We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. – Epictetus
Every step of our careers requires us to be great listeners: networking, interviews, all aspects of our jobs themselves. But how many of us really excel at actively listening and absorbing what’s being said at any given time? It can be argued that rusty listening skills can, and possibly often do, pose some of the biggest problems for job seekers and the employed alike in achieving their goals—whether those goals are to obtain a job or to progress in one. If you’re looking to improve your listening skills, there are ways to practice active listening; as with every other skill, practice makes perfect.
Imagine you’re out to lunch with a coworker. The two of you are discussing an important project that you’ve been working hard on and take quite a bit of pride in. Your colleague seems to be listening at first, but then turns to read a text message, encouraging you to continue speaking while they do so. They type back while you’re talking, then put the phone away and fix their gaze on some far-away point past your shoulder.
Now, imagine this: you’re at that same lunch with that same coworker, only they are looking you in the eye and nodding as you speak. On occasion, they pitch in to paraphrase what you say or to ask a question. They don’t turn their attention away to anything or anyone else while you speak and wait until you finish what you have to say before chipping in with their own ideas, and their ideas seem to reflect and compliment your own.
Even if you aren’t very perceptive with social cues, you’re likely feeling as if your coworker would rather be elsewhere in the first scene. But your colleague’s behavior in the second instance suggests an obvious investment in what you’re saying, as it’s the behavior of an engaged listener.
So the next time you have a conversation with someone, model your behavior after your hypothetical coworker. Avoid distractions such as your phone and thinking about anything other than what the person is saying. Make eye contact to show that you’re focusing on the person, and rather than form your response ahead of time—something many of us subconsciously do—focus on the present and what the person is saying. Occasionally, nod to show that you understand or, if you don’t, pipe in to ask a question. By all means, just be sure to wait for a pause in the conversation to avoid interrupting the person who’s speaking.
If you’re following these steps, your body language should follow (engaged listeners tend to lean in when they’re absorbing information). Then, all that’s left to do is respond! Before voicing your own ideas or opinions, however, reiterate what the person has said in your own way to ensure you fully understood.
You’ll find that the more effort you put into actively listening, the less effort it will eventually require. Not only will your new skill improve your current relationships, it could impress a hiring manager in an interview or improve your job performance as well!
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