Have you ever had someone ask you for advice? This has happened to me a lot: dating advice, job advice, financial advice, child rearing advice, acting advice, beauty tips, diet tips, and the list goes on. Most of the time, I have a strong opinion; I give advice with steps, information they can further research and  tricks to avoid pitfalls. But a lot of the time I just speak from experience. Whether I’m confident that I know exactly what they should do or telling them I honestly can’t make the call but here’s what I suggest, I’m AMAZED at how many people just keep doing what they are doing! Why do people take the time to spend a whole conversation lamenting over a decision they need to make, or are giving off the perception that they are looking for any guidance in the slightest, do anything BUT taking the advice they seem so desperate for?

It made me think of sociolinguistics professor, Deborah Tannen, who wrote a wonderful book: “You just don’t understand” about the differences between men and women in conversation. It explains that when someone has a problem and they approach friends or family with said problem, there are two different intentions. The first is genuine problem solving, they need a solution and are doing research. The second has a desire to share, to have someone nod and say, “You poor thing!” When I first read the book, it immediately hit me that I fell in the masculine category of problem solving. Suddenly, occurrences in my life made more sense: a friend asking if she should wear a skirt or a particular pair of pants out one night became furious with me when I said her butt looked better in the skirt. She glared at me and said I should have said she looked good in everything. A boyfriend, coming home from a hard day recounted how terrible the bosses were and my response was always, “Quit!” and he would shake his head and say “Never mind.”

I now understood that some people are asking for advice, letting you in on their problems, and putting their head on your shoulder to cry on for just that reason: to vent, to get it out, to have someone JUST listen. It was eye opening, to say the least! I personally want answers when I have questions but this made communication so much clearer. I actually got in the habit with my husband, that when he started complaining, I would stop him immediately and ask, “Is this a Listen and Nod story, or a Help Me Find a Solution story?” He would tell me and then I would put on the necessary hat: either Supporter or Problem Solver.

The play between sociology and the arts is wonderful. Not only is this kind of information a bonus for interpersonal interactions at work and home, it is GOLD for the stage! In an improv scene we can project back to the audience the neurotic psychology we all struggle with. Why do a scene about a typical dentist and patient with a bad tooth getting extracted? Instead,why not turn it into a problem solver (pull the tooth) and the supporter (What is causing the bad tooth? Too much ice cream over failed relationships? Want to talk about it?)?

Improv is about connecting with your scene partner and ultimately with the audience. If you take an interest in human understanding and broaden your scope of intentions, motives, and actions, your performances will touch more people and you will have a wonderful time walking in the shoes of people you never thought possible. Try listening differently…and ice cream isn’t love.

About the Author

Stephanie Herrera is a comedian, writer, producer, teacher, singer, actor, mother of 4, and shallow philosopher. She runs the Durham Improv & Acting Studio in Oshawa, Canada, is a professor at Durham and Fleming Colleges, and is an award winning performer.  www.durhamimprov.com / www.stephanieherrera.com / info@durhamimprov.com / (647) 899-3342  Durham Improv Group and Business pages can be found on Facebook and follow @durhamimprov & @antimommy