Active Listening & Collaboration

I’ve developed an Active Listening & Collaboration workshop that has proven engaging.

I’ve run this session for a ton of high school students and for multiple cohorts of college programs’ Entrepreneurs and Healthcare Execs in Training. I’ve run almost fifty sessions with accountants and insurance professionals. I’ve even run it in a communal house and with a fresh crop of McKinsey consultants – two very different experiences.

I just yesterday – thanks to my wife and her network – run one for Virginia’s Legal Aid Program.

It was awesome! (Oh, and donate to Legal Aid – they MATTER!)

What follows is my preamble to that session which I offer here as a little didactic on why we should care about Active Listening & Collaboration, and learning those skills and more through improvisation can make us, well, better people.

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SWOT #7 – Agreement to What IS

Agreement is a cornerstone of improvisation. We’re on stage creating something out of nothing. If I create one thing out of the ether then we have something. We want to build that something up and out; we don’t debate the validity of something made up.  Inquisition, opposition, negotiation and transaction are counterproductive on stage to our doing what the audience came to see: Improvisers exploring an invented reality.

Agrement to What IS

If this Weakness is identified, the following posts may prove helpful in coaching to the Opportunity:
* Collaboration
* Heightening Emotional Agreement
* Yes, Yes I Am
* Kick The Duck Red, Rover

Pass “Yes” Around acceptance exercise

PASS “YES” AROUND – A player points at / makes eye contact with another player who accepts by saying “Yes.” The accepted player walks across the circle to stand in the place of the player who said “Yes.” The player who said “Yes” points at / makes eye contact with another player who says “Yes” so they can exchange physical position. And repeat.
Choose and accept – don’t waste time worrying, over-thinking or obsessing about looking silly

“Awesome!” acceptance exercise

AWESOME! – Around the circle, students say something about themselves and/or their day to which the rest of class enthusiastically responds, “Awesome!”
Acceptance is fun – don’t waste time judging; the audience wants to see you enjoying one another

This is also a great exercise to stress players’ differences and how we can accept them. Players can be prone to wanting to share something they know is easy to say “Awesome” to. But the ensemble is going to accept with a resounding “Awesome” whatever it is that a player says. So a variation of this exercise is for players to share something that they think makes them unique and/or a perspective they have that they don’t think others share.

Showing that we can accept each player’s uniqueness is “Awesome!”

Yes And exercises

Agreement is a cornerstone of improvisation. We’re on stage creating something out of nothing. If I create one thing out of the ether then we have something. We want to build that something up and out; we don’t debate the validity of something made up.

Agreement is the improviser’s mantra: “Yes, And.” It’s not Yes “cereal” And “aliens.” Yes, “This porridge is cold,” And “it’s been sitting on the counter for a week.”

We can’t share one mind, but we can make it look like we do if we’re each making a concerted effort to unify all that’s been laid down in a collective direction. Through agreement we can minimize the amount of “stuff” on stage which facilitates focused collaborative building.

“YES, AND” STORY – Everyone stands in a circle. A player starts a story: “Billy loved his turtle.” Starting with the player to the initiator’s left, the group builds the story sentence by sentence, literally saying “Yes, and…” to begin each contribution: “Yes, and Billy and his turtle did everything together.”
Collaborate – a group all heightening a few ideas will reach greater heights than will a group of individuals all focused on their own ideas.
Think back, not forward – the story doesn’t need to get anywhere it just needs to explore where it is. Instead of thinking “What’s next,” think “How can I elaborate on what was just said?”
Callback as Acceptance – referencing what has already been established can be more than any one player’s hilarious new idea. Make each other look good by embracing each other’s details.

I WANT TO SEE, 1, 2, 3 – Everyone stands in a circle. One player begins with “I want to see…” (“an elephant”/ “world peace”). In no set order, players build on this desire with “Yes, and…” (“Yes, and an Asian elephant”/ “Yes, and people making love not war”). After 3 “Yes, and” additions, a player wipes the slate with a brand new “I want to see…” statement.
Share the air – Hesitators, contribute! Stage hogs, give someone else a chance!
Build in one direction – After “Yes, and an Asian elephant,” the group should stay focused on an Asian elephant instead of getting less specific (“Yes, and a big elephant”) or specific in another direction (“Yes, and a carnivorous elephant”).

TWO LINE OFFER AND “YES, AND” SCENES – students form two lines, one on either side of the stage. The player at the head of the stage left line enters stage and makes a statement about who they are, where they are or what else is on stage (“I love being a lumberjack”/“I hate this museum”/“That’s a scary rock”). The player at the head of the stage right line enters and delivers a “Yes, and…” statement (“Yes, and killing trees is awesome”/ “Yes, and the art looks and smells like poop”/ “Yes, and it just moved closer to us”). That’s it. Then the players move to the end of the opposite line.
• Players can drop “yes, and” as long as they still embrace and build on each other’s contributions
• Players can have more than one line each
Force agreement – “yes, and” keeps us from arguing, denying, negotiating, etc.
Force choices – there’s no room for questions in “yes, and.” “Yes, and” demands that we add information to the scene.
Repetition alone is heightening – “Yes, and I am also afraid of that rock” is perfectly acceptable. The agreement should be prioritized over cleverness. “Yes, and” me, too is great collaborative building.

Emotional Matching exercise

Emotional Matching: If we agree, we can just be; we don’t have to explain or defend. Have fun just being emotional together, trusting that your commitment to the same emotion is all the context for your relationship that’s needed.

EMOTIONAL CHAIR PASS – It’s like hitchhiker, but just two people, and the suggestion is an emotion, not a character. Set up two chairs on the stage and the rest of the class in an audience. One person sits and expresses an emotion to the audience. When someone in the audience thinks they know what it is, they get up, take the other chair and match it, then sit in it for a sec. You call “scene,” the first person sits, and the second one repeats the activity with a new emotion. Someone gets up, matches, sits there for a second, feels it, then sits. Repeat.
• After 3 or so, start asking, during the “sitting in it” portion, the same Character Walk questions: What kind of person sits like this? Where are they?
• Allow students to acknowledge each other. Eventually they’ll be drawn to exchange some lines, encourage that. You will have tricked them into doing a matching scene.
If we agree, we can just be; we don’t have to explain or defend.
Trust that your commitment to the same emotion is all the context for your relationship that’s needed.

Emotional Scene exercises

Emotional Scenes: “How we feel about who we are, where we are and what we’re doing,” and “How we feel about who our scene is, where they are and what they’re doing” should be our focus in improv scenes. Let “How we feel” trump all else, especially plot and “sense.”

Suggested Exercises:

“I [FEELING] YOU.” “I KNOW.” – Players form two “lay-up” style lines on either side of the stage. Players at the front of each line decide on an emotion inside their heads. Player from the stage left line comes out and says “I [blank] you” (i.e. “I love you”). Player from the stage right line comes out and says “I know” filtered through the emotion they chose ahead of time (i.e. they chose “sad” so they say “I know” very depressed). Have both player repeat their lines 3 or 4 times, heightening their emotions each time.
• Linguistically “I ____ You” can get a little weird (i.e. “I happy you”), so feel free to change it to make it fit. Like “you make me happy,” actually “You make me _____” will probably fit better for most things.
• Feel a certain way, direct that feeling at the person with you, assume things about your relationship, heighten
• As they go, there’ll be a few that seem really natural. If you see it happen, some cool points to make are “didn’t you start making a story in your head about who they are? Our audience does the same thing, they see all kinds of connections” or “when we talk about relationship this is all it is, how people relate to each other, how they feel about each other.”

ANNOYANCE-STYLE SCENE STARTS – Have the class form a line across the back of the stage. Call out one name. That person should immediately take the stage and “take care of themselves” with a choice about their emotion, posture, environment, activity, etc. The moment you call that name, another improviser should be coming out on stage as well. That person must also “take care of themselves” with a choice. Players expand on their choices, most importantly establishing and heightening their emotional perspective. Run through this several times until you are confident everyone will take care of themselves right out of the gate and, eventually if not immediately, get to emotion.
• If I’m picking my nose, what does that say about my age? If I’m forty-five and picking my nose, where am I? If I’m forty-five and picking my nose in a restaurant, am I embarrassed?
A scene needs information. But expand on what you’ve already got. Commit to it.
You don’t need motivation to have a feeling

Action Pass exercise

ACTION PASS – In a circle, a player turns to his left and executes an action, any action. The next player observes that action and attempts to recreate it EXACTLY in turning to the player to their left.
• Do it once through. Then immediately have them do it again focused on slowing down and really noticing all the nuances of a player’s action and working to repeat the action exactly.
• Call attention to what makes them laugh – straight repetition, embracing something “accidental”
Focus Outward – take the time to really see all that players are giving you. The first step in reacting to what’s happening is seeing what’s happening.
Support your fellow player’s moves – There are no mistakes/There is no “right.” There is only “what has happened” and “what’s happening now.”