What improv can teach us about good communication

I recently did a short course in improvisation - just for fun. It’s like an acting class but without any scripts. A topic is assigned and a bunch of people begin acting out a scene on the spot. No discussion, agreement or rehearsal, just Action! 

One of the principles of improv that works so well is that the actors are completely in the present. They are paying close attention to what the others are doing, and using that information to inform their next moves. Their action is in direct response to the last action offered. It doesn’t work to map out the scene ahead because at any minute the scene can change and you need to be able to move with it.

This is such an important (and under-utilised) skill in communication. The ability to be fully present when someone is speaking, and then constructing our response based on what they have just said, rather than what we think they’re going to say is powerful. In reality, what we are more likely doing is forming our reply based on where we think they are going with their communication. Or even more common, cutting them off mid sentence to have our say.  Granted there are many reasons for these common communication styles. Some cultural, some based on comfort levels, enthusiasm etc, but for the most part it pays to listen fully to another person. To be present to their whole message. To give them space and time to finish their sentence and then respond to what they actually said. Just like in improv, you need to receive the ‘full offer’ before you can respond.

As a coach (a.k.a professional listener), I know that it takes a lot of effort to give people space and be present. I can also tell you that during a coaching program one of the most common pieces of feedback I get is that people feel ‘completely heard.’ To have someone listen and give you space to really talk is rare but not impossible. We can all do it. We’ve probably all done it. And yet, my guess is we could all do it a bit more.

Coaching tips:

  • Let people finish their sentences and wait 2 seconds before responding.
  • Instead of responding with your own story, invite people to expand on theirs. “Tell me more…”
  • If you have formulated your reply before they have finished speaking, stop. Let them finish. Their point may not be what you think.

As a professional People Whisperer, Anneli has been working with leaders and teams to improve their communication and interpersonal intelligence for almost a decade.
If you’d like to improve your interpersonal effectiveness and influence, or decode the behaviours’ of others, contact Anneli today.

w: www.anneliblundell.com       t: @AnneliBlundell

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