Boss:“Did you get all of that?”
(Your response, from an outside prospective)
“Uh, sure…yes!” *Confident Nod*
(Your response, from inside of your brain)
You:“Oh no, oh no, oh no! What did my boss just say? Who was I supposed to e-mail? Don’t panic; just smile and nod…”
Boss:“Good. I expect an update first thing tomorrow!”
If this scenario brings back stressful memories for you, chances are you’re not alone. In many high-stakes, results-driven work environments, active listening suffers. Once information overload sets in, even the most thoughtful employees tend to stop listening and start hearing just enough in order to craft an acceptable response. Unfortunately, this bare minimum approach towards engaging in conversation catches up with your work fast; if you’re not actively listening, you could be missing important details, including emotional cues and body language.
Still listening? Great! Because just like any professional skill worth having, our listening skills can be sharpened with a little bit of practice (and it can even be fun!)
Here are three office-friendly improv exercises to try with your team that focus on active listening skills:
The objective of this exercise is to collectively tell a complete story as a group that makes sense. The catch is that it can only be told with one person adding one word at a time!
Standing together as a group and, starting at one end, the first participant will say only the first word of the story. Then, the person directly next to them will say only the second word, and then pass it along. This continues around the group until a complete story is told. Not only do you need to remember what your immediate partner just said, but keeping in mind the entire story clues you into details about continuity and big picture ideas!
This is a fantastic way to sharpen your nonverbal listening skills. Standing in a circle, the first participant will make a sound, accompanied by a movement. For example, a player might say “Honk honk” and rub his or her tummy. The person next to the initiator must then mimic the sound and action. Once done, that person then creates a new sound and action combo, passing it along the circle. The amount of nuance in each sound and action can be eye (and ear) opening!
This exercise can be played with two participants at a time. The two players will make up a fictional conversation on the fly. However, a new line of dialogue cannot be started until the previous line was repeated.
Player 1: “Shark Week is scary!”
Player 2: “Shark week is scary! There should be a warning before every show.”
P1:“There should be a warning before every show. I don’t even want to go to the beach anymore.”
P2: “You don’t even want to go to the beach anymore. And I can’t get a tan because of it!”
By repeating the entire previous phrase before crafting a response, participants must thoughtfully process and reflect on what was just said. The repetition may feel a bit silly at first, but this activity helps to break the cycle of, “passively hear, acceptably answer” and embrace the more effective tactic of, “actively listen, thoughtfully respond.”
If you’re still sweating missing the clues, take some time to focus on improving active listening with your coworkers. Who knows – you might just have some fun along the way!
“Did you get all of that?”