heard what they said. But just repeating
what another person has said in a mechanical way can be annoying. The underlying
connection with the other person has to be
authentic. It can start simply with deciding
to pay attention to what they’re thinking
and feeling. The more we do it, the better it
feels, and the more likely we are to do it the
It sounds simple, but it’s not easy.
Sometimes we can fall into a mechanical
version of paying attention. It’s not staring at
another person; it’s observing and responding to them. It can feel really good.
AT: Let me play devil’s advocate here for
a moment. You write a lot about relating,
which is very important; it’s part of the glue
that binds us as families and a society. But,
is it always important? If you have to tell
someone something where there’s no wiggle
room (“You have to do this,” or “You can’t
do that.”) is relating really necessary?
AA: Giving orders in the military is the
only place I can think of where you can
tell somebody to do something, and they’d
better do it or they’ll get shot. But even
there, you often have to inspire people to
do what you want them to do. (“Once more
unto the breach, dear friends…”)
In business, let’s say in a situation where
there’s a serious ethical problem, it seems to
me you have to be firm about the policy, but
that doesn’t mean you can forget about what
they’re going through as they listen to you.
What if their eyes are telling you they have
no intention of changing their behavior? A
little relating would pick that up. Relating
isn’t always warm and fuzzy. It’s mainly
being very observant.
And in addition, connecting to the other
person can be useful even in a tough situa-
tion like this. My guess is that there will be
less likelihood of the behavior happening
again if you can reach the person at the
intersection of your shared values.
AT: You’re a fan of using improvisation,
and by that, I don’t mean just winging it, but
using specific improvisational techniques.
That’s a bit of a surprise. Most of us would be
tempted to double down on formal, classical
preparation when we need to communicate
with others. What do you think improv
brings to communication?
AA: It brings in the contribution of the
other person. It’s helpful to think of that
person as our communication partner, not the
target of our pronouncements.
AT: You talk about relating to people and
also of empathy and how improv brings that
out. Are relating and empathy one and the
same, or do you see them as different?
AA: The way I use the term, empathy is
being aware of the other person’s feelings.
Relating, for me, is a way of gathering all
the information you can from body language, tone of voice, even syntax to get a
good estimate of what’s really going on in
AT: One of the things you write about is
making people want to know what you have
to say. How do you make that happen when
people may really not want to hear what you
have to say? Few people go into a compliance
training session wanting to know what the
law says they can or can’t do, especially the
can’t part. It’s a permanent barrier between
the workforce and the compliance team.
Sometimes it’s low, and sometimes it’s high,
but it gets in the way of people wanting to
hear from the compliance and ethics team.
AA: I’m not a compliance officer, so I’m
leery of stepping in where I don’t belong. But
I have had times in my life when I’ve had to
make it clear to a business partner, or even