TOOL: Listening

So far we’ve added these important tools to our toolbox:

1. Empathy

2. Connection

3. Play

4. Strong Offers

5. Obvious instead of clever statements

What happens when you don’t feel listened to? What are the consequences?

One of the greatest tools an Improviser possesses and a tool that builds empathy, connection, along with trust and support is the ability to really, truly, listen.

To listen as an Improviser means to be fully present, in the moment, and to pay attention and observe everything that is being said and done on stage. It means to take care and support our partner because what they have to say is crucial to making sense of the unknown, and to co-creating a scene together.

Professional development training which infuses experiential training allows participants to build their listening muscles and increase these skills through habit-building and tie-back to real-world scenarios.

An improviser is also skilled at active listening = not merely hearing, but being affected by what they hear.  Improvisation guru and famed instructor and performer Rebecca Stockley teaches this mantra:  “everything my partner says is fascinating”. Repeating this mantra reminds us to be affected by what our partner says and to not let any offer or idea pass us by or be easily dismissed.

It’s true that for many of us, we listen better once we’ve said what’s on our mind. Unfortunately, if we are concentrating on what we’re going to say, we’re not listening as actively as we could. Adding some Improvisational tools to our training toolbox helps us to stay present in our conversations, add an element of give-and-take, relinquish control and to build listening muscles that extend beyond roles of customer service, sales, and leadership.

Listening is a skill that directly affects our ability to communicate and collaborate.

Not only are these tools must-haves for our toolboxes, but they can also be applied and “built upon” in a myriad of ways.

Begin with a strong offer, and then listen actively to build connection and empathy.

Now… what did you say?

TOOL: Be obvious

I’d like to dispel a common myth about Improv. The very presence of this myth keeps many people from thinking they can improvise. Here it is…

Improv is not about attempting to be funny. Instead, one of the most important tools in the Improviser’s toolbox is the ability to be obvious, instead of clever.

Trying too hard to be clever or funny takes us away from the principles which make teams successful – the ability to make each other look good, embrace failure, accept each others offers and say, “yes, and”. If we’re trying too hard to be clever, we’re not really listening and focusing on the ideas of our teammates. Similarly, if we are censoring ourselves from the ideas that seem too obvious to us, we are assuming our simplest ideas are of no use, when in fact they can point us in a delightful direction on stage or off.

To acquire the tools, hire a carpenter

Over the past month, this blog has introduced many of the tools for navigating business without a script, as well as practical applications, research, and anecdotes surrounding staff development, adult education and Applied Improvisation.

Hopefully it’s got your wheels turning, the conversation starting and has also piqued your curiosity. But, a word of caution:

The tools for change and growth are all around you, but it takes a skilled carpenter to make your improvement project a reality.

Enter, the facilitator…otherwise known as your project architect, contractor, carpenter, and inspector.

As mentioned earlier, Applied Improvisation is not a one-size-fits-all kind of tool. A facilitator will show you how to use the tools to make the most efficient use of your time, money, and energy as a company.

(My corporate sponsorship from Toolboxes of America requires I mention my toolbox metaphor at least once a day, in case you were wondering).

Students from my 1.5 year long class at DreamWorks know that on our last day together, I gave them all toolboxes filled with the tools they had acquired during our over 60 sessions. They have the motivation to add to their toolbox, and open it whenever they need inspiration. My hope is that they will share what they’ve learned with others and pass on the skills and lessons they were taught.

TOOL: Empathy

Did you know there is a man at Google whose job title is “Jolly Good Fellow”? I swear it’s true! His name is Meng.

His job description is: “Enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace”.

He is on a mission to create more compassionate business settings. He says, if compassion is profitable and good for business, then every boss and manager in the world will want a piece.

In his TED talk, he cites examples of compassionate endeavors at Google, created by small groups of people on a mission to make a positive difference in the world. They didn’t ask for permission – but sometimes their efforts grew until they became company official.

How do compassion and empathy translate to a work environment?

1. i feel for you

2. i understand you

3. i want to help you

Imagine a workplace where you are constantly supported, inspired and understood by your co-workers. Use empathy and compassion as a tool for positive change in the workplace to foster a culture of support and trust.

Add this gentle tool to your toolbox and consider adding in Applied Improvisation activities to practice empathy and build that muscle – after all, Improvisation is a team sport built on trust and support.