There’s one thing that has the power to accelerate or derail your career advancement: listening. It’s a basic principle, so simple that it’s easy to overlook or ignore because we assume we’re already good listeners, and that we know what it means to communicate. But to that, I offer a challenge. When was the last time you really focused in and listened?
When we speak, it’s an opportunity to communicate what we already know. It’s our chance to step up on the pedestal and tell people what we really think. However, the magic doesn’t come from speaking our mind. The key to motivating others, unlocking real success, and fast-tracking your career is to first focus on listening.
Listening builds stronger bonds and relationships When we feel heard, we feel connected. Just as personal relationships thrive in an environment of mutual respect, so do professional relationships. Allowing someone else to have the spotlight and share their thoughts shows that you value their opinion and respect their insights.
Expressing that you are listening with appropriate social cues such as eye-contact and head nodding takes it a step further and sends the non-verbal message that you are focused on them. Essentially, when you care, they will care.
Listening improves employee engagement and buy-in All of us want to feel heard. There are few things more frustrating for leaders as an employee that is disconnected, not listening and having a ‘why bother’ attitude.
You can curb those negative feelings and encourage employees to buy-in to projects and changes by giving them a voice. Let them reflect on what’s happening and weigh-in. They may have helpful insight to make something even better or spot shortfalls that you can work as a team to overcome. Regardless of what you do with their feedback, consistently giving them a chance to share their thoughts will allow them to see their contribution, feel a part of the team, and, ultimately, buy-in.
Listening allows you to spot opportunities One of the keys to spotting opportunities that others miss is being one of the few individuals who truly listens. With every conversation, particularly when networking, focus your intention on hearing what your colleagues and competitors are saying. You can uncover a wealth of information to fuel your next big idea or help you plan for a market shift that no one else sees coming. You may even discover new opportunities for career advancement.
How to Improve Your Listening Skills
Give up the floor more often The more we practice something, the quicker we improve. You don’t have to wait until you’ve perfected your active listening techniques. You can start by simply speaking less and letting others talk more every chance you get. At the coffee station, during carpool, in your next meeting.
Focus on the speaker Cue in to the person talking and do everything you can to stay focused. Pay attention to their body language and listen to the specific words they use. You should naturally pick up on their tone, which will give you an idea of how they’re feeling.
Practice staying attentive – hearing not only what was said, but how they said it and how they feel about what they were talking about. Your focus is on understanding their motivation and identifying what critical issues are impacting their buy-in of your ideas and suggestions.
Pay attention to the group dynamic Sometimes how people react to what is said, and the subsequent dialogue is just as meaningful as the original message. Tuning in to the group dynamic in meetings will give you insight into how your team works with one another, and how each person feels about new ideas or changes being discussed.
Create opportunities for everyone to share The best discussions include everyone at the table. Most organizations have a mix of personality types (and that’s a good thing), but it usually means certain people do most of the talking. Part of becoming a masterful listener is enabling others to speak and share their thoughts.
As a leader, it’s paramount that you create an environment that encourages each team member to speak up. An easy way to do this is to make time for a roundtable discussion. Every single person should be given the floor whether or not they have much to add. The point is to dedicate time for all parties to participate and to say something even if it’s only “I agree.”
Take notes while others are speaking One thing most of us are guilty of at one time or another is thinking of a response while someone else is still talking. We are so eager to share our thoughts that we stop listening and start honing in on what we want to talk about next. The problem is, you can not listen while you are thinking of a response. Having an instant reply once someone is done sharing their idea does not show that you are listening – because you weren’t. It is 100% ok to take a moment after someone is done speaking to formulate a reply.
Help yourself stay focused by taking notes when you can. If you’re in a meeting, jot down a few key points from what the other person said, and if you think of something to ask or add, jot that down too. This doesn’t mean tune out and write a novel. Your notes should be as short as possible – just enough to cue your memory.
Curb the urge to interrupt Want to show a speaker the ultimate sign of disrespect for their ideas? Interrupt them. Nothing says “I matter more than you” like cutting someone off mid-sentence. No matter how important your addition to the conversation is, wait until the current speaker is finished talking. Take notes, silently remind yourself to focus, do whatever you can to avoid disrupting the natural flow of the conversation.
The best leaders are inherently great communicators. They understand the importance of giving up the floor, allowing others to share their thoughts and ideas, and genuinely listening to their team, their target audience, and their competitors. Tuning in to the world around you will help you build stronger relationships, create buy-in to your ideas, and help you advance your career. You can improve your listening skills and strengthen your leadership abilities by deciding to practice active listening at every opportunity.
Want more targeted career management advice and insight?Contact us today to learn how tailored, one-on-one executive coaching can take your career to the next level.
Author: Joanne Loberg of JL Careers Inc. is a Certified Executive Coach and Internationally Certified Career Management Professional. She has a reputation as a highly sought-after Career Consultant and she has been referred to as “an absolute expert at navigating the complex territory of career advancement.” Joanne provides leadership coaching, career transition programs, and job search services for Professionals and Executives. Copyright JL Careers Inc. All rights reserved.
Wishing you much career success! Joanne Loberg Certified Executive Coach & Internationally Certified Career Management Professional JL Careers Inc.