Improvisational listening

Rule number one of improvisation: Don’t Deny

Denial is the number one reason most scenes go bad. Any time you refuse an Offer made by your partner your scene will almost instantly come to a grinding halt.

Example: Player A: “Hi, my name is Jim. Welcome to my store.” Player B: “This isn’t a store, it’s an airplane. And you’re not Jim, you’re an antelope.”

Good listeners go with not against

It’s taken me years to realize I’m an adversarial listener. I like to challenge ideas and offer alternatives. In improvisational terms, I frequently go to the “beach” when I should stay in the “store.”  Taking store-conversations to the beach rejects the speaker and steals the topic.

Don’t misunderstand, there’s a place to challenge or offer alternatives. My suggestion, go with the speaker until they feel you’ve really listened. Once you’ve “gone with a speaker,” you’ve earned the right to speak.

I think most people seldom if ever feel they’ve been truly heard. I believe one of your greatest powers is the power to affirm another through listening.

The talking stick

I read about ancient Native American cultures that had talking sticks. While a speaker holds the talking stick, listeners are not permitted to speak (so much for active listening). The talking stick protects the speaker. Once a speaker fully states their point, they hand the talking stick to another.

Thoreau wisely said, “It takes two to speak the truth — one to speak and another to hear.”

There’s something comforting about holding the right to state your point without fear of interruption. Listening is a gift that affirms and lifts others.


I recently wrote on listening, “Withhold I, say you.” As you can tell it’s still on my mind.

Can you think of a time when someone really listened to you? What did they do? What were they like?