Active Listening Skills – How Improv Helps

Posted On:02.01.2019

Atlanta – Think you’re a good listener? Not so fast. Active listening skills, or being a good listener, is essential to being a strong teammate, and for a leader, to developing great teams. And the truth is, most people aren’t really that good at it.

Know what else good listening skills are essential to – every good improv scene ever performed.   

You can be an improviser without being a good listener, but you can’t be a good one. It’s a critical skill. Catch an improv show here any night at Dad’s Garage and pay attention to how info flows, is processed and reacted to – how quickly the performers understand and build on what’s being offered, both verbal and non-verbal.

Active Listening Skills – active listening skills can be learned…and with a bit of focus, can become a part of how you interact with everyone, from colleagues, to social contacts to family members. Commit to becoming better at active listening and you’ll be surprised at the positive results in all areas of your life.

Active Listening Skills

Here are a few active listening skills tips:

#1) Be attentive: In other words, pay attention. We’ve all been in conversations when you know the other person is checked out – their mind is somewhere else. Their body language and eyes will tip this off. Stay present and consciously commit to being respectful to whoever is talking. .

With improv, if you’re not paying attention and staying in the moment, you’re not going to be a fun partner to be onstage with. You won’t be able to support your fellow performers, or drive the scene forward. Do that a few times and don’t be surprised if fellow performers aren’t keen about hopping into a scene with you.  

#2) Be open: Active listening means having an open mind to what you’re hearing. This is important for everyone, but particularly if you’re in a leadership position. Be open to new ideas, to being changed, to letting the narrative go in a different direction than you expected, or wanted it to. Even if you had strong feelings, hold off on jumping in right away with your point, or judgement.

With improv, virtually everyone scene unfolds in unexpected ways. The players have to be flexible and open to withholding their own expectations, and listening to others in the troupe.

“Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you”Alan Alda (Alan is a champion of improv’s power in communicating, listening and connecting with others).

#3) Reflect: Reflect on what you just heard, checking in with the speaker to paraphrase highlights and to clarify anything you may not have understood. Open-ended questions are great at this point.

#4) Respond: After you’re comfortable you understand what was being said, introduce your feedback, suggestions and ideas. Come at it from a perspective of accepting what was just said, and the build on it.  

This is the tried and true concept of “Yes, and…” in practice. Accept what was said (the “Yes” part) and build on it with your suggestions and ideas (the ‘and” part).

Improvisers have to be exceptional active listeners as they support and react to what their fellow performers are saying and doing. They can’t miss verbal or non-verbal cues, nor can they arrive with a pre-conceived idea, or rehearsed response, or the scene will become unbalanced and likely go off the rails.

Think about the above tips as you move forward with colleagues and if you are looking for a class for your team in active listening skills based on improv, hit up Matt and he’ll be happy to discuss with you.

Matt Horgan at or by phone at (404) 523-3141 x 205

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