Learn to listen by spreading rumours
People long to be heard and understood, especially in their most emotional moments. Professional hostage negotiators understand this need so much that many have a rule for it: talk only 20 per cent of the time, listen 80 per cent of the time. The better you can learn to listen, the more people will want to share with you – and fortunately for us all, active listening is one of the most fun skills you can build. Here’s a group listening game that comes from improv comedy (a pastime, like negotiation, that’s built on trust and hearing). Make a circle of three or more people. Turn to the person on your left and make up an outlandish rumour – something like, “Hey, I just heard that Beyoncé is a man!” Now the listener’s job is to first validate your rumour, and then add to it: “Yes, I heard that too! I also heard that Jay-Z is two men.” The initial listener now becomes the speaker, and spreads a new rumour to the person on his left (and so forth until you get bored or tired). This game is doubly-awesome because its success relies only on active listening and positive validation, two fundamentals of both improv comedy and strong relationships.
Unveil personality with two truths and a lie
Don’t be fooled by the ‘lie’ in this game’s name: the classic classroom ice-breaker is all about establishing common ground, which is a crucial foundation for building empathy and deeper, trusting relationships. If you’ve never played, it won’t take you long to learn: Simply make three statements about yourself: two true, one false – then challenge the other players to guess which is the lie. The beauty of Two Truths and a Lie is that, unlike the average conversation, this game puts all participants on an equal playing field. Everyone playing must share an equal amount of information about themselves and, more importantly, must be honest with each other for the game to work. Small talk goes a long way in building relationships – so, why not speed things along for everyone by trading the truth right away?
Synchronise goals with 30 seconds of mimicry
It’s time to take this relationship to the next level: I’m literally going to scratch your back while you scratch mine. Try and copy my hand movements exactly, scratching the same spot on my back that I scratch on yours. This exercise is not so much about reciprocity as it is about synchronisation: two or more people, mirroring each other’s actions in order to better understand each other. Suddenly, an individual experience becomes a shared experience, and empathy grows. Mirroring like this happens in hundreds of invisible ways every day: we match our best friend’s gait when we walk together; a mother’s heartbeat synchronises with her newborn’s as she holds him; a crowd of fans watching sports together makes the same facial expression when their team scores. To simulate the power of synchronisation without getting too touchy-feely, pick a partner and play a 30-second mirror game. For half a minute, stand up and move your limbs around in slow, unpredictable motions while the other person tries to mimic you exactly. When 30 seconds are up, switch roles and try to mirror them. Push through the awkwardness (that’s part of the shared experience) and you will find yourselves suddenly much more at ease with one another.