Learning to Listen by playing Dungeons and Dragons

I want to be a great listener and I thoroughly enjoy hearing people tell stories. I love playing around the table, Dungeons and Dragons because by listening actively, searching for meaning, we can share our stories to end up becoming even better listeners.

Very quickly, I say that listening includes taking in necessary data from another person, but active listening hers and searches for meaning in the words. It asks, “yes I hear and this is how what you say means something to me.” By doing so, I can help the other person feel like I’m in the story with them.

The way Dungeons & Dragons work is by using the storytelling method of “yes and”. “Yes and” simply means that I accept reality and I build upon it. But how do we make this work? The answer is to search for meaning. Ask yourself “if this reality is true then what does this mean to me?” This is IMPLICIT reality. Only listening to a description the dungeon master gives you does nothing more than store new data into your brain. But by actively listening, searching for meaning, then together, we can share stories.

Example

  • Dungeon Master says, “a storm arrives on the hill.”
  • Players say “aha, we walk through the storm.”
  • The above example simply states an explicit reality. Something happens and you do something about it, and at best this informs us, but also bores us incredibly. However, Active listening takes what I describe to you and build up on it to tell a story.

Better Example:

  • Dungeon master: A storm arrives on the hill.
  • Bard says “I accept reality and prepare supplies so they are not damaged.”
  • Cleric says “I accept reality and bite on my lip for a fear being struck by lightning.”
  • Fighter says “I accept reality, hold up my sword and anticipate the thrill of meeting a storm giant, face to face.”
  • Warlock says “I accept reality and I remove my robe down to my linens, kneel down and ask forgiveness to Tempus God of the storms for my many sins.”

While not necessary to always preface your implict statements with “I accept reality”, the statement alone provides a sort of training wheel as you get used to sharing the narrative around the table. The explicit means that a storm has arrived and presents a challenge to the players, but the players take responsibility to search for meaning. This moves the story from explicit information to implicit meaning. The story continues.

Example 2

In this example the dungeon master gives yet a very simple encounter as an ogre attacks the party in camp. However, we can use the same method of “yes and”, in that the players accept the reality and build upon it within a story format. Notice the similarities between the two encounters.

  • Dungeon master says, “oh no! an ogre attacks your camp!”
  • Bard says, “I accept reality and prepare to defend the ponies.”
  • Cleric says, “I accept reality and fear being taken alive as a meal.”
  • Fighter says “I accept reality and anticipate the opportunity to collect an ogre’s hide to profit in town.”
  • Warlock says, “I accept reality and pray to Tempus to forgive me for taking a life.”

In this example, it explicitly states that if the characters want to live, they must fight. However, the characters must search for what this information means and state the implicit reality. By using this technique of “yes, and” and then moving from explicit reality to implicit meaning brings the table from simply saying the mundane and obvious and into collaborative and exciting storytelling!

So remember, when presented with a reality say “yes, and”. Take the responsibility to search for meaning by taking the explicit information, and gift your table with a story, and share the implicit reality. If everyone performs in such a way at the table, we enjoy a sojourner’s tale of adventure.

Good morning

Even if you don’t play Dungeons and Dragons, or any roleplaying games at all, I hope you can appreciate that by using these storytelling techniques, even in your own life can your communication improve. Think about it! By actively listening, you are connecting your own personal meaning and investment into the information the other person tells you. If you then use the “yes, and” method, you agree with the narrative and build upon it. You are saying, “I am playing in your reality, and I will add to it with my own meaning.” Of course this doesn’t mean that you blindly agree with every statement any more than a hero agrees with the ogre that humans taste the best over an open barbecue! By saying “yes and,” you keep the communication moving and alive, even if your following statements and actions divert from the original intention. “Yes, Mr. Ogre, you do want to cook us all up, however, I believe there is a win-win situation we can also cook up.”

Enjoy those around your table and play Dungeons and Dragons and learn to actively listen, search for the meaning and build upon a great story.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s