Communication Skills

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!

According to LinkedIn Learning, communication skills are the number one skill gap across major cities in NYC. Here are three easy ways to start getting ahead of the curve:

  1. Listen more than you talk

    Too often we talk more than we listen, and unfortunately, we often spend more time thinking about what we’re going to say next versus listening! Do yourself and everyone you interact with a favor: spend more time listening than speaking.

    It’s stunning what you start to notice when you start listening more. People are constantly talking over one another, repeating what has just been said, adding to a point that is already dead and buried – all because so many people are agenda orientated, and believe that their opinion and thought is the most important in the room. Sometimes it is! A lot of the time, it isn’t. Aim to listen twice as much as you talk.

  2. And Instead of But

    When you’re having a conversation, avoid the word ‘But’ when you’re inserting your opinion. The word ‘But’ not only pits ideas against one another, it also elevates one over another. For example:

    I know you want pizza for dinner, but I want salad.

    You’ve elevated your own needs above the person you’re talking to.

    When you use the word ‘And’ you are linking the two together – you’re not agreeing with the other person: you’re simply weighing them the same.

    Try to substitute And for But whenever you can and see what happens!

  3. Mind Your Non Verbals

    Your body tells your story more than your words: 55% of understanding comes from body language! Take some time to make sure you’ve unclenched your butt, you’re not crossing your arms or legs, and you’re making clear eye contact.

Have your expectations not been met? Disappointed a lot? Maybe you aren’t managing or being clear with your expectations. This isn’t about unrealistic expectations – this is about being clear and concise regarding your expectations and communicating this information to the people that you are talking to or expecting things from. We can’t be expected to be mind readers! What ends up happening – miscommunications and errors because of a lack of clarity! Don’t just take our word for it – sit back, relax and let us know what you think!

We’re thinking about conversations in our video series – when they stall, what do you do? Start here!