Listening: The Most Important Skill That Nobody Teaches
Improvisational theater, an often overlooked genre, involves dynamic lessons on listening that can help all kinds of professional relationships and improve conversation.
In Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses "No, But" Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration—Lessons from The Second City, Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton, executive vice president and CEO, respectively, of The Second City, address the importance of skillful listening in professional settings and demonstrate useful strategies drawn from improvisational theatre (improv).
Drawing on years of experience working with collaborative improv troupes, they note that the core tenets of the genre cultivate a caliber of attentiveness to others that newcomers to the craft are often surprised to learn they have not cultivated. Success in the purely spontaneous narrative form, they note, relies on listening to the totality of what other participants say before responding. More generally, in Yorton’s words, this amounts to having “to listen to understand as opposed to just listening merely to respond.” Performers of improv must necessarily be attentive to the entirety of what their collaborators say lest the performance become imbalanced or incoherent. This contrasts with a common (and largely unconscious) practice in daily life of passively waiting for the chance to utter predetermined monologues or defend one’s fixed ideas.
For the uninitiated, the powerful relationship of these listening practices and its attendant cultivation of intimate camaraderie is on display at the outset of Don’t Think Twice, the new film written by, directed by, and starring stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia. [Notably, the movie also stars an alumnus of The Second City: Keegan-Michael Key.] The members of the improv troupe at the center of the film display a dynamic and seamless chemistry through which they are able to generate creative ideas with one another.
The importance of effective listening practices in effective professional relationships is immense, yet it often goes underemphasized in favor of personal productivity. Often, workplaces are isolated. Even environments encouraging teamwork bring pressure to be the most active participant or a lone leader rather than a conscientious collaborator. Indeed, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, writer, and activist, writes in his book The Art of Communicating of the necessity of communicating with mindful attentiveness to others in the workplace:
The way you think about your work and your work relationships affects how you communicate in your work environment. You may be under the impression that the purpose of your work is to offer a service to others or to produce an object or commodity. But while at work, you’re also producing thoughts, speech, and actions. Communication is as much a part of your job as is the end product. If you communicate well in your work environment, not only do you enjoy yourself more, but you create a harmonious atmosphere that will carry over into your work. Everything you do will have a stronger element of compassion and be of greater benefit to more people.
Hanh elucidates how the common misguided and unconscious tendency to focus only on one’s own reactions, ideas, and public performance can be deceptively myopic: our actions, work, and self-interest are often inextricably intertwined with the minds, feelings, and interests of others.
What cognitive skills can we use to develop the improv-isers abilities to, as Yorton and Hanh emphasize, listen openly to the totality of our peers’ thoughts and feelings before composing a response and reacting to them? Writer, speaker, and activist Parker J. Palmer founded the Center for Courage & Renewal, an organization that aims “to create a more just, compassionate and healthy world by nurturing personal and professional integrity and the courage to act on it,” on precisely such principles. In A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, Palmer lists three “outward and visible signs” of open listening:
Palmer argues that we can work to listen effectively and honestly by allowing for thoughtful silences in conversations, responding not at people with our own solutions but to people with questions aimed at allowing them to reveal themselves more deeply, and always respecting other’s gestures of honest communication – regardless of what the content may be.
These strategies are resonant with the principle tenets of improv, which require that participants be entirely open and responsive to the will of troupe-mates and spend more time listening than speaking. Thus, it turns out to be hardly surprising that a new book on effective business-practices and communication should be grounded in lessons from this often overlooked form of theatre.
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."
- The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
- Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
- However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.
- Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
- The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
- Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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