Improspectives

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Archive for the ‘Listening’ Category

Relationship Listening

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Previously, I mentioned John Kline’s book Listening Effectively and talked about informative listening. In this post, I’d like to take a quick look at relationship listening.

As the name implies, relationship listening is the process you use to improve your relationship with your conversation partner. Your goal is to learn more about your colleagues and, by so doing, improve your relationships with them. There will always be a few individuals who use this information against you, or who use information as a weapon, but most of your colleagues do want to get along better. Be sure to set your boundaries appropriately, both for your own comfort and to maintain your professionalism, but don’t be afraid to offer your trust and offer more trust to someone who deserves it.

Relationship listening is important for team members working in the same space, but it’s vital for virtual teams. I’m a freelance writer, which is about as solitary an existence as you can get these days. I didn’t meet my agent until we were five years into our working relationship, and only then because I happened to be driving through his part of the country. I believe we’ve been in the same room a grand total of three times since 1996, but we know a lot about each other and have navigated some tricky waters together.

If you’re an improv performer, you should do a lot of relationship listening. I started workshops with my current group in 1995 and, over the years, we’ve developed a deep shared context. There are about 30 regular players who rotate in and out of our cast in a given month, so of course there are subgroups that get along better with each other or who have more in common. Even so, we share where appropriate and aren’t afraid to turn to each other for a sympathetic ear. Having established that comfortable, familiar base, we can push each other to improve as performers and as a team.

Written by curtisfrye

May 6, 2012 at 11:32 pm

What Siri Can Teach You About Listening and Responding

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I’m jumping ahead a bit in my posts on listening and responding, but I just read MIT Technology Review’s terrific new article on Social Intelligence that explains the popularity of Siri, the personal assistant app resident in the iPhone 4S.

The article’s author interviewed Boris Katz, a principal research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, to get his take on why Siri works so well. Katz noted that Siri responds directly to task-related queries, varies its responses, and admits when it doesn’t know how to do something (such as posting to Twitter).

He also pointed out that Siri includes judicious bits of humor in its responses. When asked “Should I go to bed now?”, it might respond “I think you should sleep on it.” This type of gentle humor makes Siri seem more human and approachable. It’s the antithesis of “going for the joke” in a conversation or improv scene — the statement accepts what went before (the question) and responds appropriately given the server running the speech recognition and generation algorithms couldn’t possibly judge if it’s time for the user to go to bed.

You could do a lot worse than emulating Siri in your conversations.

Written by curtisfrye

May 3, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Informative Listening

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In my previous post, I mentioned John Kline’s book Listening Effectively and mentioned that he identified five different types of listening. The first type, informative listening, is probably the first type of listening that springs to mind.

As the name implies, the goal of informative listening is to learn new information. In an improv scene, the players engage in informative listening from the start of the scene or game. If they’re challenged to a game by the other team, the first information they get is the name of the game they’re going to play. Then they get the suggestion or suggestions from the audience (more informative listening) and then someone starts the scene. From that moment on, every player must listen intently to get what they need to build a coherent, enjoyable scene.

One great informative listening exercise is to watch a scene and then recite its major actions in reverse order. Movies on DVD are great for this type of exercise because you can go back and check how close you came to getting it right. The next level is watch a movie scene and relate each of the plot points to something from your personal experience, such as a trip, a friend you knew in school, or your first job out of school. Then, instead of retelling the scene as it occurred, retell it through the associations you built while you watched it.

Except through rote memorization, you can’t remember something unless you build up associations to something you knew previously. The more associations you can build, the more likely it is the information will stick with you.

Finally, don’t forget to listen to yourself. I’m sure you’ve said something unplanned that everyone else thought was brilliant; unfortunately, you couldn’t remember what you said! Video recording performances is the best way to recall your exact phrasing, but don’t be afraid to ask audience members, fellow performers, or co-workers what you said. Even if they can’t provide the exact wording, you’ll get an idea of what you said and add that statement to your toolkit.

Written by curtisfrye

April 30, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Listening as cooperation, not competition

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Improvisers need to listen carefully to create effective scenes. Everything we do in a scene is based on what came before. Even the start of the scene builds on the audience’s suggestion. Listening seems like an easy enough skill – you accept input from an audio source and incorporate it into your thoughts. If only it were that simple. Listening is a lot more complex than that, especially if you bring your own agenda to the conversation. For the next couple of posts, I’ll focus on the different types of listening and how you can do a better job as a listener.

There are quite a few good books on listening, but I recommend John Kline’s Listening Effectively from Air University Press. Air University is the U.S. Air Force’s professional development wing and it produces some very interesting work of use to leaders in every industry. Kline identifies several different types of listening, which I’ll describe in subsequent posts, but he also describes what your approach has to be to listen well.

In brief, you should listen with the goal of understanding the other person’s position. That approach is in contrast to the very natural and tempting tactic of listening to pick out keywords you can use as hooks to advance your own position. If you think of listening as a cooperative activity instead of a competition, you can improve your relationships and get the information you need to make good decisions.

Written by curtisfrye

April 22, 2012 at 1:39 pm