Communication is an invaluable skill in social life and at the workplace. The ability to communicate effectively can have a significant influence on achieving your goals.
There are lots of articles with do's and don'ts of communication for leaders, managers, teamworkers, travelling, dates - and wherever else you may want to get your point across. Some are more helpful than others. Yet nothing is as helpful as practicing communicating with others.
So here are a few things that I've learned during Improvisation classes which I find good to know and fantastic to experience:
When someone starts talking, our mind starts to process what we hear. We have associations and memories which we begin to relate to a topic, and we are keen to add our two pence to what is being said. This happens all the time. And it is ever so tempting to...
"Oh this totally reminds me of that time when I was in my Philosophy class where we discussed whether two people can have the exact same experience of something"
... interrupt or continue down the path where we want to go. Thinking of what we want to say next prevents us from listening and responding appropriately to what was just said. Appropriately here refers to content as well as social context.
Next time you have a conversation with someone, see if you can focus on listening to what is being said without judging or processing the information. When they are finished, take a moment to digest and then respond by repeating a small relevant portion of what was said and adding your own thoughts to it.
2. Build on ideas
A natural side effect of repeating someone else's information and adding, is that we stay relevant to the conversation and create a shared experience. This allows us to explore a topic and engage with our conversation partner.
In an improvisation class, you'll hear this expressed as saying "yes, and...", meaning 'yes', I hear your idea, 'and' I add my bit to it.
It also shows our partner that we value their contribution to the conversation. This will make them feel good and more likely to appreciate our contribution too.
Of course there sometimes are ideas that we don't agree with, or topics that we'd rather stay clear of. In that case, it is ok to express this and agree to move on to something else. The important thing to remember is that moving on then becomes a choice, rather than a consequence of egocentric monologueing.
3. Keep it short and simple
Now, it's tempting to drive an idea all the way down the direction we want to go in, a mapped out path which we know well. However, if you don't happen to be delivering a speech or a lecture, chances are that you are in a conversation with someone who also wants to get a word or two in.
Improvisers practice short turn taking and simplicity. We give our partners small pieces of information to digest and process to make sure we're all following what's going on. This means that the conversation is co-constructed and all participants share the responsibility for it to be interesting.
Anxiety during communication often comes from the fear of not having time to speak or being listened to. If we all make sure to listen, build on ideas, and keep our contributions short and relevant, then we can trust that the conversations we have are going to be the ones we want to have happen.
Improvisation for Communication Skills