One Word Suggestion: Listening — Part 2

Welcome to One Word Suggestion.

For those of you who don’t already know, every week I take one word, suggested by you, and use it as a leaping off point to explore the benefits of improv as they relate to life on and off the stage.

If you’ve been following along, then you know I already did one of these on listening, but I think it’s such an important and overlooked skill, and because it keeps getting suggested, most recently, by Asha, I decided to run with it again.

If you missed it, you can check out Part 1 in episode three.

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In his book “Never Split the Difference” former FBI negotiator Chris Voss says something like “Negotiation begins with the simple premise that all humans want to be accepted and understood. Choosing to be an active listener is the simplest, yet most effective concession we can make to get there. By being active listeners, we demonstrate empathy and show a sincere desire to better understand what the other side would possibly experience.”

But you don’t have to be hostage negotiator to benefit from active listening. Just by being a better than average listener people will like you a lot more. And I know this from experience.

A few years ago I was flying from New York to LA the day after a friend’s bachelor party, or as we say in Australia, a bucks night. I was massively hungover and my only mission that morning was to get to the airport, get on the plane and get to sleep.

So there I am, seatbelt fastened, about to settle in for some shuteye when Mr Talker plops down into the seat next to me. You know exactly who I’m talking about.

This guy wanted to chat as much as I wanted to sleep. Thing is, in my semi-sober state I didn’t have the presence of mind to just tell him, “Sorry mate, I’d love to chat, but I really need to close my eyes for a bit.”

So instead I just let him talk at me. I may have mumbled the occasional “hmm,” “oh,” or “huh” along the way, but mostly I just listened — for all 6 hours of the flight.

Finally, we land in LA and he starts shaking my hand, gives me his business card, tells me how much he enjoyed our chat, and by the way he has a daughter my age, come to dinner some time.

I never met his daughter, but I did learn that listening is the simplest gift you can give someone. Even if it’s not always easy. And by inadvertently giving him that gift, he liked me for it. A lot.

If you want to be more than just a passive listener like I was on that plane ride, then you need to practice being an active listener.

This means using more than just your ears. It means facing the person you’re listening to, using body language and posture, eye contact, all with an intention to understand.

It may sound easy, but it takes practice. And improv training is a great place to get it.

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One question we often get asked is, if being a good listener means not interrupting someone, how can I make sure I get my points across?

One of the little tricks I use is to always have a pen and paper handy. And just take notes as you listen to the other person speak.

You’ll find that one of two things usually happens: They make the points you would have otherwise interrupted to make, and they feel good because they were heard and respected.

Or, they run out of steam and feel good because they were heard and respected, and then you can say something like

“thanks for sharing all your thoughts, I have a few things I’d like to add as well…”

and then start in on your list.

So that’s my hot tip and my take on Listening… Part 2. Thanks to Asha — and everyone else who kept suggesting it.

If you want to suggest a word for next week, or add your perspective, drop me a note in the comments or better yet, write a review and include your word there.

I’m making one of these every week, for a year, so definitely subscribe, like, share, and all that jazz.

Or better yet, listen to the podcast.

And in the meantime, if you’re interested in improv for personal growth, professional achievement, or just for fun, my suggestion is to get yourself into an improv class or book a corporate training workshop for your team.

You can learn all about LMA’s programs at

Eran Thomson is the Founder of Zuper Superannuation, Laugh-Masters Academy, LMA Professional Development, Comedy & Co, and the Australian Improv Festival.

The One Word Suggestion podcast with Eran Thomson

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