Listening is a skill we are all taught at a young age, right? Yes, we all know how to listen…or do we? Recently I’ve realized maybe I’m not as good a listener as I thought I was. I do a lot of hearing (to perceive with the ear the sound made by someone or something.) To listen is defined as – giving one’s attention to a sound. It’s one step closer, but in order to connect, the sound has to go beyond the attentiveness and strike a personal chord with each individual. In improv we practice this skill incessantly and it’s made me realize just how little I actually do this in my day-to-day interactions with people. What’s more is if I want people to listen to me, I’d better be able to listen to them.
In improv it’s all about letting go of the preconceived idea, the control, and recognizing it’s a collaboration (a conversation) and if you want it to have a sturdy foundation (a good connection) you need to build on each layer with careful attention to what was put down just before (adding value). When I’m not in improv, I find myself checking my phone and making my mental “to-do lists” all during everyday encounters with friends, colleagues and loved ones. All of those “distracting habits” and technology are intended to bring us closer to the present moment. But, with all the distraction my foundation or good connection suffers.
So why is it so difficult to put it down and really listen? It’s terrifying to let go of control and be vulnerable, not hiding behind our “to do’s” and our phones, but in my experience it’s also the most worthwhile thing you can do. Looking people in the eye and really responding authentically to the thing that was just said brings up a lot of emotions. Yes, but I guarantee, It’s better to have misspoken then to have stayed silent or wasted the moment.