Applied Improv Principles: Listening

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In the article What is Applied Improv? I discussed seven principles of improv that apply in the work environment. Here I expand on the concept of "Listening" Listening is something we all do every day. In improv the concept of listening goes beyond hearing words that others are saying. Deeper listening involves letting go of your own ideas and being in the moment to take in what is being communicated. Instead, we are often waiting for a pause to insert our own ideas, using the time others are speaking to refine what we are going to say when they stop. Listening also absorbing holistically to how things are being said including gesture, inflection, expression, body-language, and vocal tone. In doing this we are seeking to understand the full meaning in it’s context.

Take a moment and recall the last conversation you had with someone. Could you tell their story to someone else? How much detail could you remember? How about the tone they used?

In fact when we are really connected we can listen for much more than the words. The next time you are hearing someone tell you their story, try to listen for all of these aspects:

  • Descriptive details (where, color, size, number, etc)
  • Tone of the story
  • Their emotion - how important is the story to them
  • Who is the story really about - usually one person primarily
  • What gestures do they use?
  • Vocal quality - loud, dynamic, whispered
  • What is their intent? - to persuade, convince, relate, validate, help, share?

The key is to focus on the other person instead of yourself, your own reaction, or what you are going to say. You may also have to put away your expectation of where they are going with it. Open yourself up to being surprised.