Relationships have to be nourished and fed. I’m not even talking about the romantic or friendship kind – I’m talking about work and professional relationships. You can’t just expect someone to connect with you or be able to work with you if they don’t trust you – and trust can’t just happen without connection.
And you can’t speed up a connection. It takes time.
You can make sure you’re making some real connection with active listening, specifically listening for gifts in conversation.
In our classes in NYC and LA, we focus on interpersonal impromptu communication – that is, the communication that you can’t necessarily plan for. It’s the stuff that happens, the conversations and the back and forth that make so many of us so nervous…and I would hazard to say we panic because we’ve “failed” in the past. Know what failure in conversation is?
Truly! When you don’t listen, you can’t contribute! And when you do listen, you can add and contribute and have a fun back and forth. Without it, you’re just talking at one another.
Since active listening is something we feel that improv elevates and expands, I want to help you understand an aspect of listening that I think a lot of folks miss, and it’s called listening for gifts. A gift is any bit of information that you can pick up and use to further a conversation. For example, say I spend some time telling you about the plants I have in my house, and I mention one of my favorite plants is a monstera. The gifts in my contribution are my plants, a house, and the monstera – all details you can use to either ask questions, make comments or connect in the conversation. For example:
-You could ask questions about plants, ask for advice on a plant you have at home or talk about your favorite plant.
-You could ask about where I live, what my house looks like or talk about your own house.
-You could ask about monsteras or talk about your monstera.
By taking these bits of information, you’re picking up the gifts and connecting to what the other person is saying using this information – instead of just shooting in the dark or having superficial small talk. Of course, there are better ways than others to connect and show that you’re listening – as an example if you’re always taking a gift and moving it to your focus (centering the conversation around yourself) you’re not a very giving conversation partner. We all know that person: they are always saying “Oh I did that too!” and it feels like one very long game of “anything you can do, I could do better!”
On the flip side, if you’re constantly asking questions and throwing focus away from you and your personal life/person, then you might be holding the people you’re talking to at arm’s length, which is an issue in itself!
The middle is generally the “best” place when using gifts – you want to both have time to ask questions and get the other person talking more AND you want to add your information to further the connection with the other person.
Gifts aren’t something that you’ll immediately understand and succeed in using perfectly every time – and you shouldn’t expect to be an amazing active listener. Take time to develop these skills and as always, reflect on your progress and let us know if you need help!