Three Questions to Help You Become a More Effective Communicator

What do you call an improviser without a voice?

No, this isn’t the set-up to a joke. And yes, there is a real answer to be found. You see, for the past two weeks, I’ve been asking myself this very question. Struck with a long-winded bug and a bout of laryngitis for the holiday season, I found myself in countless situations where all I needed was a voice.

There were days when I went to the dental clinic, attempting to provide pre-op and post-op information for tooth extractions without using any words. And when I approached my patients with a needle, all I could do was smile through a mask, having no words to dictate the scenario.

 

There were afternoons when I climbed into a cab, wanting to say ‘hi’ to the smiling driver. All I could do, though, was point to my throat, and mouth the absence of words. The rest of the ride was in complete silence.

 

And, as the opening line suggests, there were even evenings when I jumped on the improv stage, wanting to contribute dialogue to a scene, but finding myself able to do little more than interact with my body and face.

The transition to silence was a challenge, to say the least.

Because words fill the emptiness of a moment. Or they beautifully frame a memory. They gloss over the emotions of a situation. Or they embrace the feelings in the room. They distance two people with the vacancy of meaning. Or they create a connection only possible through story. Words are a part of life, a part of connection as so many of us know it. And to be without words suddenly is striking.

 

  • When I had something to say, I had to ask myself, ‘Is this worth the effort?’

 

  • When I had something to contribute, I had to wonder, ‘Is there another way to communicate the same meaning?’

 

  • When I wanted to connect, I had to explore why words had to be the only way to do so. What about a smile? What about a nod? What about a simple moment of rare and impactful eye contact?

 

I wouldn’t recommend catching a bug that lasts over two weeks and takes your voice for more than half that time, but I would recommend trying something new: silence. You can use words, of course. When I can talk again, there is so much I’ll have to say, so many comeback lines I had to hold in as the world found joy in laryngitis (there is joy everywhere!).

 

But if, before speaking, we all ask ourselves those same questions I have had to ask myself recently – is this statement worth the effort, is there another way to communicate, is there a stronger way to connect than with words – we can all discover something truly empowering: in silence, we grow more effective. This is true in improv; it’s true in friendship; it’s even true in business. Though, my patients getting extractions through my laryngitis may argue dentistry is the exception to this golden rule.

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As an improviser stepping on stage without a voice, I had nothing to say. So I had to listen. And when it came my time to respond, I couldn’t just offer a quip and move along. That would be far too easy. Instead, I had to search for the substance of my thought, and I had to use everything I had, every creative neuron in my brain, to express just that substance. Nothing more, and nothing less.

And the scenes moved forward as though nothing was lost.

 

© 2017 Mirissa D. Price: A Dental Student, A Writer, A Journey to Share.

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Just LOLA [Laugh Out Loud Already!]

Improv comedy has nothing to do with being funny.  No joke!  In fact, if you try to be funny, chances are you’ll fail.  Really, improv is about welcoming the moment.  In this instant, in this context, how can we find humor?  In this scene, in this story, where can we spread joy?  If we are really listening, there is always joy.

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Improv is about noticing what is around us and choosing to see it in a way that lifts our spirits (and the spirits of our audience members).  And in no way is this philosophy limited to the stage!

Notice the world around you.  Take it in.  And now, as if out of nowhere, start laughing.  Hysterically!  Start chuckling and belly-jiggling.  Start smiling as though your favorite comedian took center-stage.  I’ll join in!

And observe.  Was there actual humor in the moment?  A joke that came to mind or a story you recalled?  Perhaps you were laughing at me telling you to laugh at nothing.  Maybe you found humor in the fact that you actually listened to this crazy advice, or you rejoiced in the juxtaposition of your laughter with absolute silence.

Whatever the reason, keep laughing.  Keep smiling.  And you will never see that room or that moment without joy again.

© 2017 Mirissa D. Price: A Dental Student, A Writer, A Journey to Share.

Just one realization could change your life.

Let’s try something new…

Let go

of your worries and fears. For just this moment. Let go of your to-do lists and your experience of chaos. Let go of that feeling that you are so tired and life is so busy. Simply choose, right now, for a moment, to let go, and take a deep breath. Simply choose, for a moment, to be still.

And allow the moment to pass.

Now, don’t jump straight back to the tension you carry. I know, your boss/teacher/child/neighbor isn’t going to let go of his/her request. Your landlord and electricity company aren’t about to let go of their owed pay. The world isn’t going to stop because you need a break.

Except, think back to the last moment: it just did.

In the moment you chose to be still and feel free, the world stopped. In the moment you chose to take a deep inhale, the demands paused and waited for you. Nobody felt slighted. None of your obligations ballooned into insurmountable tasks. In that moment of silence, nothing bad happened.

You just were, and the world simply waited.

And doesn’t it feel nice

to know that you are in control – of how you feel, of how you respond, of the tension you carry? Doesn’t it feel freeing to realize that you are empowered by the simplicity of your breath?

Today, the Jewish people are eating in a Sukkah, a three-walled ‘shack,’ if you will, lined with a roofing of palm branches. As one of three pilgrimage festivals in the Jewish faith, Sukkot reinforces the simplicity of eating, the temporary in life. Our shelters can blow away. Our food is simply what grows in the field. In the Sukkah, we are separated from the material possessions of the modern world, and brought back to a zeman simchateynu, a season of joy, when our ancestors’ fields shared their yields. We can choose to worry about the challenging climate outside or the burden of carrying out our food, but instead, we empower ourselves. We rejoice in the beauty of what we do have, and leave the worry behind.

Yet, in our day-to-day lives, outside the holiday season, we all tend to forget our own power. We tend to clutter our world with interpretations of what we see.

She has a curled brow – that must mean she’s frustrated with how slow I’m working. He’s looking away; did I do something wrong? And the guy across the room is just sitting and smiling; if only I could be more like him.

We see ourselves as our weaknesses, the time as a deficit, our neighbors as a measure of compare. We place meaning in the wind when really, the wind just is. That woman just was. Our stories are just a product of our minds’ creation.

They aren’t reality.

And neither is our anxiety or tension or fear that we feel. Neither is that draining thought that we have so much to do in so little time.

I was reading a book, crossing out the words that ‘didn’t matter.’ And, in erasing the clutter, I found the gist of the story: “Beneath a tall man stood a shorter man and the two were surrounded by others.”

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Now, that wouldn’t be the Blockbuster slogan on the back of a cover, but the simplicity of the ‘true’ story – and how I came to find it – carries important lessons:

(1) Change is hard – especially when, through the choice to change, we lose the option to go back. For the longest time, I would ‘cross-out’ words in a book with pencil, drawing only a line so I could see what used to be there, erase the marks and ‘go back.’ For the longest time, I wouldn’t even mark a book, ruin the perfection of the page. But then, I irreversibly marked the page, and I found my next lesson …

(2) In making a choice, we allow ourselves power. So much in life is out of our control. So much simply happens, and, in return, we respond. The response can be instinctual and follow our natural patterns of behavior – like not writing in a book, or only writing in the margins in pencil – OR the response can be daring, that choice we always wanted to make but were simply too timid to try. In fact, the choice that doesn’t meet expectations often challenges us most to exceed those expectations.

And, of course, in removing the extraneous detail of a story, I came to the most important insight of all:

(3) Life, at its core, is simple. 

It’s not a stressful experience or a tiring string of days. It’s not a journey of working to live, or a challenge to experience the craziest and most beautiful parts of the world. Those expectations, like the author’s ‘clutter’ of words, are simply interpretations of what is really happening: there is a man, and a shorter man, and a lot of other people around them. What everyone is thinking or feeling, what emotion fills the air and what color paints the grass – those are choices that we can each make in the moment. Today, I choose rest to fill the air. I choose softness to paint the grass. I don’t recall what the author chose, but I am certain his world was much different from mine. I don’t know what you will choose, but I am certain your world, too, will be unique.

So think back to that thought of ‘having so much to do in so little time.’ What’s the gist of the story?

You have things to do. And you have time.

The adjectives you choose to paint that reality can either lead to simplicity and freedom or clutter and stress, but the choice and the power is all yours.

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Reality is a funny thing

because no one reality actually exists. We place interpretations on interpretations on interpretations of the world, and somewhere in that mess, we find ourselves overwhelmed and toxically stressed.

So take a step back, return to the simplicity of your life, and make the interpretive choice that will suit your health and wellness best. After all, you are the author of your world.

© 2017 Mirissa D. Price: A Dental Student, A Writer, A Journey to Share.

 

 

 

Your Voice Can Change The World

I climbed into the back seat of a red sedan recently, beside a woman in her mid-thirties with curly blonde hair. The driver, a middle-aged man whose name I couldn’t pronounce, verified my identity, replied to my buoyant greetings, and then the car went silent. Driving to the woman’s drop-off point in Brookline Village, the only sounds I heard were the horns and sirens filling Boston’s streets. Respecting her silence – she was in the car first – I only offered her a smile, but from the minute she left the car, the driver and I were in constant laughter and conversation. “You know, where I come from,” the driver said, turning onto my street, “we laugh like this with all our neighbors. You don’t see that in the States.”

The next morning, I took the bus. There, too, all I heard was silence. One man was on his laptop, a handful on their cellphones. Nearly everyone wore headphones. But no two people said much more than ‘hello’ aloud. In my thoughts, I whispered, “I wonder what my Uber driver would say.”

Hours later, in the basement of the dental school, I was again in the thick of silence. Granted, this time, I was alone. But, as a special surprise, Allen came walking in, a slight limp in his step. Allen was the air conditioner maintenance man, the regular for the dental school building. Though I had never seen him before, I pulled out my own headphones and smiled his direction. Accepting the invitation, Allen sat down. He told me his story. He told me his jokes. And he told me I must not be from the East, because I was much too conversational. “People keep to themselves out here,” he ended, moving on with his day.

We live in a busy world. People have place to go, tasks to complete. Students and businessmen alike use the bus or the cab or a moment alone to finish their work.  We, too, live in a world that’s afraid. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t upset the other riders with your chatter. Don’t break the norm.

But are we really too busy to meet a new person? Are we really so afraid that we choose to live in silence? Are we really so connected that we can’t handle a greater community?

Sitting on the silent bus, I wondered whether some sort of a ‘chat prompt’ game would encourage conversation. We were already surrounded by positive messages on sticky notes in this uplifting bus. Maybe a set of game-like rules would encourage connection in the way the sticky notes encouraged positivity?

In actuality, though, I stuck to the rules. Thinking of the norms of the bus, I, too, waited until my stop to say hello to a man I see each day. I, too, upheld the silence. And, in doing so, I probably missed the opportunity to hear an incredible story or to share a smile with a workplace neighbor. In doing so, I too  too, contributed to the absence of community that my uber driver and my new friend, Allen, experience in this Western world.

And I started to wonder: Are these positive messages scattered on sticky notes – ‘You are beautiful.’ ‘You are worthwhile.’ ‘You are valued.’ – really what we need? In the absence of connection, how could these messages mean anything?

  • To tell someone he is valued is to allow him to add a moment of laughter or joy to your day.
  • To tell a neighbor she is beautiful is to look up with a smile instead of looking down at your smartphone.
  • To make a difference is to make a sound, starting with a ‘hello’ on a bus or a ‘good afternoon’ in an Uber.

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My challenge for all of us is to start making this difference in the world today. Our challenge is to start making a wave of sound.

© 2017 Mirissa D. Price: A Dental Student, A Writer, A Journey to Share.