Get Comfortable with The Uncomfortable with Erin Diehl

Erin “Big” Diehl is a performer, facilitator and professional risk taker. Her mantra is “get comfortable with the uncomfortable.” Through a series of unrelated dares, Erin has created improve it!; a unique professional development company that pushes others to laugh, learn and grow.

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Empirical evidence has shown that improvisational training has the ability to improve an employee’s trust, teamwork, communication, presentation skills, creative problem solving, and can improve a company’s overall corporate culture.

Erin’s company, improve it!, conducts workshops across the country leveraging improvisational techniques to improve employees’ soft skills in corporate settings.

Holistic was able to chat with Erin about her role in helping companies create a friendlier, more collaborative atmosphere in the workplace.

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How would you define diversity and inclusion?

To me, it means creating an environment where everyone feels safe, free to be themselves, and comfortable in their own skin. It is a place where our differences are celebrated, rather than judged. It means understanding each other’s values system and creating an environment where those values are intentionally lived out on a daily basis.

How important are these matters to you and your organization?

Inclusion is the heart of what we do at improve it! Improv as an art form fosters inclusivity. As improvisers, we are taught to not judge each other, but rather take what was said and add to it (we call that “yes, and ...”) When people walk into a workshop, they are walking in as 20 to 30 individuals. When they walk out of the workshop, they leave a cohesive team. So, inclusion is at the forefront of every workshop, and every interaction we have with clients and participants.

Diversity matters in so many areas of my life. Surrounding myself with people just like me is not my idea of an interesting and full life. When we form relationships and celebrate each others’ differences – I think that’s when we truly live and grow as individuals.

What steps or strategies do you use to foster D&I?

We are always striving to do better to create a diverse team that relates to all attendees in our workshops. With improv – it is hard to not create an inclusive environment. That’s why we use this art form as a way to train on soft skills.

We promote inclusion in every interaction we have with clients and participants. The activities we conduct allow people to break down barriers and become “comfortable with the uncomfortable.” Once we get everyone on the same page, and those walls come down – that’s when the true learning occurs. This is a space where people are open to learning - and may I dare use the “v” word - becoming “vulnerable.” It is in this space where they become the best versions of themselves both personally and professionally. It’s a beautiful thing to watch the magic in the room from the beginning of a workshop to the end. Everyone has each others’ backs, as they have been through something they never thought they would do together in a typical workday. That feeling is WHY I do this work. I still get chills and have “pinch me” moments where I feel so lucky to be a facilitator and witness the magic we created.

What challenges do you face in your efforts to foster D&I?

The biggest challenge for me is identifying when it’s necessary to recognize my own privilege and when it’s necessary to push others towards a ‘yes, and’ attitude towards inclusion. I’m very grateful that I have surrounded myself with people who celebrate others’ differences, but I’m aware that not everyone we encounter professionally lives this way. Sometimes, I’m faced with my own personal limitations.

I tend to live in a bubble of “yes, and” and acceptance. When I join other groups or encounter someone who does not live this mindset, my first tendency is to be upset with that person. I’ve challenged myself over the past few years to really understand the root or the “why” that person or group seems close-minded – maybe I can even uncover my own prejudice. If I can understand the root, then I like to have a productive conversation so we both understand each others’ point of view.

What have you accomplished through your organization and its D&I efforts?

First and foremost, my proudest accomplishment is our team. improve it! has hired a diverse team of individuals to help us make a positive impact on over 13,850 participants in our workshops since our inception in 2015. They are the best human beings you will meet on this planet. Each one brings their own unique personality and point-of-view to what we do, but what brings us all together is our love for improv and each other. They say that the best characteristics of an improviser make up the best characteristics of a human, and it is so true with our improve it! team.

Over the past five years, we also have had the opportunity to work with many different organizations seeking to use our techniques to foster diversity and inclusion in their culture. Most notably, we worked with The Obama Foundation for their first ever training day in Chicago. We aided 250 Chicago citizens to create positive change in their communities through improvisational techniques. Personally, it was a highlight of my career, complete with a handshake from the Former President himself!

What or who inspires you to be diverse and inclusive?

My two biggest idols are Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey. I love that they both use their platforms to foster positive change. The adversity that they have encountered and overcome in their lives inspires me - they don’t hide who they are but instead, use what makes them different to connect deeper with their audiences. They aren’t just television hosts, they speak to people’s hearts and souls. They celebrate people for who they are and use diversity and inclusion to create intentional and purposeful content. I don’t have a talk show, but I see every improve it! workshop as a performance. If we can leave people in a better place than they were when they walked in, then I feel we have used the same characteristics of these two amazing idols to facilitate positive change.

What is your dream for the future of our society when it comes to these matters?

I’m very optimistic about our society’s future. The topic of diversity and inclusion is taking a new life with the younger generation and is an active topic of conversation in every level of society, which is so important. My wish for future generations is that they live in a world free of labels based on any category. That being said, I truly believe that if everyone could take an improv class, the world would be a better place.

What would you like to see happen in other people around you that would motivate and inspire others to also be diverse and inclusive?

One of my favorite quotes is from Mother Teresa: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness. Kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

I would like to see more people live this quote. Ask questions. Be curious. Travel. See different parts of the world. Seek to understand, not to respond. See the good in others. Be the difference.

What were your dreams/goals as a young child? What are your dreams/goals now?

Since I was thirteen, I always said I was going to be a talk show host. I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to talk about, but I knew I wanted to interview people who created an impact on the world, and through that create a platform for positivity. Now, improve it! gives me a platform to deliver messages about positive change to individuals and teams in a professional environment on a weekly basis. In more ways than one, “The Erin Diehl Show” is up and running! My dreams for the future have changed ever so slightly since I was thirteen. improve it! has a strategic five-year plan for growth. My current dream is to live out that growth plan and bring the joy of improv to as many professionals as we can on a national level. There are even talks of a podcast, so who knows – so “The Erin Diehl Show” may live on!

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Elda Baez