Communication Skills

Setting Boundaries

Originally published in Forsyth Women Magazine

Boundaries used to be one of the hardest things for me to set and stick to, and to this day, I still struggle with them. As a people pleaser in recovery, I hate disappointing people. As a business owner and freelancer, if I don’t set boundaries, I will explode.

Boundaries are often described as

“guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.”

While Wikipedia and Google can give great definitions of boundaries, you have to set your own and practice upholding the boundaries you set.

One of the biggest lessons my therapist taught me is that boundaries aren’t meant to feel good; they are meant to keep you safe. I think we often forget that when we’re holding up a boundary and the other person is pressing – it feels awkward and uncomfortable, and we think, oh! If we just give in, it will be fine. (It won’t.) Here are three ways to set and keep your boundaries for the last few months of 2019 and well into 2020:

  • Start Small

    New to boundaries in your life? Start small. Maybe it’s something as simple as not answering work emails after a certain time, or not accepting work texts. If you set one boundary to start with, and get comfortable with that one boundary, others will follow and will get easier.

    I use a gym or working out comparison a lot – you can’t expect to wake up one day and just run a full marathon if you haven’t been training. If you’ve always been the ‘yes’ person, you can’t expect to have incredible skills setting and holding to boundaries.

    Do a few easier ones with yourself and your time. Maybe you only take personal calls between 9 am and 7 pm, or you don’t text after 8 pm. Build your skills!

  • Be Clear

    The “best” boundaries are clear and specific. If it’s complicated, with loads of clauses and possibilities, people will either find loopholes or misunderstand it, creating a lot of opportunities for you to either hold the boundary strong or give in. If you’re just starting to set boundaries in a situation, use the first-grader rule of thumb: be so simple that a seven-year-old can understand it.

    Here’s an example that comes up with my entrepreneur friends: being asked to do things for exposure. Yes, you should do some things to add to your business and the social capital that comes with exposure. No, you can’t do everything for free because Duke Energy does not accept exposure bucks. Say your boundary is five “free” events a year. This is clear, specific, and concise. When you’ve done your five, and someone asks for your number six, and you physically cannot do that because you need to work, you can simply say, “I’m sorry, I’ve committed to all of the free events I can this year. I’m happy to chat with you next year.”

  • Take Time

    If someone is pushing on a boundary, don’t be afraid to say you need some time to think about the decision they are asking you to make. That bit of buffer will give you the time you need to think about a response. If they keep pushing when you ask for some time (even if it’s five minutes), stop and think: this isn’t respectful for you, so feel free to say no.

    An example that I hear about a lot is working extra hours above and beyond what you already have to do and outside of the scope of work. This happens more in non-profit work, I think, but I’ve seen it across the spectrum of professions. If someone is asking you for something like this, feel free to say, “Let me look at my schedule and get back to you tomorrow,” if you are feeling like you can’t immediately say no, or are struggling with the no. Then, take some time to practice the no, or send it in an email to avoid the conflict you might be adverse to.

There’s one overarching lesson I’ve learned about boundaries over the past few years of developing mine: the people that have the most trouble with other people’s boundaries are those who don’t have any themselves. Remember that, and you got this.


OK Boomer Snowflake

Our interpersonal communication is not good. Not one bit.

As a whole, we’re not great at listening to one another. We hear someone talking and we immediately think about what we want to say in response. Never mind paying attention to what the other person is saying, we’re too busy figuring out what we want to say next – or worse, how we can spin a conversation in our favor, pivot the focus and move along.

Putting it that way makes us sound like a bunch of self-centered jerks, doesn’t it?

Add name-calling to the self-centered jerk tag and we’ve got a fraction of the workplace drama of today – and Ok Boomer and Snowflake Millennial are both name-calling efforts akin to playground bullying. If we keep going in this direction we’re going to crash and burn even further with our one on one communication skills, and we might as well just resort to written communication. At least we can edit that and delete our disrespect.

For my purposes, I’m going to focus on Ok Boomer and Millennial Snowflake aggressions. To note: this doesn’t supersede aggressions and microaggressions that are related to race and sex. Different conversation.

The actual words are almost fine: Boomer and Millennial refer to the labeling of generations. Nothing new to see there…the problem comes with the sentiment behind “Ok Boomer” and the add of “Snowflake.” Now, “millennial” itself can a negative connotation if the feeling behind the word is less than neutral – same with “boomer” actually (especially now). What’s the point of the negativity?

Sure – boomers ruined the environment and student loans and the ability to buy a house. Millennial wrecked basically everything else, and feel like they deserve more than what they get. Right? Depending on what bracket you fall in, you’re probably nodding at once sentence and incensed at another.

Wild idea: check yourself and stop projecting.

In conversations, four things influence us:

  • who we are (the relationship we have with the person we’re talking to),
  • where we are (physical location and place in life),
  • what we want (and what our conversation partner wants),
  • and finally how we feel (about the other person as well as the situation.)

Usually, folks have a lot of issues around what they want and fighting for this. Here’s the problem: if your feelings are getting in the way of your communication, you’re never going to get to a point that you can fight for what you want. And then the conversation and interaction don’t even matter, because what’s the point?

Workplaces will always be made up of folks of different ages, and we’re going to disagree with people we talk to. That’s obvious. Disrespect? That’s optional. Is the boomer you’re upset with actually the cause of you being upset, or is it someone else – or something else? Is the millennial acting overly sensitive and “special”, or are you anxious about something else that’s going on in your life? Take a moment to check in with that “how you feel” part of your interpersonal communications. Identify it clearly and specifically – even use simple language like “I feel mad” or “I feel excited”. Now, ask the larger and potentially scarier question – why do you feel the way you do? Are you mad because this person doesn’t listen, or you feel like you’re picking up their slack or that you don’t make enough money?

Out of all of that, what has to do with the person you’re talking to, and what has nothing to do with them?

Sure, sometimes this will be directly related to the person you’re talking to – there are terrible, sociopathic, selfish, malicious and lazy people of all ages.

And sometimes, we throw out these aggressions because we have a lot of other things going on.

Do I propose we all play nice and stop insulting each other? Yes, absolutely that. Is the snarky comment worth it? No. Will it cloud the actual issue? Like what if the boomer refuses to report to the millennial that is actually in charge, and what if the millennial feels like they are “too good” to do a certain job? When you’ve resorted to name-calling, you’ve already lost the issue at hand and you’re never going to get to your want, which should be the crux of your conversation.

Don’t sacrifice what you want – what you want to get accomplished – for passive-aggressive name-calling. It’s not worth it.

You’re Too Much.

You’ve been told that you’re too much.

You’re too emotional.

You just need to calm down.

If you weren’t so sensitive.

So loud.

So abrasive.

I’ve heard it all. I’m often too much of something for someone else. For a long time, I used to think something was wrong with me. If only I wasn’t so direct, then people wouldn’t tell me I was too much, and I would be like everyone else.

Now, I’ve been told I’m “too much” since I was a kid. It took me well into my 30s to realize this isn’t my problem: it’s someone else’s issue. If you’re struggling with the same kind of feedback from people in your life, here are a few ways I realized that “too much” wasn’t the problem and how I dealt with it:

Check In

When someone says you’re “too much” of something – or really any of the things that I listed above (or anything that kind of sounds like it) how do you feel? And how did you feel when you were being “too much”? If you were comfortable, happy, joyful, the best version of you – and someone says something, it might very well be their own insecurities and have absolutely nothing to do with you.

Consider the source…

Who told you this? Do they have a reason to feel like this? Take a few moments to reflect on what’s going on in their lives. Is there a reason they might not be comfortable with you being yourself? Are they playing small, or living for someone other than themselves.

…and your journey
Where have you been? Have you started feeling more confident, more excited about your life, or even more like yourself? Something I hear a lot: when a person in your life changes in any way, it’s like a dance partner changing the steps. It’s going to take a bit of time for your partner(s) to catch up, and sometimes, they don’t like the new dance.

Keep your goal in sight.

The world is changing for women. I think, now more than ever, we’re getting permission to truly be ourselves. One of the beautiful parts of modern-day feminism: you shouldn’t tell another woman how to woman, and they shouldn’t tell you how to woman. If you’re working on being the best version of yourself, and someone is telling you “wait, not like that!” there’s a big possibility that they are not looking towards your goals: they are basing what you’re doing off of what they think they should be doing. Keep yours in mind.

Create Boundaries or Cut Ties

I think there are two ways to deal with people who think you’re shining a bit too brightly. Boundaries are the first: you can limit the time you spend with that person or how you interact with them. Remember, boundaries aren’t there to make anyone feel good: they are there to keep you safe. Set some boundaries with this person if you still need them in your life.

If all else fails, there is little more to do than to cut ties with a person who believes you should be playing smaller than you’d like to play. While walking away from a person is never fun, sacrificing who you are and who you’d like to be is far less fun – and far less fair.

When we are being the best versions of ourselves, the people around us should see the joy and authenticity that is only present when people are achieving that truth. Shine bright, supernova. You do not need to be a beige, square peg version of yourself.

Originally published in Forsyth Woman Magazine

Dating in 2019 feels like a mess. Aside from the overwhelming experience of online dating and meeting people, possibly one of the most nerve-wracking experiences is the inevitable first date.

No matter where you go, how long the date is, what time of day or what you wear, there is one thing that will happen at every single first date: a conversation.

Conversations are the make or break in dating, especially in the beginning. It’s how we show who we are! If you’re not communicating, no amount of amazing dating profile photos can save you.

There’s a phrase from improv that can immediately improve those first date conversations: Yes, And. Here are three things that Yes, And add to your first date conversation:

Yes…shows you’re listening

When I’m talking about using Yes, And in conversations, I’m talking about saying the literal words of Yes and And! Yes is a great way to show that you’re listing. A study I love to reference is one out of Harvard from 2013 where research shows that when a person is being asked about themselves and another is actively listening, the person speaking starts feeling great. Dopamine starts flooding the speaker’s brain. And you, being the person listening? Chances are those good feelings will be associated with you!

You can use this to your advantage because remember, you need to be actively listening for this to work. You can’t just ask someone about their day and tune out, waiting for your chance to talk. Ask a question that seeks more information about the other person, and actively listen – and try to use the word Yes when you are recapping some of the information they just said. For example, if the other person is talking about a hard moment at work, maybe a lost file, you could say, “Yes, losing a file is the absolute worst!” You’re doing more than simply smiling and nodding to show you’re listening.

And Adds

And can be used in two different ways: both add information. Back to our lost file, you can add information to the conversation and your listening hack by using the word And. It might sound like:

Yes, losing a file is the absolute worst, and it’s my worst nightmare.

See how this confirms that you’re listening and then adds your feelings and perspective? You might be thinking, I already use And all the time! Do you use it intentionally? That’s the game-changer – do it, and mean it!

The And becomes powerful with that intention and with the second way – ask for more information. It might sound like:

Yes, losing a file is the absolute worst, and it’s my worst nightmare. What did you do?

See what this does? It not only shows you’re listening, it also adds your feelings and it asks for more information! Conversation, in the end, is a consistent back and forth with two people and both people are moving it along – not just one ongoing droning monologue. This is also a nice litmus test to see if the other person is capable of conversation – if they are rambling about themselves the entire time, not asking you anything about yourself or showing that they are listening? Hard pass.

Beware of Buts

Yes, And draws attention to another word: But. The word But halts the conversation and makes one statement more important than another. If we take the same example from above and use But instead of And:

Losing a file is the worst, but it’s not as bad as losing everything from the cloud.

You’ve lessened the emotion of the speaker – which is not a good look. It’s also combative:

Losing a file is the worst. But you can redo it.

What if they don’t want to redo it? What if they actually can’t? What if the word But shows zero empathy and connection, and sounds like a brush off in conversation?

If you find yourself on a date with a But-er, try to use And as much as possible. It very well might be a big old red flag – take note, and act accordingly.

Yes, And to your next first date! May it be full of fun, good food, and lots of wonderful conversation.

spoiler – probably always

Interpersonal communication is dicey enough the way it is – add in email and text communication (not to mention actually connecting with others on social media, and not just yelling into the void) and you have a recipe for a mini-disaster in miscommunication if you aren’t careful.

This article goes out to folks who have the choice to text, email or call. In some cases, text communication is the method of communication, and in those cases, that’s the best way. For folks that have the choice: this one is for you.

A quick primer: interpersonal communication refers to the sharing of information between two or more people. I hesitate to say that social media is interpersonal communication (it should be! You should be having conversations!) Texting definitely is. Here are three quick text tips that might seem obvious (but aren’t always!) for the next time you hit send:

Work Texts = Meh

I might be in the minority here, but I don’t care. If it’s outside of work hours, don’t text. If it’s inside of work hours, maybe – definitely stop to think, “Huh, do I need to text this or can I just talk to the other person?” If you don’t need to work text someone, don’t.

Why? Because that line of professionalism can move from “once in awhile texts when important” to “texting after 6 pm about work stuff that can definitely wait until the next day.” I’ve seen WAY too many clients tell me about folks they work with texting at all hours, things that are 100% not time-sensitive and could be an email. If it can be an email, let it be an email.

Before you hit me with “but we’re all friends here!” or “but we’re family!” stop. That’s toxic behavior. You’re not friends or family, you’re colleagues and coworkers. In improv, relationships are critical for conversations to be effective – same with interpersonal communication.

Don’t be the boss that texts when your employee is off work, and definitely don’t be the coworker that thinks that something can’t wait until the workday. If you’re not facing life or death or a fire, don’t text.

Emotional Texts = Call or In Person

The last one was more on the professional side of things, so to tap in the personal – if you’re finding that your text is so long it takes up the whole screen with emotion – don’t text. Call the person or meet them in person.

Improv conversations are built on four primary principles: who you are in relation to the person you’re talking to, where you are, what you want and what they want, and how you both feel – and if your feelings are limited to text and emoji/gif use only, you better believe you’re losing some of that emotion. Also: you probably don’t want someone to have the same feeling seeing your text as they would looking at the breakup email from their college boyfriend (ahem).

If you have a lot of emotion going into a text – and especially if it’s long – ask yourself why you’re texting and why you aren’t connecting with them in real life. (Or at least over the phone!)

Things on Fire = Don’t Text

Do you need something NOW or even YESTERDAY in the grand scheme of time? Do not text. Is there an actual emergency? Like something is currently on fire and you need assistance? If you can call and you truly need an answer as quickly as you think you do, call.

Repeat after me: you cannot control how someone responds to you – only how you respond to their response.

Next time you fire off a text, think about why you’re sending it and if it’s better suited to be an email, call or in-person conversation. Good luck!

Whenever I hear the word teenager I think of Sebastian from Little Mermaid chastising Ariel.

Getting teens to look up from their screens to have a conversation might be a daunting task, but trust me, it can be done. We work with students A LOT – whether it be a school program or an extracurricular group, and let me tell you – teens make conscious choices not to communicate sometimes.

When you’re working on teaching teens interpersonal communication skills, the chiding and chastising of a certain singing crab won’t work. Here are three quick tips to help you on your noble journey:

Practice having conversations

If you aren’t working on conversations, you’re going to get nowhere fast. Work on having those conversations with a teen – this means all of the great skills of listening, asking questions, talking about something that is interesting to both of you as well as knowing when to stop. Conversations have an expiration date, and too often we let it bleed out far too long – to the point it’s dead on arrival – especially with teens.

Try this next time: bring up a topic you both are interested in and have a short back and forth conversation. You’re not teaching in this moment, aside from leading by example. There’s no way to build empathy skills or any of the higher-level interpersonal skills that you might be seeking without some baseline conversation!

Model good listening

If you don’t listen, why should they? I see this all too often: people getting irritated at students for not listening, and yet, they aren’t listening when the student is talking! If you’re lucky enough, they might tell you that they can see you aren’t listening…but often, they just stop talking.

This isn’t just when you’re talking to them – this is when you’re having conversations with other people around those teens! If they see you paying attention and listening to the person you’re talking to, you’re setting a good example for them to follow. What if you’re not being listened to, or realize that you weren’t listening and they were around? Well…

Call out glows and grows

Be transparent and call yourself, and your teen in question, out. Call them out for good wins and things they need to work on – and be sure to bring up moments that you weren’t the best, or when you felt proud of your listening skills.

Glows and grows are labels we put on things in our classes – glows are things you’re doing well and grows are things that need improvement. By being aware of what you’re doing well and what needs additional work, you’re not only showing transparency for your teen, you’re showing them that yes, sometimes this whole “growth” thing can be hard, and no, we aren’t all perfect! By spending a little time leading by this example, you’re showing them that they too can learn from a culture of reflection – and chances are some of these tips might be hard for you too!

What do you think? What’s worked with your teen in question?

Why are improv people writing about texting? Improv doesn’t happen over text.

I still remember a game we played in my off-Broadway troupe. We would take two phones from audience members. We had to carry on a scene and conversation, but we could only use the texts on the two phones to communicate.

It was one of the funniest games we played, and when the audience trusted us to have their phones, we had the best time.

It worked because texting IS interpersonal communication. A reminder, interpersonal communication refers to the exchange of information between two or more people. While sometimes my texts with my friends or husband are made up of emojis or exclamations – I think it’s safe to say text conversations are interpersonal communication, and the next thing we’re going to suck at.

Or maybe what we already suck at.

Hear me out: we’re terrible listeners. It’s funny, whenever we teach a workshop, people are stunned how much paying attention to active listening changes the whole game. The better you listen, the better your communication is.

So how does this apply to text?

Well, when we’re texting, the problem that often comes up is the same as not listening: we aren’t reading and processing all of the information. The same issues come up: agenda orientated thinking, distracted attention, lack of presence. And why would we be present when we’re texting? It’s usually not time-sensitive (hopefully not!) and usually fairly casual (we’ll dive in NOT texting for work soon) so we zip in and out of conversations.

Here are three quick ways to level up your texting interpersonal communication skills:

  • Pay Attention to Tone
    Check-in! How do you feel? If you’re just zipping off a “fine” or “ok” – be present with how you feel when you’re firing off that tepid response. Are you fine or ok, or are you just being dismissive?While it’s hard to land on tone for text messages, it’s even worse with the fact that you can only control what you say and how you respond. Barring weird read receipt interpretation, you should take care with your tone and check-in with how you feel before responding.

    In improv, you need to know who you are, where you care, what you want and how you feel – and if you’re missing one, things might not feel quite right. How you feel? That comes out in your tone.

    Give yourself that extra moment to think about things before you respond, especially if it’s a semi-serious conversation over text. Once you’ve written your response, read it over to be sure it has the tone you want.

  • Emojis – your non-verbals
    I. love. emojis. Love them. I can’t tell you how often I’ve responded in just emojis and I’m 37.Think of emojis like your non-verbals: in spoken communication and conversation, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Tone ties in there, yes – so do non-verbals like how you’re standing, your gestures, eye contact, and proximity.

    Think of your emojis as your non-verbals. They add a little bit of spice, just like a gesture: for emphasis, for emotion, for that little something extra. Use them to your heart’s content.

    Bonus question: I’m curious if there is a correlation between people who use a lot of gestures and people that use a lot of emojis. I doubt someone is lining up to conduct that study, but when they do, I said it first!

  • Listening: reading
    Listening is the same as reading. We can space out and not hear everything: we can space out and not read everything. I can’t tell you how often I’ve gotten a little more than irritated when I text two questions or a two-part ask, and the person only responds to half of it. I can’t be alone with this: at the same time, I know I’m not alone when it comes to not being the best reader/listener with text messages.

Just like a conversation, respond to the questions being asked of you, not the question you think is being asked! Take a few extra moments to ask yourself: does this answer the question they are asking me? Yes? Ok, send. No? Ok, how can I answer the actual question?

If you’re going to take the time to have a conversation via text instead of sending memes or gifs, give it the time it deserves.

What tips do you have for text? Share them here and let us know!

Interpersonal communication is complicated and essential, and assertive communication is seen as the ‘best’ way to communicate. A few refreshers before we dive in:

Interpersonal communication is the exchange of information, feelings, and meaning. It could be face to face, and it could be over email. It is NOT talking at another person – it’s that exchange.

Assertive communication is one of four communication styles: passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive and assertive. Passive communicators generally avoid expressing their feelings and opinions and usually do not emphasize their needs. Aggressive communicators don’t care about others and seek to meet their needs first. Passive-aggressive communicators are passive on the surface, but often act out in anger. Assertive communicators hit the positive and negative, express feelings and also respect others. Sounds like it is the best way to communicate.

So how can you start being more assertive?

  1. First, figure out how you usually communicate. Do you find yourself identifying immediately with one of the previously listed styles? Do you get upset with yourself after conversations and interactions? Or do you find folks get upset with you? You might not be one type all the time: figure out what you are most of the time.

    Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re not an assertive communicator all the time.

  2. Second, work on your listening. I often feel like a broken record, going back to listening skills. And it’s true! So many of us aren’t the best listener we can be – and active listening solves a lot of problems. Keep eye contact, show that you’re listening by asking questions, nodding and not changing the subject.
  3. Third, look for moments of Yes, And when it comes to collaboration. One of the traits of assertive communicators is the ability to find the middle ground where both people are satisfied. Yes, And is all about affirming and elevating, so think about what that might look like in a conversation. Are you nudging a passive communicator to talk about their opinions, or maybe just negotiating a compromise with an aggressive communicator?
  4. Fourth, use Yes, And again to affirm emotions. Assertive communicators are aware of the emotions of the people they are in conversation with. If someone is upset, use Yes, And. If someone is upset, you can say, “Yes, I hear that you’re upset, and I would like to help.” You’re affirming how they feel and using an “I” statement to offer assistance.
  5. Finally, when you’re asking for something, be clear, concise and specific, and lead with the previously mentioned “I” statement. In improv, there is a game called “X-Word” where every sentence has to be X words long – and X is determined by the audience. The fewer words, the easier it gets, in my opinion, especially if you think of words as currency. Don’t waste your money! Be concise, use only the words you need and remember to use “I” when you can to own your feelings and opinions.

Any tips on assertive communication or questions? Let us know!

Are you ready? I’ve already had my first pumpkin drink (cold brew, because it’s still in the 90s here in North Carolina) and my first roasted squash. Two indicators that lead to fall, leaves, adventures – and holiday parties, dinners and family time.

Did I panic you yet?

Before you start chugging pumpkin spice lattes in prep of conversations with your Uncle Brad about politics, take a deep breath and keep reading. We’re digging into interpersonal communication skills just in time for the holidays so YOU have plenty of time to prep and practice.

What Is Interpersonal Communication?

If you’ve read my writing before, you’ll know that I’m quick to mention that improv is quite simply listening and responding to the world around you. Interpersonal communication is similar and requires listening and responding skills, which is why improv is a great lens to peer through when leveling up your capabilities. Simply put: interpersonal communication skills are skills needed to communicate verbally and nonverbally. Interpersonal communication is the exchange of information between two or more people.

It’s the interaction between people. You might be thinking, that…that’s all it is? Yup! So at this point today, you’ve probably interacted with a few people (or a lot, depending on your job and the day of the week!) These interactions probably went from fine and unmemorable to great to terrible – and everything in between.

Practice in improv is practice in interpersonal skills because you are exchanging information, sometimes off the wall information, with another person/other people.

So…just talking, yeah?
Sometimes I wish that interpersonal communication was just what we say and not how we said it.

Interpersonal communication encompasses verbal, non-verbal and written communication. It’s not just what you’re saying, it’s also how you say it – tone, cadence, emotional emphasis and how you are standing, making eye contact even your gestures all tell a story and contribute to what you’re saying.

Written communication falls under interpersonal communication: it’s a bit harder to check in with your tone on an email, yet we know the underlying snark in “per my last email” and can practically feel the enthusiasm in exclamation point land.

Think about the last conversation you had when the speaker was nervous or excited – how did you feel? Nervous or excited? We get the energy we put out. If you’re feeling apprehensive chatting with someone, chances are they also feel apprehensive around you!

We’re going to get into the ideas around reflection and checking in – take a moment now to think about how you stood when you had your last conversation. How about the tone of your voice, your cadence, if you were speaking in an assertive or a passive style? Where were your arms, did you make eye contact, how close (or far) were you to the person you were talking to? All of this matters!

Who cares?
We spend SO much time communicating. Between work, our home lives, social situations – chances are you communicate a lot. Misunderstanding often leads to conflict which leads to not-great-feels about how we communicate. This is what we hear A LOT of in our classes: everything from “I just don’t communicate well” to “I struggle with being myself” to “no one gets me” to “I’m being held back by my communication style.” And it’s true – especially the last one – if you don’t know how to communicate authentically as yourself, and well, you’re going to be held back. That’s not to say everyone is going to like you, or that you’ll be voted “Best Communicator Of The Year” in your office. You will find if you communicate in a clear and concise manner, you’ll have far more time (because you’re not dealing with misunderstandings) and you’ll have far fewer misunderstandings (and save that sweet, sweet time.)

How can I be more effective?
We are such big fans of going back to the basics when we’re building interpersonal skills, and it all revolves around one big idea: be present.

You cannot, I repeat, you cannot be an effective communicator when you’re thinking about three things from yesterday and four more for tomorrow. Ever see a terrible comedy show, or watch people not listen or pay attention to one another because they are so deadset on their agenda? Not effective communication.

Improv is so helpful in these situations because in real life you can spend a lot of time coasting along. We’ve all been in conversations where we know the other person is completely checked out. What did you do? Call them out, or just keep talking?

Generally, we just keep talking! I can’t tell you how many dinners and parties I’ve been to where I can tell the person I’m talking to isn’t paying a lick of attention to me, and I just keep talking.

In improv, you call them out.

Not in the moment! You can see it because it’s an exhibitionist activity. Generally, you have a group of people that are watching you communicate, and good classes should have reflection built-in: how did it go, what worked, what didn’t, what can we do better next time.

Being present is EXHAUSTING, so no worries if you feel tired just reading this. Here are a few situations you can work on your presence and attention – and keep in mind, you can’t control how someone else communicates, just how you respond to it!

Situation: Work function

We’ve all been there: work dinner or party, networking event or even a meeting. And you start thinking about everything else, except for the person in front of you talking…and you realize they are starting to notice and oh god, they are staring.

What do you do?

Well, first: try to pay attention when someone is talking to you. Work those active listening skills and skip the smile and nod that we default to. Take a moment to think of a question you can ask the speaker – maybe something that gets them to dig into what they are talking about a bit more or something you’re curious about. Try to make it an open-ended question: one that seeks for more information, versus a closed-ended question: one that can be answered with a yes or no.

Situation: Family dinner

You know the Biden-Bernie-Impeachment-Ukraine-Cougar-Harris conversation will happen. You know it. So what do you do when you’re having an argument that makes you want to cringe or leave or head right to your childhood room and hide?

Try to Yes, And a different opinion. Take a moment, and confirm what they said, affirm it, and add your opinion. For example:

Uncle Brad: This is all fake news!
You: Yes, Uncle Brad, you think this is all fake news, and I think asking another country to investigate an opponent is wrong. Let’s have more pie!

By affirming what the other person is saying and ADDING your opinion with an AND versus a BUT, you’re not only showing them that yes, you are listening, you’re also not interested in a fight. AND is the great equalizer: why not show that your opinions are equal? All the word BUT does is pit two opinions against one another and call in conflict. Remember: disagreements will happen, disrespect is optional.

Situation: First Date

Don’t go on first dates in the holiday season.

Kidding but not kidding! Everyone is a little stressed during this time of year, and hopefully, you’re not looking for a date for your work slash family party. If you ARE dating during this jolly time of year, use one of our favorites to warm up so you’re not tripping over your words: tongue twisters! Try saying these slow and be sure to over enunciate to warm up your mouth!

Red leather, yellow leather
Irish Wrist Watch
The lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue, the tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips.

Say these slowly and deliberately!

Start slow when you’re building interpersonal skills, and keep your eyes out here for more tips and tricks to get you to your potential!

This title is a bit of a lie: you can’t just quick fix your communication! It’s like training for a marathon if you just went out today at this moment and tried to run 26 miles, how would you feel? I would fall over. And…finish in a week? (Kidding but not!)

There are things you can do right now to improve your communication muscle – you’ll need to keep it up to truly make a difference, but even tiny stones make ripples in the water!

  1. Take a Breath

    Before you respond or speak, take a moment to take a breath. When we’re excited or passionate about something, we tend to speak very quickly and run out of air. Worse, when you’re speaking quickly, you sound nervous, even if you aren’t!

    Breathe. Before you start talking, when you’re talking at punctuation, throughout what you’re saying, after you’re done talking. Pearl Jam had it right, Just Breathe.

  2. Listen to the Last Word

    People love to answer a question or respond before someone is done talking. Why wait, right? If you know what they are going to say, might as well save time and just get to the point, right?


    Most of the time you not only look rude, you also miss what the person is going to say: maybe it’s the full question or the rest of the statement. Letting the other person finish talking isn’t just polite, it’s helpful to answering the question.

    This is a play on an improv game I love: listen for the last word of their statement and base your first word on that word. Basically: wait until they are done talking, use the first bit of advice to take a breath, and then respond.

  3. Ask a Question

    And not just to insert yourself.

    The best questions come from places of curiosity. When you ask one, you’re not only showing the person who is talking that you care about what they are saying (and you’re listening!) you’re adding to the conversation in a selfless way – which is something we should do more often.

    When we’re listening to another person – and showing it – and they can tell! – the area of their brain associated with cocaine, good sex, and good food light up. Those feel-good hormones are activated.

  4. Unclench Your Butt

    This one cracks everyone up – clench your butt and say hello. Now unclench your butt and say hello. Hear the difference?

    What happens here isn’t too hard to understand: when you’re tense, you sound tense. We get the energy we put out. When you talk to someone who feels tense, you’re going to also feel tense and that’s going to keep bouncing back and forth – and you’ll end up just not feeling great about the whole conversation.

    Think about how you want the other person to feel – probably not tense. Project that and get that back to you!

What did we miss? We love to add tips for quick wins! Or try these and see what happens – let us know!