to create emotional safety and demonstrate how affirming and easy improv can be. As you read through the teaching steps, resist the urge to dismiss it because it is so simple.  I’ve had seen huge grins on people who don’t normally speak up and one young man shared that he brought it back to his bachelor’s party and his friends all loved it!  So if you want to engage staff, build a spirit of collaboration, and promote assertiveness, this activity will help.

How to teach”Radical Acceptance”

  1. Have up to 12 people get in a circle.
  2. Choose a category that all people can relate to. (Comfort foods, fruit, anything to do with weather, or something your business team might be familiar with.)
  3. Explain that each person will have a turn naming 3 things in the category and the group’s job is to shout “Yes” with more and more enthusiasm after each one.

It will look something like this!

Person A:  “Chocolate pudding!”

The Group: (shouts with some enthusiasm) “Yes!”

Person A: “Cheesecake”

The Group: (shouts with more enthusiasm) “Yes!”

Person A: “Blueberries”

The Group: (shouts with even more enthusiasm as if it is the most exciting thing anyone has ever said) “YES!”

Chocolate pudding, "Yes!"
Cheesecake, "Yes!!"
Blueberries, "YES!!!"

      4.  Go around the circle so everyone has a chance to name desserts and be accepted by the group.

      5.  Invite feedback about the experience!

Facilitation Tips

  • Explain to the group that their job is to be supportive.  If someone says says the same thing twice, something that has already been said, or something that others would not consider a dessert, it is still the job of the group to say “YES!”
  • Encourage building enthusiasm with verbal and nonverbal language.
  • Allow for people to hesitate a little as some people will.  In that moment of hesitation lies the  hidden reality of how hard speaking up can be! Try to be comfortable and get the group to be patient with the waiting. This too, can be hard.
  • Eventually people will come up with ideas and if they don’t you can encourage them to name things that have already been named, or help with a clue like asking for kinds of ice-cream, or give the option to ‘pass’ and circle back, or even eventually letting others help them.  (When people struggle with naming something like 3 desserts, imagine how hard speaking up might be as a new staff member to manager or manager to senior leader. Assertiveness is complicated and “Radical Acceptance” helps build it at the very roots. AND true collaboration and optimal creativity come from a place where all voices are spoken and heard.)
  • If you suspect that assertiveness  will be hard for some people in the group, have them do one category in pairs and then one in the full circle.  Pairs are safer and this will help build confidence and trust.
  • As you invite feedback it is always possible that someone will share that it isn’t good for a group to always agree with everything someone says.  This is true so validate their point and add that the activity can help to build confidence and allows for practicing speaking up.  As people learn to trust that they’ll be heard and honored in this activity, they will be more likely to share an idea, concern, or constructive feedback in the clinical environment. Strangely enough, the “Yes and…” principle of improv is quite helpful in developing the confidence to say “No”!
  • Assuming you are starting a rippling effect with your team and other leaders will try it with theirs, use it as a conversation starter to see kinds of categories others have come up with and/or what others think of the experience.   If nothing else, it is a shared, positive social experience.

Addendum – Facilitation Tips for Teachers

  • With younger children, start out with one or two things. You can build up to three as comfort levels increase. When you facilitate for one or two things, simple tell the other children to respond with big enthusiasm each time. It doesn’t have to gradually increase.
  • Choose categories that will enhance everyone’s success. You can adapt to bring out quieter kids a little by choosing a category that you think they will be comfortable with. ‘Animals’ or ‘pets’ for a kid who loves dogs or ‘characters from books’ for a kid who loves to read will be helpful. And be sure to watch the face’s of these kids as they get support from all their classmates.
  • Another variation would be to have one person in the circle share their ‘thing’ while the person to their right provides support. This will allow you to change direction and placement of kids in the circle over time and with discretion. A simple maneuver that will nurture power sharing in new and healthy directions!
  • Explain that children should be appropriate. Otherwise they don’t have to be perfect and mistakes are fine.
  • When children seem to be struggling with an idea, encourage the class to be patient and quiet. Invite the child to choose someone to help them with an idea and those with ideas can raise their hands. These moments can feel awkward or even painful and being mindful of allowing a couple of seconds of struggle is important. This is where impulses for the quieter child to hold back from sharing and the more comfortable child to speak up lie and can be guided towards growth. Yet, it is also important to move quickly so the child can experience success. And it is perfectly fine for a child to experience the group’s support when s/he shares an idea provided by someone else.
  • You could also consider coming up with a word that anyone can use if they can’t think of anything, such as “pog”. You might even call the game “Pog”. Play “Pog” a few times over the year and watch for your students to become better listeners and more confident while playing and elsewhere!
  • Make a mistake on purpose to demonstrate that participants should be supported no matter what they say. For instance, if the category is ‘fruit’, you could say “spaghetti”. This will prompt laughter and possibly judgments about you being wrong. You can show resilience and remind students that their job in this activity is to support each other. Follow with, “I’m going to say ‘spaghetti’ again and want to hear you support me.”
  • No doubt you will have ideas to make it safer and enhance learning. Perhaps you could have smaller groups up front while others watch, index cards with words or pictures in a certain categories available as prompts for the first few times you do it. Or maybe assign one student to be available as a resource or helper and that person can be called upon by anyone having trouble thinking of something, whisper an idea to the one asking for help. Still the child who asks for help will share the idea. Or maybe they can say it together. Facilitating the activity so that everyone experiences sharing and being supported is the best measure of your success.

Share your experience

Keep your eyes and ears open to how the experience is impacting the energy and morale in your workplace (or classroom).

If you want, take a picture and write a short story about it. Maybe we’ll publish on the Portsmouth Improv Learning Lab (PILL) Blog. 🙂 Contact me for more info at!

There is a lot more to applied improv than meets the eye!

Contact Beth to learn more about teaching improv in healthcare or other businesses. And check out the exciting new methodology combining improv with mindfulness offered in Be Crazy workshops co-created by Liz Korabek-Emerson and Beth Boynton!

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