Feedback – Learning from Improv Comedy

Victor Klemperer quote

“Words can be like tiny doses of arsenic: they are swallowed unnoticed, appear to have no effect, and then after a little time, the toxic reaction sets in after all.”

– Victor Klemperer

I mentioned my epic fail in yesterday’s post about feedback. Today’s quote is a reminder that the words you use have a cumulative effect.

No words can still be negative feedback: If someone does something well, acknowledge it. Don’t leave any doubt their work is valued.

A single word can be negative feedback: Even something that sounds positive can be negative if it’s all you ever provide. If someone does something well, especially if they go over and beyond, then ‘Good’ isn’t enough. ‘Thanks, great work! We can use this to show…’ or something similar, shows the person their work is valued and will have an impact.

In improv comedy there’s a rule called ‘Yes, and…’. In a scene, the responder builds upon the previous statement. ‘

  • Actor 1: Your cat pee’d on my carpet.
  • Actor 2: No it didn’t.

Not funny. Deny the statement, kill the comedy.

  • Actor 1: Your cat pee’d on my carpet.
  • Actor 2: Who said you can’t train a cat.


A ‘Yes, and…’ approach to feedback is often more successful than a ‘No, but…’ response.

Remember that the next time you have to give feedback.


Note: The cat joke is based on one in the Grumpy Old Men movie (1993)

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