Improspectives

Improv skills lead to success

Battle of the Sexes

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In my previous two posts, I discussed the classic game of Chicken, where the loser is the first person to give way to the other. Another classic game is the Battle of the Sexes, which imagines a situation in which neither player can get their preferred outcome, but the worst possible outcome is disagreeing. Let’s say you and your partner are invited to a party, and the host has asked you to bring beer or wine, but not both. Now also assume that you can’t get in contact with your partner. It’s the lack of coordination that makes these 2 x 2 games interesting and aggravating.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that you are a beer drinker and your partner prefers wine. For you, the best possible outcome is if both you and your partner decide to bring beer. The second best outcome is if both of you decide to bring wine, and tied for the worst are when you and your partner bring different beverages. The problem is that you have no way to decide whether to bring beer or wine. If you base your decision on your partner’s preferences, you will bring wine. On the other hand, if you think that your partner will go along with your choice, you will bring beer. There’s no way to place one of those two options over the other. What’s worse is that your partner has exactly the same problem.

In terms of improv, you’ll find the Battle of the Sexes occurring when there is a lack of communication before you start playing a scene or game. Every improv group plays games differently, even when they’re based on the same familiar pattern. If you’re playing in the city as a guest player, there might be two different ways of playing the same game. If there is a lack of communication, such as if you go over to one side of the stage to pick up a costume piece before conferring with your playing partners, whoever starts might not have the same idea about how to play the game as everyone else. If your scene partners play one game, and you’re playing another, a train wreck ensues. It’s easy enough to fix once everything gets underway – either you or your playing partners can adapt, but there might be an awkward moment or two at the start. At that point, you just hope the audience either doesn’t notice or forgives you.

In business, you’ll find that the Battle of the Sexes game is played out during sales calls and engineering meetings. Everyone has a preferred solution for implementing a change or creating a product. Any time there are multiple pathways to creating a product or finishing a project, you should be in close communication to ensure that the solution you’re pursuing doesn’t contradict what someone else is doing.

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