GUEST POST BY JEN BROWN (OLENICZAK)
How are you?
(Insert benign answer like "fine," then your turn to ask me how I’m doing; I’ll answer and the conversation moves on.)
Now we’ve gotten THAT out of the way, how are you really?
I know people lie in response to that question. I’ve lied in response to that question TODAY while writing this! While we aren’t a society of sociopaths going around lying to everyone about everything, we are a society of people that either a) get caught up in our agendas and don’t really hear that question when it’s asked or b) don’t tell people how we really feel because it’s easier to be disconnected from how we really feel.
Through coaching and teaching with my company, I find that both are true in most individuals.
We are so focused on the ‘what next’ that we forget to spend time in the moment. Even when we are present in the moment, we aren’t completely aware of how we really feel in that moment. We’ve spent so much time on autopilot or driven by ideas of success and failure we forget so much of it starts in the here and now.
When I’m coaching, I work with people to focus on an improv mindset. This isn’t a person standing in a dark comedy club hurling insults at a room full of strangers. Improv is all about paying attention to the moment in front of you and reacting and responding to that moment. So how can we use an improv mindset to develop a self- awareness of the moment and truly answer that question, "How are you?"
Check In – A lot.
Ask yourself those three little words. How are you? Do it often and answer honestly. In the morning when you get up, ask yourself how you are feeling – after a stressful work moment, check in. Consciously note how happy you are after a cookie or fun text. Take time, take a breath and check in with yourself a few times a day, and especially when you are feeling a high-energy emotion. In improv, you need to know who you are, where you are, what you want and how you feel about a situation in order for action to move forward. In life, you need all of those things just as much! If you are feeling a little lost, you’re probably missing one of those four things that drive communication forward.
Aside from checking in on yourself, think about how you are answering that question to other people. Are there certain people you are honest with? Does everyone get a canned answer? Do you always say "fine" and treat the question like some throwaway filler? Pay attention to how you connect with that question as well as the people who ask.
Activate Your Listening
I mentioned earlier, improv is all about listening and responding. Do you know how to really listen? It’s a lot different than hearing. My favorite example of this is much like that, "How are you/fine how are you/fine how are you?" moment that shows how little the other person is responding just to respond, they aren’t listening.
Active listening involves paying attention to the person in front of you. When someone is talking, listen for a point or two that you consciously note, and think of a question that will elicit more detail.
Active listening is also about listening to yourself, and being consciously aware of how you are connecting with conversations. Are you paying attention when someone asks, "How are you?" Sure, they might just be asking because they think they have to – they might also be asking because they really care. When you ask them, "How are you?" show that you care too, and listen.
Figure Out Your Why
While you are checking in with yourself and how you respond to people when they ask, "How are you?" make some observations on types of responses. Do you respond with a canned answer to your coworkers and your professional acquaintances? Do you tell your friends or a date or family the same "fine" response when asked?
Now is a good time to say I understand that we have to maintain some professionalism and decorum when asking and answering questions at work with colleagues. I’m not saying we should confess how upset we are because we didn’t get a promotion, or how disheartened we are with the state of the country.
The key to all of this is awareness and presence in the moment.
If you are just answering "fine" to everyone in response to that question, why bother asking them how they are in return? Those three words become just as much filler as "um, ah, like" – all disfluencies used to fill a silence.
This isn’t a ploy to get rid of the nicety we all use and throw around with reckless abandon. This is a call to make moments count: if you are asking someone a question, you should care about the answer.
Or don’t ask. In improv-based thinking, every bit of information from another person is a gift. You take it, remember it, and use it later. If you are paying attention to others, and why you respond the way you do to individuals and groups of individuals, you are that much more in tune with the world around you. This isn’t just why you respond the way you do – it’s why you care.
Be Honest With Yo’ Self
I can’t express this enough. Be honest with yourself. Even if you aren’t honest with others, be honest with your own reality. In improv, anything can happen – whatever does happen is reality for those brief moments. If you are checking in and you realize that you don’t care how people are doing, you ask the question just to ask, embrace that. If you truly do care and realize that you’ve been checked out for whatever reason, embrace that. If you realize that you just say fine and you feel like you are dying inside, embrace that. Be comfortable with yourself and where you are right now.
Now here’s the tough part – if you want to change, start that. In improv-based thinking, it’s all about show, don’t tell. Don’t just talk about being checked in and connected, or lament on how you aren’t.
Take steps to check in, pay attention to what’s happening around you and really listen, figure out your why and be honest with yourself.
SO! HOW ARE YOU?
JEN BROWN (OLENICZAK) is the Founder and Artistic Director of The Engaging Educator. Through EE, her pedagogical approach of Improv as Continuing Education has reached over 25,000 people – all non-actors!
Since 2012, Jen has given three TEDx Talks on the power of Improv, grown EE to three locations in NYC, Winston-Salem, NC and LA, and recently began The Engaging Educator Foundation, a 501(c)(3) which offers free and low-cost Improv workshops for educators, at-risk adults, teens and students on the Autism Spectrum. More information on The Engaging Educator can be found at www.theengagingeducator.com, on Twitter at @TheEngagingEd or on YouTube.