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Notice Offers & See Them as Gifts (S.5, Ep.13)

March 28

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About This Episode

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We are offered gifts from others every day. The hard part is often noticing them and recognizing them as gifts. Once we do, it has the potential to unlock amazing possibilities in our communication and collaborative relationships.

In this practicast, special guest Shannon Hughes of Enlivened Studios talks with Jessica about how the applied improvisation practice of “Noticing Offers and Seeing Them as Gifts” can help us in our lives and work.


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Jessica Beckendorf: We are offered gifts from others every day. The hard part is often noticing them, and recognizing them as gifts. Once we do though, it has the potential to unlock amazing possibilities in our communication and our collaborative relationships. Hi everyone, this is Jessica Beckendorf, and welcome to this week’s Practicing Connection practicast, where we highlight a specific practice you can use in your life and work.

In today’s episode, we’ll discuss how to notice offers and see them as gifts. This is all about being present to the people around us, and seeing the various ways they communicate, including their actions, as gifts. This is an incredible tool for relationship-building and effective collaborative efforts. This is our third and final practicast for this month with our special guest, Shannon Hughes.

Shannon is a facilitator and consultant with the Calling to Nurture people-first company cultures in companies of all shapes and sizes. In her practice, in live and studios, she brings strategic business mentorship and experiential teaching practices to incite easeful collaboration, and embolden transformational leadership. Shannon will be guiding us through the practice in a few minutes, but first, let’s learn a little bit more about it. Hi Shannon, welcome back again. Let’s start by talking about offers. What is an offer on stage and off, and why is it important to notice them?

Shannon Hughes: Thank you. In improv, players are, we call them players, but players are actors. In improv, players are constantly giving one another what we call offers to work with, in creating scenes and creating characters. An offer is an idea of an endowment for a character, a relationship between characters, an objective for a story, or a location. They can be verbal or nonverbal. They can be very bold and obvious, or really discreet. Let’s say one player walks on stage, sits down, and starts acting as if they’re studying for an exam. There’s maybe a book in front of her, maybe she’s holding a pencil, or staring off into space to think.

All of that is an offer to the player behind stage who’s about to join her on stage. Because when the next person comes on stage, he has so much to work with. He may not know that player one is studying for an exam necessarily, but all the offers have been so clearly laid out that the scene is bound to be rich with story. He might come on stage and say something like, “Hey, Barbara, sorry I’m late, man, it’s creepy in the school library this late, right?” Or maybe he puts his hand on her back gently and says, “Babe, when are you coming to bed?” Whatever the choice is, he uses her offers to build the scene, and they’re off and running.

We often say in improv that offers are gifts, which they absolutely are. What a gift the first player gives the second player so he has something to work with and build upon. Now, if you think about this idea that offers are gifts, think about how powerful this might be as a practice in life and business. Because I would argue that offers are everywhere. They’re in the facial expression of the guy at the grocery store. They’re in the folded arms of your teenager in the car ride home from a lost soccer game, right? If we just stay aware and present enough, we will notice these offers and then make choices about how to relate with them.

Sometimes we lean in, and sometimes we know to stay away, like the example of the teenager, which is a true story. [chuckles] It’s the noticing though that can be hard because we’re so conditioned to move quickly, to make decisions, hit deadlines, check off our to-do list, that the offers go unnoticed and we lose our interrelatedness and our sense of community. In my work, I mentor leaders about how to build what I call people-first cultures in their organizations. So much of that people firstness that is about recognizing the humanity in the people we work with, leaning in with curiosity rather than advice giving, for example, and noticing all the offers.

Does that fill some context?

Jessica: Oh, absolutely [laughs] it did. I love the idea of seeing the offers everywhere. We talk a lot about being mindful, and I see this idea of seeing the offers everywhere as a mindful activity that reminds us to be present. You have the idea of seeing the offers. The second part of what we’re covering today is valuing the offer as a gift. Tell me a little bit about that. How does it work?

Shannon: This might help explain, at least from an improv perspective. There’s a game in improv called Thank You. It’s called Thank you. The way that it goes is we all circle up and the first person stands in the middle and they strike a pose. It could be anything. They strike a pose and they freeze. It could be pointing up to the sky, something simple. The next person comes behind that person and adds to that gesture. Maybe one person’s pointing to the sky and the next person comes and puts their elbow on their shoulder. Okay? Now we’ve created a visual picture that could be a scene start if you thought about it.

The first person, when the second person joins and puts the elbow on the shoulder, the first person boldly and loudly says, “Thank you”, and returns to the circle, and the game continues. I love this because it really speaks to this idea of offers and seeing them as gifts. In that example, that game, the second person quite literally says, “Thank you, thank you for adding to the offer that I had given you.” It’s a really beautiful game to play, not only to play around with how to create scenes and how to create visual pictures on stage, but it’s this actual verbal recognition that someone gave an offer and the other one accepted it.

It’s a little bit of this, yes, anding too that we’ve mentioned in a prior episode, that really helps to receive, say yes, and see those offers as gifts. Because if you’re alone on a stage and you’ve got nothing, thank goodness someone comes in and adds something to contribute and move the story forward. If you think about it that way, all offers are gifts, right? What a beautiful practice that can be. If you think about this in life, we mentioned just a couple examples of what those offers can be, the teenager example or the person bagging your groceries.

It’s about noticing, slowing down to presence, noticing those offers, and then really seeing them as gifts, and this reciprocity of giving and receiving is something that can be really instrumental in business, certainly, and of course in life.

Jessica: Let’s bring this now to a team level. How can seeing the offers as gifts help us on our teams or in our leadership efforts, or I guess overall?

Shannon: Yes. I’d argue that noticing offers is a practice in mindfulness, and you said that earlier. We talked about presence and mindfulness. That in and of itself is a huge leadership and relationship-building technique. Imagine all the cues that you could pick up with noticing. In a business environment or in an organization, let’s say, you might pick up that there’s an employee who always sits in the back of the room and doesn’t speak up. Why? Do they feel included? Maybe they’re really introverted, they’ve got great ideas, but they’re just not comfortable sharing them in a meeting. That’s a gift. That’s an offer.

How can I lean in potentially in a way that makes that person feel safe and invite them to, maybe they’re more comfortable contributing written feedback and written ideas, or having a one-on-one over a cup of coffee instead of a large group share. What if there’s a disengaged team member, they’re on their way out. They might be looking for other jobs. What are the nonverbal and verbal cues that you’re getting to pick up on some of those cues so that you know how to plan and how to have conversations that could potentially shift their mind or help them along their career development path?

Again, socially, what are all those cues happening at a barbecue, in a conversation with your spouse or partner? They are always there. It’s just that noticing and then making those kind of real-time improvised decisions about how you’re going to, yes, and, and sometimes how you’re going to give space, because that’s real too.

Jessica: Let’s get started with the practice, because I think that this idea of noticing offers and seeing them as gifts is maybe even, oh boy, I don’t want to have anyone get upset with me, but might be even just slightly more foundational than, yes, and. I feel like yes, and starts with noticing things as offers and seeing them as gifts. Let’s talk about how we can practice this.

Shannon: This is an exercise that I’ve run with groups, both virtually and in-person. It’s quite simple and it’s a great one to do even as a check-in for a meeting because it really helps center people. Here’s how it goes. For 15 seconds or 30 seconds, depending on what the venue is, or the forum that you’re gathering with people. The invitation is to simply look around your space and notice. Jessica, just for just a few seconds here, let’s do this. For the next few seconds, and you can feel free to spin around in your chair, get up if that feels right, if there’s a window near you. I’m just going to stop talking for just a few seconds. What do you notice?

Jessica: Do you want me to say what I notice?

Shannon: No, just keep it in your mind. Think about things that you see, that you hear or smell. What’s going on in your body that’s worth noting. Tension. Great. Now, as a build onto that, let’s take another couple of seconds, and as you look around your environment this time, in your mind, not out loud, just say what you see. In my office here, I might think to myself, flowers, cell phone, heater. Just give that a try. In your mind, just name what you see. Great. Now, what I’ll do in Zoom meetings sometimes, is then, if there’s a group of people in a Zoom meeting, I’ll invite people to look into the Zoom meeting and do the same thing for 15 seconds.

Jessica, if we were to do this, I might notice things about the way your hair is pulled back, or the stripes in your shirt, or I might notice that there’s a– Looks like a suitcase on the upper shelf of a bookshelf behind you. Those are offers. Now I’m kind of, I wonder what’s in that suitcase. I wonder what books are on that shelf. There’s a photograph. It looks like she’s there with somebody in a photograph. I wonder who that is. Those are cues that might invite curiosity, conversation, and connection. Those are just a few exercises that really get us to think about noticing.

The naming one is really interesting. Did you have any thoughts or anything come to you through those exercises?

Jessica: I was very curious about what looks like a container of tons of pens or something behind you, because I love office supplies, so I immediately was drawn to that and wanted to know more. I really enjoyed those activities. It’s another way of being present, and it’s a way that if you can’t just sit and close your eyes and breathe in the moment, you can look around your room and notice things, and so it’s something you can practice really anywhere, anytime, no matter what’s happening. Almost no matter what’s happening, you can take a moment and look around and no one will even know what you’re doing.

Shannon: Exactly.

Jessica: Thank you so much for guiding us through this practice, for noticing offers and seeing them all as gifts.

Shannon: Of course, it’s a delight. Thanks for having me.

Jessica: That’s it for this episode. Thanks so much for joining us. You can keep up with Practicing Connection by subscribing to the podcast in your favorite podcast app, and by joining the Practicing Connection Community on LinkedIn. Visit to subscribe and join. If you have questions, ideas or feedback for the show, you can email us at [email protected]. We’ll be back next week to explore practices that empower us to work together, to help each other, our families and our communities. Until then, keep practicing.

Kalin Goble: The Practicing Connection Podcast is a production of OneOp, and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense under award numbers 2019-48770-30366 and 2023-48770-41333.

[00:14:40] [END OF AUDIO]


March 28
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