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Learning To Listen Deeply - An Improvisation Based Exercise

person holding sign that says we listen
person holding sign that says we listen

If I was asked to define improvisation in one sentence, I would answer:

Improvisation is the art of listening and responding or reacting.

Simple right? Except, we aren't that good at listening.

According to our good friend research, 85% of what we know, we learn through listening. 45% of our workdays are spent listening, yet we only listen at a 25% comprehension rate.

Two key questions for reflection:

  • How often do you really listen to people?
  • How often are you simply waiting to interject with your own thoughts?

We often listen to respond, rather than listening to understand.

One enriches and broadens our perspective; the other feeds our need to be right and in control of the conversation.

When we listen to respond, we usually start forming our response when the other person gives us the gist of what they're saying. We don't always listen all the way through to the end. When we listen to understand, it encourages us to listen deeply with patience. We look for expression and nuance.

One of the exercises I teach teams to improve their listening skills is called First Letter, Last Letter.

The rules are simple: in pairs, have a conversation on any subject. The first letter of the first word you say has to start with the last letter of the last word the other person just said.

First Letter, Last Letter forces you to listen to a person's entire sentence before responding.

Could you be a better listener? Try this in your next conversation. The good news is, the person you're speaking to doesn't even have to know about your experiment in order for you to try this.

You might be interested in our Coaching workshop, where we'll help you harness the power of deep, active listening to unlock new levels of understanding.

If you're curious about Organizational Improv, we also have a great workshop for you. In this session, we'll show you how to leverage the principles and practices of professional improvisers to produce incredible results in the workplace.