MARY HARRIS: This is Only Human from WNYC. I’m Mary Harris. And, alright everyone, it’s our final day: Day 5 of Listen Up! Only Human’s week-long quest to make you a better listener. So far we’ve worked on remembering names, reading body language, listening with empathy.
And today, for our last challenge, Amanda Aronczyk is here to tie all of our new skills together with a big ol’ bow.
AMANDA ARONCZYK: Mary. I just want you to know that I see you. I hear you. And I am listening with all my heart and soul.
MH: I’m kind of finding it hard to believe...
AA: No, really, I really am. Or at least I’m trying very hard. And I will say as an aside that since we started doing this project the entire staff of Only Human have been stopping, looking each other in the eyes and really, truly, deeply listening and trying to not cut each other off and the end of their sentences which is... how I usually like to roll.
MH: (laughs) Me too actually. We kinda needed this thing.
AA: I know! So this challenge is going to help you in conversations, and it comes from the world of improv comedy. And the idea is that if improv comedians are working on a scene together, they have to really listen to each other. Otherwise one person is pretending that they’re an astronaut on the moon, and the other person is pretending that they’re a snowman.
MH: This skit sounds great, but it would be total chaos.
AA: It would be chaos. So to learn from the masters, I went to the Upright Citizens Brigade. And you might know that place, that’s the one that Amy Poehler started a bunch of years ago with her friends...
MH: Yeah, UCB.
AA: UCB, and they have training centers in LA and in New York, and I went to one of the training centers to meet with Molly Lloyd. She is a performer and she is a teacher there too. And then she pulled in a guy by the name of Achilles Stamatelaky, who is a writer for Broad City, which is one of those Comedy Central shows, which is very funny.
MH: Yeah I love Broad City.
AA: Yeah. So Achilles was going to be my improv buddy, and Molly’s kind of like our coach and our judge. So we’re sitting in an empty room and Achilles and I are both seated in chairs facing each other, and then Molly sets up the exercise for us.
MOLLY LLOYD: The only rule about this conversation is that the second line, and every line after that, has to start with the word “No.” Cool? So you guys are planning a prom.
ACHILLES STAMATELAKY: Okay.
AS: I can start?
AS: Um - I think we should decide on a theme.
AA: No, I think that’s not a great idea, I think we should decide on some music.
AS: No you can’t start with the music first, unless you decide on a theme, then you don’t know what music to play.
AA: No but I care more about music than I can about themes. And I really like music, so I want to start with music.
AS: No, proms aren’t about music. It’s about… what are the people doing in this space. But music is just one part of the prom.
AA: No, I think the prom is more about young love?
AS: No. I don’t think it is about young love, because how many people stay with their high school sweetheart..?
AA: No... some people stay with their high school sweethearts.
ML: Okay (laughs) That was really funny, guys. How did the prom planning go?
AA: Not very well - he was really difficult!
AS: You were really difficult!
AA: You were difficult!
ML: It’s hard to get anything going - it doesn’t really feel like the other person was listening. I was tense watching this conversation. Right? Because I was like gosh, they’re not taking each other in and honoring each other’s suggestions.
MH: Yeah okay, that sounded like every conversation I have my 6-year old son.
AA: I know, sometimes kids are like that.
MH: How did it feel in there?
AA: It was genuinely a little bit tense. Like Achilles was a very nice guy, obviously, but if you’re just going to shut everything down in a conversation it can feel kind of lousy.
AA: So we did the “no” conversation and the next challenge that Molly had for us was a little bit different.
ML: Now you can start with the word yes, but it has to be followed by the word “but.” Yes, but. Okay? So you guys are planning... a party. You guys are throwing a party together.
AS: Ahem. I think we should make a list of people we want to invite to the party.
AA: Yes, but I think we should also let people who show up just show up.
AS: Yes, but we also want to make sure people who come to our party are people we want to be there. Who will be fun.
AA: Yes, but people who are really fun don’t like to commit in advance.
AS: Yes, but, maybe we want those people who are willing to commit to a party.
AA: Yes, but maybe your party is going to be lame. (laughs)
ML: How did that go compared to the NO conversations?
AA: I just felt like I was kind of being a jerk.
AS: We both were. We both were.
AA: No, you were being nicer, though because I felt like you were a little more open to plan a party.
AS: Yes, but I was still saying but.
ML: It was a gentle way of saying no. I think you were gently saying no to each other. But it’s a politer way to do it, isn’t it? I mislead you with that yes, haha I tricked you, I fooled you. Because really I’m going to continue to force my agenda and my plan on you.
MH: So Molly kind of gave you like a master class in being passive aggressive.
AA: Yes, but I already knew how to be passive aggressive, so it wasn’t that hard.
MH: It’s feeling tense in here.
AA: Yes, but…. it’s because you’re making it tense, not me.
MH: Yes, but… what did you do next?
AA: Well, yes, we tried to make it less tense, and less passive aggressive, so Molly had one more exercise to try...
ML: This time the second line and every line after that is going to start with the words “Yes, and.” Cool? This time what do you want to plan? Talent show! You guys are planning the town talent show. (gasp) You guys!
AS: I think we should hold the talent show at the local community theater.
AA: Yes! And maybe we should have a lot of balloons?
AS: Yes. And having a lot of balloons is very festive so we should also add a lot of streamers.
AA: Yeah and that’s a great idea. And I guess if it’s a talent show there probably should be a band?
AS: Yes, and we should allow people to dance.
AA: Yeah, and maybe people will dance on stage?
AS: Yeah, I think people will dance on stage. And we should give prizes to people who are the best dancers!
AA: Yeah, and the prizes should be really big.
AS: Yeah, it should be a big trophy!
AA: Yeah, it should be lots of big trophies!
ML: (laughs) I’m going to end you there.
AA: Is that better?
ML: Did that feel better to you?
AA: It felt more fun.
ML: Oh my God - and can I tell you, your faces were so different, like how different were your body languages and your faces - it was just fun and the great part about “yes, and-ing” is, you can always go back and make adjustments later, you know what I mean? But when you’re building on each other’s ideas, you just never know to what heights you may rise, you know?
AA: And that did feel totally great.
MH: I feel like happier and lighter just listening to you.
AA: Were you going to come to our talent show?
MH: Kind of! There was going to be so much stuff — balloons, streamers, trophies — I want to win, it sounds great!
AA: To me this was the problem with the “yes and” conversation, it’s like how do you now escalate it? If you just said “yes” all the time, where will that lead?
AA: If I was to use this in my life, and head out and “yes, and” my conversations, like, we would not go to work today, we’d all just go smoke some weed and like disappear and go down to Coney Island, and like just blow everything off, right? Like we would just elevate to something that was not a good idea.
ML & AS: Yeah.
ML: Try to develop the muscle of “yes and-ing” and use it, when it’s, almost all the time when it’s appropriate, right? So Yes, And-ing is more a concept of life, and being open and free of judgment. Build that muscle. And then use your gut. If you don’t want to smoke weed with us later, just let us know, we’re not going to take it personally. But like use your gut instinct, of course.
AA: The time and place for this, as far as I could understand it, was when you’re collaborating with someone, right? It’s like when you’re trying to make something.
AA: So if you and I were to, say, for example be making a podcast or like coming up with story ideas...
MH: Just hypothetically…
AA: Just hypothetically. This would be a good time to use it, but it’s not something you can use in every situation.
MH: Right. But I think it’s also a kind of state of mind, like to just go in and be open. Like I felt how much more open the conversation was between you guys, and it made me feel lighter. I feel like part of it is just getting to that place, in your little heart.
AA: Mary, do you want to try this with me?
AA: Okay, I’m going to start, I’m going to set the scenario. Okay, are you ready?
AA: So I really think that I should be allowed to do a reporting project on spas...
MH: Yes, and I think that maybe I should go with you.
(Door opens, feet running, airplane takes off)
MH: A big Thank You to Molly Lloyd and Achilles Stamatelaky from UCB for showing us what to do today. Now we want you to do this too - first have a “no” conversation, then a “yes, but” conversation. Finally, a “yes, and” conversation.
And remember — the point of this exercise is to to notice how the different responses make you feel... And to make yourself open to other people’s ideas. Everybody has something to offer, and “yes, and-ing" reinforces that.
Like I said at the top, this is our 5th and last challenge. If you've taken them all day by day — how has it worked for you? Are you thinking about listening a little differently than you did at the start?
Give us a call this weekend and let us know, and maybe we’ll use your story in our next episode. You can leave a message for us at (803) 820-WNYC. Or you can send a voice memo to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to share our challenges ... or if you missed some of the exercises and you'd like to go back and check them out ... go to onlyhuman.org/listenup.