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The Art of Listening

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Once, in a communication workshop the instructor, Shelley Row, made strong emphasis that people on your team want to be heard. Active listening, not thinking about what you will say next, is one of the crucial skills that we can learn to help make sure our colleagues feel heard and are heard.

Improv helps to improve many aspects of communication skills, in both our personal and professional lives.

Consider this example. We’ve all been in that meeting or on that conference call at work; the one where the boss is asking everyone to brainstorm and put forth their best creative ideas.


“Come on folks! You are the best and brightest we’ve got”, or something along that line may be offered to incentivize getting the creative juices flowing.

A little more silence, then FINALLY, one brave soul speaks up with an idea.

Now, what usually happens in an office when people aren't skilled listeners? The boss or person running the meeting says “NO,” or something like “that is not feasible!”

What follows is more silence. It has been made abundantly clear that active listening is not really taking place. And the brave soul doesn't really feel heard. There are no follow-up questions, no consideration for other perspectives or implications, and certainly no recognition that each idea (even the wacky ideas) can be critical building blocks of brilliant innovation.

The “knee-jerk no’s” cause your team members to clam up and all innovation will shrivel on the vine.

However, employ the “Yes, and” principles of improv and you start to build consensus!

An employee wants to scale back on holding meetings due to poor attendance; you can say no, or you can respond with “I understand that you feel our time may be better served by holding fewer meetings in hopes of achieving better attendance. Have you also looked into the feasibility of a different time, day or meeting location that may impact attendance?”

Now the discussion is potentially re-directed away from talk about eliminating some of the meetings, but you have not disagreed. BUT, you have opened up options that may work. And your colleague feels heard and is part of the process. You may end up improving meeting attendance.

Are you listening to your colleagues? Or thinking about what you should say next?

Think about ways that you can bring “Yes, and” into your workplace. Challenge yourself to sign up for an improv class; better yet, make it a team-building experience and bring ComedySportz® to the office for a workplace session.

Virginia Epperly has been a Minor League Player at ComedySportz® since 2015.

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