Communication is a game of catch

May 30, 2018By Views


By Dave Wendland, as seen in HealthCare Distributor magazine, “Out of the Box” column, March/April 2018

One of the lessons (and there are many) from my days as a member of an improvisational comic troupe that continues to have tremendous value in everyday conversation centers on the true art of communication. The experience taught me the importance of listening closely and adding value during the exchange.

Recently, I was reminded of what has now become an innate skill as one of my industry peers described, effective communication as a game of catch. In other words, the responsibility of a thoughtful and constructive dialogue is the ability to pass the ball back and forth with each participant having responsibility in its creation, direction, and outcome.

I remember fondly the number of days my father, brother, and I would stand in an awkwardly-shaped triangle and pass a football from one person to the next. What generally started as a predictable, counterclockwise rotation soon be-came a randomly arranged series of throws and catches each becoming increasingly complex, resulting in dropped balls and recoveries.

In group improv comedy, it’s no different. Listening is essential. You need to not only understand where the dialogue has been originated, but also where it is headed and how you will build on your fellow comic’s previous thought. Predictability is out the window while performing an improvisational scene.

Not dissimilar to tossing the football with my father and brother, ongoing dialogue can become more and more complex (and oftentimes strange) resulting in dropped exchanges and masterful recoveries. My guess is the next time you watch an improvisational troupe performing a Shakespearean scene about waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, you’ll think back to this article and recall the importance of listening and anticipating who may throw out the next line.

Listening, however, is only one part of the equation. There is another equally important element — adding value. For those who may have taken an improv workshop and/or who may have had the privilege of performing on stage, you will recall how “but” is a conversation stopper. (I always remember this by thinking that the butt is the end!)

Have you been in a conversation or presented an idea in which the individual you were speaking with responded by beginning his/her sentence with the word “but?” In improvisation we are taught that no follow-on sentence should ever start that way. Instead, consider “and.” The word “and” builds on the prior comment and is a positive conjunction which alerts the others in the conversation to listen because you are about to add value to the conversation. Whereas “but” will put an end to it.

Applying this approach in everyday situations requires discipline. Begin to pay attention how many times great ideas are shot down or conversations end because someone ends it with a “but” sentence. The next time someone shares an idea with you, open up your imagination and begin the next sentence by beginning with the word “and.”

Here’s a real-life scenario to help drive this concept home:

Person 1: I think we can promote the idea of recycling by illustrating how the absence of it results in damage to our water-ways.

Person 2: But, that’s been tried before and nobody listened. End of conversation. Now, imagine changing the outcome. Person 1: I think we can promote the idea of recycling by illustrating how the absence of it results in damage to our waterways.

Person 2: And we could enhance the concept with some well-done videography.

Person 1: That will allow the audience to have a visual to go with the statistics.

Person 2: Plus, it will leave a lasting impression more relatable to the subject.

Think about communication as a game of catch. If you want to promote a dialogue, then you must toss the ball back to the other person and avoid putting an end to it with a “but.”