After a lifetime of waiting for our turn to speak, it can be hard to close our mouths and open our ears. Which is too bad, because listening, although rarely mentioned in the skills section on a resume, is one of the most important things we can do to get ahead at work.
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“Genuine listening has become a rare gift — the gift of time,” writes Dianne Schilling at Forbes. “It helps build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts, and improve accuracy. At work, effective listening means fewer errors and less wasted time.”
For leaders especially, listening is essential: without the ability to hear what people are saying, you’re less likely to recognize good ideas, promote the right people, and retain the folks who make your organization succeed.
So how can you become a better listener?
1. Practice active listening techniques.
Active listening engages listeners with what speakers are saying. Instead of preparing a mental rebuttal and waiting for their chance to chime in, active listeners pay attention to what the other person is saying, both with words and body language. Mind Tools offers a good explanation of how to use this system.
2. Understand why listening is important to others.
Learning how to really pay attention can be good for your career, but perhaps even more importantly, it’s good for everyone around you. Good listening skills are part of emotional intelligence, which makes your co-workers feel valued, heard, and understood. This strengthens relationships in the workplace, improving productivity and job satisfaction.
There’s always time to judge, but you only have the present moment to hear what someone is saying and take in new information. When you find yourself bristling or inclined to interrupt, remember that listening is not the same as endorsing. You won’t be poisoned by a bad idea because you didn’t cut it off in mid-sentence. Plus, you and your conversational partner might discover a good idea, if you take the time to listen and lay the foundation for collaboration.
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