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.
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
This is what the world will look like, 250 million years from now
To us humans, the shape and location of oceans and continents seems fixed. But that's only because our lives are so short.
The future of education and work will rely on teaching students deeper problem-solving skills.
- Asking kids 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' is a question that used to make sense, says Jaime Casap. But it not longer does; the nature of automation and artificial intelligence means future jobs are likely to shift and reform many times over.
- Instead, educators should foster a culture of problem solving. Ask children: What problem do you want to solve? And what talents or passions do you have that can be the avenues by which you solve it?
- "[T]he future of education starts on Monday and then Tuesday and then Wednesday and it's constant and consistent and it's always growing, always improving, and if we create that culture I think that would bring us a long way," Casap says.
These Jurassic predators resorted to cannibalism when hit with hard times, according to a deliciously rare discovery.
- Rare fossil evidence of dinosaur cannibalism among the Allosaurus has been discovered.
- Scientists analyzed dinosaur bones found in the Mygatt-Moore Quarry in western Colorado, paying special attention to bite marks that were present on 2,368 of the bones.
- It's likely that the predatory carnivore only ate their already-dead peers during times when resources were scarce.
As a doctor, I am reminded every day of the fragility of the human body, how closely mortality lurks just around the corner.