As some of you know, I have spent the last three years studying and working as an actor and I’ve been amazed at how much of what I’ve learned in acting makes my KM work better. So, as a break from the usual KM and legal tech discussions, I thought I would share four of the top acting rules and show how they apply to each and every project you do.
Acting Rule #1: Be in the Moment
Another way of saying this is “don’t anticipate.” In acting, you typically get the full script for your project once you get cast, so you know the end of the story before you start shooting any of the scenes. But alas, as you shoot each scene, you need to act like you don’t know the end of the story. In other words, in that moment that you’re shooting that scene, you need to be in that moment, and not anticipate what’s going to happen later. After all, if you were a person actually living through that moment, you would not know what’s going to happen, and as an actor you need to portray that real person.
Project Application: When speaking with users or other project team members, don’t anticipate what those users or other team members are going to say. Take a breath and be in that moment, not back at your office responding to that new email that just arrived in your inbox. This will not only help you strengthen your relationships, it will also make sure that you don’t miss or dismiss something new or different that your ‘scene partner’ is sharing with you.
Acting Rule #2: Listen
You’ve probably all too often seen actors who don’t look like they are authentically reacting to their scene partner but rather are just waiting to say their own next line.
Project Application: In addition to staying in the moment of whatever conversation you’re having, genuinely listen to the other person, don’t just wait until it’s your turn to announce your idea. Whether it’s a vendor, team member, user, or superior, listen to what they say. This applies not just to the words they’re saying, but also — and perhaps more importantly — to what they really mean. Sometimes people choose words that soften or mitigate what they really mean (or, perhaps, the opposite). Listen closely, and you can probably tell what they really want you to know. Being an excellent listener will allow you to respond in a way that truly addresses your colleague’s needs and concerns, and will help make you a trustworthy and respected project partner.
Acting Rule #3: Put All Your Attention on the <wait for it….> OTHER Person, Never on Yourself
Diva, anyone? That doesn’t apply just to the acting world. Many people are focused on their own agendas, or on how some action or inaction will make them look. Don’t be that person.
Project Application: If you’re building a project or providing a service, put all your attention on your client, internal or external. Make sure you are addressing their ask and their need, and that will make the project the best it can be, and you the star (but that shouldn’t be why you do it).
Acting Rule #4: Read the Other Person’s Emotions
We don’t talk a lot about emotions in the legal world. But in acting, emotions are the core of our work. Acting is an emotional art; the way you use and flex your physical muscles for a bodybuilding competition, so you use and flex your emotional muscles for acting. I spent my first six months of acting training focused solely on emotional exercises that connected me deeply to my own emotions and honed my ability to read other people’s emotions. The result: within a few seconds of meeting someone, I can tell if they’re distracted, stressed, proud, confident, insecure, sad, angry, joyful, content, worried, threatened, anxious, compassionate, playful, open, generous, or a myriad of other things.
Project Application: Believe it or not, understanding where your colleagues are coming from, especially in a conflict, will vastly improve your interactions with them. Are they being a bully because they’re actually insecure? Or because they’re being bullied or pressured by someone else? Are they not contributing because they feel frustrated? Or because they feel overwhelmed or unheard? Are they being stubborn because they desperately need a win? Or because their job is on the line? If you can see what’s going on underneath the words, you can address the real conflict (delicately, or even without the other person knowing) and probably get what you both want. For example, if they’re worried about their job but you know that your solution is better, you might not say “I know you’re worried about your job,” but you might say “here’s why I think we should try this solution, and let’s put your name front and center on this project because of all the work you’ve done.”
Be in the moment, listen, focus on the other person, and read your colleague’s emotions. Four rules that I hope help make your projects and your relationships the best they can be.