You probably consider yourself a pretty good listener.
You go through your day, interacting with co-workers, friends and family members. And you think you’re actually listening to the other person.
But are you really giving them your full attention?
With so many distractions and interruptions around us, it can be hard to capture everything a person says. Or what they actually mean by it.
And even when you block out the external clutter, you still have to battle your internal chatter from pulling away your attention.
Sometimes what we think is ‘listening’ is actually more like just waiting for our turn to talk.
The Impact to Your Career
So if you think you could use even just a little improvement in the listening department, consider this:
Improved listening could benefit your career.
Shortly after Forbes published a list of in-demand jobs for this year, they ran a follow-up list of the top skills that correlated to those jobs.
And what’s one critical skill required in 9 out of 10 of those most in-demand jobs?
What is Active Listening?
In a nutshell, Active Listening involves giving your full attention to what other people are saying, making an effort to understand their points, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting.
It requires that you intentionally focus on who you’re listening to in order to truly understand what he or she is intending to communicate.
As the listener, you should be able to repeat back in your own words what they have said – to their satisfaction.
This doesn’t mean you have to agree with the person, just that you understand what they are saying before you respond to it.
For an interesting take on the concept of listening, consider the Chinese character for the action, “to listen”.
The left side of the symbol represents an ear. The right side represents the individual with eyes, undivided attention, and heart.
Now that’s an active listener. Why is Active Listening in Demand?
The workplace is full of opportunities for potential conflict, and many managers lack the time, interpersonal skills, or experience to referee disagreements between employees.
The practice of Active Listening lessens the frequency and severity of conflict between employees, so hiring people who already exhibit these skills is appealing to an employer.
It’s Not Just for Work Anymore
But even if you’re not interested in any of the in-demand jobs on Forbes’ list, Active Listening will help you in other ways.
Dale Carnegie swears that Active Listening is the key to making a great first impression.
Relationship expert Dr. John Gray says Active Listening will improve personal relationships.
And according to R. G. Newman of Communicating in Business Today, listening is a growth experience that provides information while building deep, positive relationships.
How to Practice Active Listening
Active Listening requires that we get inside the speaker, and that we grasp, from his point of view, what he is communicating to us. Here’s how to do it:
1. Begin with a positive, engaged attitude. Instead of focusing on how you’d like to influence the outcome of an upcoming conversation, think about what you might learn from the other person.
2. Pay Attention. Look at the other person directly and put aside any distracting thoughts that might pop up. Ignore environmental factors that could distract, like side conversations or cell phone notifications.
Don’t fracture your attention by mentally preparing a counter-argument to what they’re saying. And since non-verbal communication also factors in, notice their body language and tone.
3. Show That You’re Listening. Use your own body language and gestures to indicate they have your attention. Nod or smile occasionally, and ensure that your posture is open and inviting.
4. Provide Feedback. Our personal filters, judgments, and beliefs will often distort what we hear. As an active listener, it’s your job to understand what is being said. This may require you to paraphrase what you’ve heard and ask questions to clarify certain points.
Active Listening is not always an easy skill to acquire. It takes practice, and it could even require a change in your basic attitude.
But if you make the effort, you’ll find that you have a handy new tool in your toolbox. One that’s in demand with hiring managers. Good luck!
Image courtesy of James Vaughan.