Updated: Aug 28
We wait backstage in anticipation. A band of improvisers. House lights fade and the music begins to swell. The electricity builds. It’s show time!
Today's blog is about how improv acting techniques and concepts can improve many facets of your professional life and help you achieve success in your career. I will focus on connecting with others through active listening so our communication feels more collaborative and less competitive.
Improv is active listening on steroids, and it is an essential skill for building relationships with prospects, clients and your team.
Now, you have probably heard of “active listening” but how many of you have practiced how to actively listen to others? Today, we will give you that opportunity and help you grow as a leader, salesperson, recruiter and friend!
Communication can so often feel like a competition. Let me share some common scenarios with you to help shed light on why I say this.
Imagine a friend calls you up and is excited to tell you about a funny meme they saw online. As they are describing the meme, you interrupt them to explain that you have already seen it but thanks for sharing.
Perhaps you are having dinner with some co-workers and one of them is talking about the big game last night and comments on a huge 3rd down conversion her team made. You also watched the game and correct her, letting her know that it was actually just 2nd down not 3rd.
Or maybe your employee mentions that they are preparing for a prospecting call block and they’re a little nervous. You respond by saying that you prospect all the time and no longer get nervous.
All of these seem like fairly innocuous responses but in reality, they are ever so slightly competitive in nature because you are listening to respond instead of listening to understand. Your responses are rooted in your operating reality or what’s important to you. Active listening is all about understanding not only the speaker’s message but also their motivations for sharing with you.
So, how could we have handled these conversations differently and why is this so important to your career success?
If you listen to understand instead of listening to respond, you increase your chances of connecting with other people and tapping into their operating reality or what is important to them.
Imagine if you let your friend finish telling you about that funny meme and then simply respond with gratitude. Maybe, instead of correcting your co-worker in front of her colleagues, you could say that you too saw that play and it was amazing! Finally, respond to your employee with words of encouragement and offer to help them prepare for their call block. These types of responses show that you are focused on their operating reality.
In improv, there is a concept called “being in your head.” An actor who is suffering from this is thinking about what to say next instead of listening to their scene partner with the goal of understanding. Bad improv happens when actors are in their head because they are focused on what is important to them and not what’s important to their scene partner.
Communicating with others and actively listening is difficult because our minds are reactive. We want to talk and share our own ideas and thoughts. So, how do we break this habit and get into the practice of listening to understand instead of listening to respond? Here is a fun exercise that improvisers use to develop this skill called “Last Word Response.” We use this exercise in Butler Street training sessions to help participants truly understand how to actively listen.
Here's how it works:
Two people partner up and have a conversation. After the first statement, each reply from then on must begin with the last word the previous person said. For example:
Person A: I love watching basketball because it is so exciting and intense!
Person B: Intense is how I would describe Zombie movies.
Person A: Movies go best with buttered popcorn.
Person B: Popcorn constantly gets stuck in my teeth.
Person A: Teeth are incredibly important, especially when eating peanut brittle.
Person B: Brittle rhymes with whittle, riddle and fiddle.
As you can see, this conversation makes little sense but that is not the goal of the exercise. The goal is to actively listen to your partner by responding to what they said without your agenda getting in the way. If you communicate in this manner, you get the whole message not just part of it. As a result, your responses to others are well-informed and based on their contributions. Finally, the person you are communicating with will trust, respect and value you more because they know you are truly listening to what they are saying.
This exercise translates directly to real life conversations. Practice listening to the last word of your client or prospect’s sentence before you respond. This helps you get out of your head and into their Operating Reality.
Communication does not have to be a competition and active listening will help you learn to connect with others and have truly impactful conversations. At Butler Street, we incorporate a variety of improv-based exercises into our training programs. These exercises allow participants to further explore our concepts through active or experiential learning, which results in higher retention rates and greater understanding. Our clients love this approach and experience real growth in their careers. Contact us to learn more.