Improspectives

Improv skills lead to success

Critical Listening

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In previous posts, I’ve described appreciative listening, relationship listening, and informative listening. John Kline’s book Listening Effectively identifies two more types of listening, the first of which is critical listening. As the name implies, critical listening involves making decisions and judgments about what you’re hearing.

In an improv context, critical listening often falls by the wayside. When you and your scene partners are on the same wavelength and operating together as a cohesive unit, you can safely go along with whatever you hear. This is especially true if you’re doing a short form scene that lasts three to six minutes. You don’t have much time to consider what’s going on, so you rely on your reactions. That’s not to say you never pause to take a breath and react to what’s been said, but it does mean you can’t ponder over long the cosmic significance of your comrade’s offer.

In longform scenes, critical listening is extremely important. Because you have more time to think, you can provide more nuanced reactions to offers and use your own contributions to move the scene forward. When you’re off stage, you should always be listening to what’s been said so the you can analyze it, however briefly, in the context of the scene and how you can contribute to what is gone before.

In business, critical thinking is paramount. Once you get past the brainstorming stage where no idea is wrong, you have to begin evaluating alternatives to decide what you want to do. To paraphrase Michael Porter, strategy is often the art of deciding what not to do. And then there are these little things called performance reviews.

Finally, you should always evaluate what you do from a critical standpoint. The popular phrase “don’t judge me” drives me crazy because it implies that everyone’s contributions are of equal worth. They’re not. Critical thinking lets you review what’s been done and make judgments about how you and your fellow players could improve. Most groups identify a single individual to give notes for a show, but in others the director takes on the role. You should always judge performances, especially your own.

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Written by curtisfrye

July 13, 2012 at 6:34 pm

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