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Help Your Communication Partner: Watch and Practice

Alan Alda explains why it’s your job to help the other person understand what you’re trying to say using classic improvising techniques.

In this video, Alan Alda explains why it’s your job to help the other person understand what you’re trying to say. Using classic improvising techniques, he encourages you to keep communication alive by accepting and adding to your communication partner’s comments.

What does improvisational comedy have to do with collaborating well at work and succeeding in any career path? Too often we only half-listen to other people’s ideas, waiting on tiptoes for an opportunity to share our own. That’s a “Yes, but— ” approach to communication. “Yes, that’s very interesting what you said, but how about my far superior idea?” Worse still is the flat-out “no”. “Nope! That won’t work, and here’s seven reasons why…”

Take responsibility for engagement

  • It’s your job to help the other person understand what you’re trying to say.
  • Keep the other person with you by reading the clues, or signals, you’re getting from the person. What is he communicating with his face? His eyes? Her tone of voice? Her body language?

Maintain connection with improv’s “yes, and”

  • Keep communication alive by accepting what the other person says and adding to it.
  • Stay open-minded. Commit to exploring new ground together, even when you disagree.

In improv, “Yes, and—” is the golden rule: “Oh no! The house is on fire!” one performer might say. “Quick, let’s escape!” says another. “We can’t! The door’s blocked!” says a third. “Out the window, then!” replies the first. They listen, accept, and work together to build and inhabit an imaginary scene.

In business as on stage, no one’s an island. Working together, like improv, demands a “Yes, and—” approach. You accept what comes at you and you build upon it. This is how you build trust with colleagues and it’s how you collaboratively build a great business.

And it’s a two-way street, always. Alda references “the mirror exercise”, popular in acting schools, where one partner tries to mirror another’s movement in real time. To succeed, says Alda, partner A needs to ensure that partner B (the mirror) is “getting it”. To communicate clearly the speaker is always, necessarily, also a close listener.

Over To You

After you watch the video, privately consider practicing and observing what we have learned and don’t forget to make notes!

  • Keeping the lesson in mind, just observe at your next company meeting how people communicate with one another. How do they talk? How do they listen? Make a note of “No!”, “Yes, but—”, and “Yes, and—” type responses.

  • At your next opportunity, try the “Yes, and—” approach in sharing ideas with a colleague. What were the results? What snags, if any, did you run into?

  • Why does Alda so heavily emphasize the responsibility of the speaker to bring the conversational partner(s) along for the ride?

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Emotional Intelligence in Practice

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