Listening | as improvisers, as workspace colleagues

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Listening – As Improvisers, As Workspace Colleagues


From Vince Vaughn’s quote (above image) about listening when improvising –

  • unexpected information

  • staying true to your character, who you are

  • reacting honestly

  • discovering a different direction

– it is my observation (and experience) that these four things also happen to varying degrees in the workspace. In fact, here is Vaughn’s quote when replacing the words improvising with interacting in a workspace and scene with workspace 

The main thing about interacting in a workspace is listening so if something happens that wasn’t expected and you know your character, you know what has to happen in the workspace, you can react to that in a way that is honest and it might take you in a different direction to go the same place.
– Anthrocubeologist
(plagiarizing-ish from V. Vaughn)

About this post

As a follow-up to Feedback – As Improvisers, As Workspace Colleagues , for which listening is an important skill for receiving and giving feedback, this post presents –

As a specialty coach for An Improv Mindset in the Workspace, trained to help people change behaviors and easily develop habits, I understand how to translate improv practices and philosophies for use in a non-performance context – specifically, for the traditional workspace.

In a follow-up post, I will include an opportunity to be a habit detective for listening, e.g., observing, gathering information, speculating on other practices for listening. For now, consider the following for listening in the workspace.

Simply Listening, Listening Simply

One of the key practices of every improviser is listening. I shared in Feedback that workspace interactions are not too different from the relationship-based interactions between two improvisers performing a scene. Listening is not only important for performing improvisers but also for anyone involved in workspace interactions among peers, management, customers, community stakeholders, shareholders, and competitors.

As an improviser, I practice making the four choices in progression, while listening to my scene partner –

  • hear

  • understand

  • react

  • respond

Choosing to hear, then understand, then react, and then respond serves as the foundation for exercising one’s listening muscle. As an improviser, what I co-create in an on-stage, performance-based scene with my scene partner is contingent upon my listening skills.

Here is an improviser Paul Vaillancourt’s The Four Step Process – Improv Tip #3, which addresses how to listen better and listen with a purpose.

  • What did they say? What were the words – literally – that they said?

  • What do I think that means?

  • How do I think and feel about what they just said?

  • What am I going to say and do about that?

(This post is a stand-alone post specific to listening and separate from the two improv tips Vaillancourt references in his video – What They Just Said – Improv Tip #2 and Playing Paranoid #1.)

Listening with An Improv Mindset in the Workspace

Workspace interactions are not too different from the relationship-based interactions between two improvisers performing a scene. How does listening as an improviser – hear, understand, react, respond –  translate for those in the workspace? Consider this approach.

Did I hear (physically) what was said?

Hear. If not, be honest. You can say that you did not hear what was stated and that would like the person to repeat what was stated. In fact, how often do you ask (and care) to acknowledge what you heard?

Do I understand what I heard?

Understand. If not, take a breath, ask questions, and check-in. You can ask for clarifications. You can check-in to confirm your understanding, state what you understood, and if you would like, include your interpretation of what was stated. Likewise, how often do you ask (and care) to make sure you understood what was said, as well as what was intended to be heard?

What is my reaction – physically, emotionally, intellectually – to what I heard?

React. Be your own research scientist or detective. Start collecting data about yourself. Be self-aware. Do you have a physical tell, make a sound, start processing what you are going to say, check-out, or some other reaction or combination of reactions? Does your reaction change depending on the environment?

Subtext. Something to be aware of – subtext. In a performance context, subtext is the underlying meaning created by the speaker, whose manner of speaking may be conveying an additional meaning of what was spoken. In a non-performance context, such as the workspace, subtext also exists. (For this post, subtext is not addressed.)

Which communication option(s) will I use?

Respond. It is your turn to interact. Traditional approaches for responding include verbal responses, written responses (electronic, old school pen to paper), sign language responses, and in some cases (for whatever reasons) no responses. And for the first three approaches, the timing of responses can differ from choosing an on-the-spot, immediate response to choosing a response after some time has passed.

That said, how do people in your world listen to each other? What are your observations and experiences? As a non-improviser, I would love to know the following –

What qualities do you think make one person a better listener than another? Is listening a habit that you actively practice? If so, what practice(s) do you have? If not, what would you like to practice?

– – – –

I am gathering and sharing my thoughts as I evolve ANTHROCUBEOLOGY – INSPIRED by IMPROV, a CATALYST for WORKSPACE CULTURAL SHIFTS through TINY CHANGES.


Roomful | chicago, viewpoints, diversity naturally


Indeed. Thanks to Siyu, for being a friend, a creative force, and an accidental (and welcomed) muse. This is my *puffy heart* post to Siyu, as my idea continues to evolve and become clearer (at least to me).


I am currently in Chicago. I have been here for a week. I will be in Chicago through early August as part of an improv intensive. I have SO MANY IDEAS evolving, particularly around what I am now speaking of – colorized improv. The intensive is inspiring.

Section 4_iOWhy is the intensive inspiring? I am taking part in the iO Five-Week Summer Intensive through early August 2015 (which means 5-weeks of improv classes, 4-days per week, optional workshops, improv jams, and a variety of shows to watch – on top of also being a tourist). For those that know about this program, my Level 1 (week 1) instructor was Todd Edwards. (Level 1 is described as follows: This class teaches the basics of the iO style of improvisation, patterns, theory, connections, and iO’s philosophy on long-form improvisation.)

Overall, there are more than 140 people in the intensive. From San Francisco, there are ten people, who are part of the Endgames Improv community. Among my sixteen classmates (aka Section 4), we enjoy a variety of backgrounds, e.g., nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, age, lifestyle, education, profession, etc. During our first week, many of us have spent at least 5 hours a day with each other during class time. When adding in the time for eating meals, watching shows, and jamming, this time can easily double.


With regards to my Section 4 iO classmates, needless to say, I am fortunate to be among many viewpoints – shared and disparate. And this reminded me of my initial idea of bi-cultural improv. As a reminder, toward the end of my blog post Colorize | who you and me be, I mentioned about an idea I had earlier this year. I called it bi-cultural improv. My initial idea was to have a troupe with members who are at least bi-cultural and who may choose characters and environments inspired by one’s bi-cultural upbringing.

Colorized Improv

As I re-read the description of bi-cultural improv from several weeks ago, I realize I poorly described my idea. Yes, having bi-cultural improvisors play together is one goal. No, it was not my intent to exclude non-bi-cultural players. Therefore, to more accurately describe my idea, I am now calling it colorized improv, inspired by Jeff Chang.

Colorized Improv is where improvisors can, should, and will be mindful that improv is a form of creative expression – among players and for an audience. As part of colorized improv, each of us intelligently creates characters, environments, and scenes that take care of one’s self and of each other. Each person starts from one’s own understanding of being one’s self and of expressing emotions and behaviors that are personally familiar.

To the extent that there are improvisors that draw from their bi-cultural experience, wonderful. I know for me that the book Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews in the San Francisco Bay Areaauthored by Oliver Wang, speaks closely to my growing up Filipino-American in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1970s and 1980s. To the extent that there are improvisors that draw from personal experience, wonderful.

Diversity Naturally

It is Sunday. Week 2 of my iO summer intensive begins tomorrow, Monday morning. Most of my first week has been spent settling in, socializing, and stealing a few bits of Shirley-time (like now). As I re-read Siyu’s quote this morning after my first week at the iO intensive, my loving nickname for my iO experience is Diversity Naturally. Thanks to Todd Edwards for reminding all of us in our section –

Being yourself through your emotions is all you need.


What do you think of when you hear Colorized Improv?

Busy | choose your time spent

 “Let’s not make busy get in the way.”

3_lights up 3

Because I like the prospect of connecting with people, this quote (or like-kind) has been part of my closing in an email or a voice mail I leave with a friend(s), a response to a text message about getting together, and/or my two cents when friends are “trying” to schedule a time to meet.

The intent?

Let’s meet.

Wait. You’re what?

Busy. Really?

Remember the New  York Times Opinionator, The “Busy” Trap? I do, because when it came out, I remember it was all the buzz among my friends. While I didn’t wholly agree with the NYT opinion, I understood the perspective. Shortly after the NYT article, there was a Wall Street Journal blog post – Busy: A Four Letter Word. The WSJ author’s perspective included the following –

Talking about how busy you are is idle banter about one intimacy grade above talking about the weather, and probably less useful. But it’s also a convenient, non-personal topic that everyone can relate to, a sort of verbal tic that people can spew when they’re bored, tired, or not interested in telling the truth about how it is really going. Because, when it’s not going well, “busy” is beautifully unassailable.

While I am more inclined to behave in a way like the NYT article (e.g., my way of creating space and idleness), I am totally on board with the WSJ perspective. I get it. I totally get it!

Keeping busy, am I?

Several weeks ago, someone asked me if I was keeping busy. For whatever reason, I had a flashback to a couple of years ago – when I read the NYT and WSJ articles. My answer to the question was something like “If by busy you mean doing stuff I like and stuff I have to do, yes, I am keeping busy.” And since then, I have revisited my relationship – busy + me.

So here are two things that have surfaced as part of revisiting busy + me  – using the word busy and  choosing your 168 hours in a week.

What if you stopped saying “busy”?

I came across this Washington Post article  – Six reasons you’d be happier if you stopped saying “busy”, republished from Fulfillment Daily. (Below, I list the references included in the Post’s article.)

This article reminded me of times I have been on the receiving end (and a few times on the giving end) of these six reasons.

1. It keeps you from being present.
2. It disconnects you from other people.
3. It is a choice.
4. It is a cover-up.
5. Busy is not a feeling.
6. It can easily be re-framed.

Self-awareness and clarity

Self-awareness and clarity about what brings me joy and about my priorities are helpful. The “why” of what I do is already answered. This helps me decide how I spend my time – with whom, where, because, and what.

The author closes with the following –

“Before trying to figure out which responsibilities you should cut out of your life, try removing this one word from your daily conversations.  It just may happen that life starts to seem a little less hectic.”

Everyone has 168 hours in a week.

Several years ago, I read Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: The Blank Slate of Time from her ChangeThis  manifesto. (I also read her book.) In short, everyone has 168 hours per week. However, many times, people opine about not having enough time. Vanderkam suggests at least first attending to time spent for one’s career, family, and personal life.

But that raises the question: if we have so many hours, why do we feel so starved for time?

I think the answer is that most of us aren’t very strategic about our hours. We tend to live life as it comes at us, which in our distracted world happens very fast. We don’t think about how we want to spend our time, and so we spend massive amounts of time on things—television, Web surfing, random conference calls or meetings, housework, errands—that give a slight amount of pleasure or feeling of accomplishment, but do little for our careers, our families, or our personal lives.

As part of Vanderkam’s approach, she recommends keeping a time log first to understand how one spends time.

But what if we approached time differently? What if we viewed our 168 hours as a choice? What if we filled in the things that mattered most—personally and professionally—first?

From this exercise, one can spend time contributing (or not contributing) to what matters most – one can discover changes to make.

So whenever you find yourself saying “I don’t have time to do X, Y, Z,” try changing your language. Instead, say “I don’t do X, Y, and Z because it’s not a priority.”

Vanderkam closes her manifesto as follows:

When you say “I don’t have time,” this puts the responsibility on someone else: a boss, a client, your family, capitalism, society. The power slips out of your hands. “It’s not a priority,” turns those 168 hours back into a blank slate, to be filled as you choose with the things you decide matter.

I remember while reading 168 hours, I became more mindful about busy + me. And I became more tuned-in when others expressed about the busyness of life. I believe them, and I believe they are busy.

So what if creating a blank slate means also coming to terms with the six reasons of being busy? Maybe it’s something to try – if even for a week. You know, for the next 168 hours.

And of course, from this, there are tiny habits and small shifts that can redefine one’s relationship with busy.

Which of the six reasons have you used, if any, in the past 3 months? How are you spending your 168 hours each week? When do you want to meet up to share being “busy”?

REFERENCES in the Washington Post article: