Good listening skills are key to any successful career, no matter where you are on the ladder.
We think of job skills as proficiency with certain software programs, say, or the ability to decipher a spreadsheet, drive a bus or design a kitchen.
We rarely think of a “soft” skill such as listening as being important. It sounds so basic. But the fact is that the ability to listen well makes you more productive, more influential and more successful. Listening is such a powerful career tool that it’s a wonder greater emphasis isn’t placed on it, especially given that most of us are not born good listeners.
The good news is that, unlike many vital job skills, listening is an ability that can be largely self-taught. How?
Monitor your speaking to listening ratio. If you are talking more than 50 percent of the time, you are probably talking too much. Stop and put forth the effort to focus on what others have to say. You might even consider asking your colleagues what they think you could do to become a better listener.
Curb your impulse to interrupt. You can probably think faster than someone else can speak. You may therefore believe you can guess what the other person is going to say, and you may even feel annoyed that your time is being wasted. Please chill. The advantages of being a good listener far outweigh the time investment it requires.
Focus on the message, not the delivery. It’s easy to get distracted into critiquing a speaker’s gestures, word use or accent. Here is where you will need to practice active listening, looking for the meaningful and worthwhile in what the speaker is trying to say.
At the same time, listen between the lines. Communication is more than just talking. A speaker’s intonation, volume and facial expressions are very important parts of any conversation and may, in fact, comprise the majority of the message. You will get better with practice.
Finally, use nonverbal cues. While you want to actually be a good listener (and not just appear to be one), you can avail yourself of any or all of these behaviors: maintain eye contact, don’t fidget, nod your head, lean forward, use interjections such as “I see what you mean.” You may even find that acting like a good listener makes you into one.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at email@example.com.