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How I Learned To Listen Using Improv

By Kim Phelan, Carolina Improv Player

A few years ago, I took a Level 1 improv class. Not being familiar with improv, I had no idea what to expect.

Would everyone be looking at me? Do they expect me to be funny? Can they teach me to be funny? What am I going to get out of this experience? Lots of questions, and lots of answers that I never expected.

Improv is based around the idea of, “Yes, And…”. This simply means exactly what it says. The “Yes” indicates that you are acknowledging what another person is saying to you. The “And” means that you are adding to that idea in a positive way. Note: Beware of the, “Yes, But…” that is a negative!! This concept will help you learn to roll with the punches, and have less reaction to unexpected things that life may throw your way. Pretty great, right?
The biggest surprise of all, is that my life changed after that very first class. The next week, our instructor (shout out to Kevin Perry!) asked, “Did you notice anything different about the week? Did you pay attention more? Did you LISTEN differently?” As I thought about that question, I realized that, indeed, I DID listen in a different way! More attentive, less eager for my turn to speak, more tuned in to the other person. This simple concept of “Yes” (acknowledgement), and “And” (furthering the conversation in a positive direction), had triggered something in me. For one thing, this was a realization that everyone wants to feel heard-you must acknowledge their statements for effective communication. The other thing is the realization that effective communication must travel in a positive direction. Even if what you are communicating is a touchy subject, or something that is not particularly positive.

There are ways to listen and respond. Why not proceed with the method that gives the best chance at resolving an issue, sharing joy, and strengthening relationships? It is so simple…and I wish I had discovered it long ago. You CAN teach an old kitten new tricks!