The skill of listening often gets a bad rap in today’s corporate environment. After all, it’s usually the person who can shout the loudest and take the most credit for work completed that tends to advance up the ladder as quickly as possible.
However, those who dismiss the power of listening without understanding how important this practice can be do their careers a serious disservice. I know that it can be difficult to get out of the habit of putting your thoughts and opinions first in your conversations, but trust me. Learning how to listen effectively will help you take advantage of all of the following benefits and more!
Listening makes you more knowledgeable
While I’m not suggesting that you engage in excessive office gossip, the hard truth is that those who listen more – rather than trying to figure out what they’ll chime in with next – tend to have access to more information in their careers.
Listening is an inherently flattering process. When you give up trying to make yourself appear intelligent, witty or “in-the-know,” you demonstrate to others that you value what they have to say. And really, who in the world doesn’t like feeling as if others value their conversational contributions?!
The point is that, when people feel flattered by your attention, they’re more likely to reveal information about themselves, their projects and their priorities that may help you out down the road. It’s up to you whether you use this information for good or for evil, but the bottom line is that you won’t even have access to it in the first place if you don’t learn how to listen!
Listening builds relationships
Because listening can be so flattering to your conversational partners, it’s also a great tool for building rapport with the important people in your life. Take a second to visualize all of the following situations:
- You’re in a pitch meeting with a potentially huge client. Because you take the time to demonstrate active listening, the client feels as if you truly care about the issues facing his company and signs a contract with your company.
- Your boss has to deliver some negative feedback on your performance at work. Although it’s hard to hear, you take the time to listen actively, which helps your boss to feel that he’s being effective and that progress is being made to resolve similar issues in the future.
- A person you’ve been assigned to work with on a group project has some serious concerns about the future direction of your work. Since you take the time to listen – instead of steamrolling over him with your own thoughts – you’re able to eliminate potential disruptions before they occur.
In all these situations, you come out ahead – just because you made the small effort to listen actively instead of ignoring the counsel of others.
How to become a better listener
Hopefully, by this point, I’ve convinced you that it’s in your best interest to learn how to listen effectively. If you’ve never purposefully studied this skill before, you should find the following recommendations helpful:
Tune into conversations fully – Perhaps the most difficult part of learning to listen is discovering how to turn off the voice in your brain that’s constantly thinking about witty retorts or ways to turn the conversation back to you. To minimize this instinct, try to focus as much of your attention as possible on your conversation partner. Does his voice sound confident, shaky, upset or joking? What does his body language tell you about his mood? The more you pay attention to the people you’re interacting with; the more likely you’ll be to hear, process and understand the words that they’re saying.
Repeat back questions and statements – Of course, anybody who’s ever interacted with a teenager knows that there’s a big difference between passive listening and active listening. To demonstrate to conversation partners that you’re an active listener (in order to reap the benefits described above), try repeating back parts of the questions and statements you hear. For example, if your boss tells you, “I’m concerned about you coming in late in the mornings,” responding back with “I understand that you’re frustrated about me coming in late in the mornings,” demonstrates that you’re actively engaged with the conversation.
Ask your own probing questions – Finally, to seal the deal on your active listening experiences, try to ask probing questions based on the information somebody has shared with you. As an example, if a coworker tells you that he’s concerned about completing his part of a group project on time, asking questions about the factors that are causing delays and how these issues can be handled showcases both your proactive abilities and how closely you were listening to your coworkers concerns.
If you’ve never taken the time to improve your listening skills before, the process can seem strange. But by consistently making it a priority to tune into the people around you, you’ll reap the benefits of being seen as more knowledgeable throughout your life and of forming the type of relationships that will help you to succeed in your personal and professional goals. Believe me, it’s well worth the effort!