One of the key features of improvisation is the ability to listen. When we listen, we park our ego and our agenda, and strive to understand what the other person is trying to say. It’s about listening with our eyes and our ears – but it’s also about the questions we ask.
My son is a type 1 diabetic. He recently had his wisdom teeth extracted, and we had to take care of him. One day, he called me and asked me to come home because he was vomiting. He had taken some of his antibiotics but he hadn’t eaten any food recently. So I started doing some research, and I asked the question: “What happens when you take an antibiotic on an empty stomach?” I noticed the symptoms: vomiting, dry heaving, etc, but when I checked his blood sugar, I knew something else was going on. I rushed him to the emergency room.
Within minutes he was diagnosed with DKA – diabetic ketoacidosis. This is a serious condition that can lead to a diabetic coma or even death. I was lucky to catch this despite the information I was getting back from my question. The question I should have been asking was: “What could be happening when a type 1 diabetic is throwing up?” That would have clued me in that things were more severe than I realized and saved me valuable time.
Even when we think we’ve reached the right answer to our questions, we need to pause and ask ourselves “What else could this be? What are the blind spots I’m not seeing?” We need to think through that and come to realize that maybe this could be something else. That’s a big part of listening.