Are you a good listener?
Before you answer the question, take a moment to really think about it. Do the important things that people say to you resonate? Spark contemplation? Create understanding? Generate positive and productive action? Or do they go in one ear and out the other…
I work with scores of lawyers and corporate executives each year. And as we have blazed through 2016, I have taken inventory of this year’s trends in the professional world – and have noticed something significant. One of the most important qualities valued by hiring managers and other professionals – across the board – when assessing/judging a candidate, employee, employer, manager or colleague is…the ability to listen. I’m not talking about a head nod and look of earnestness accompanied by a verbal affirmation, but rather the ability to HEAR what the other person is saying. And respond. Not by gestures or words, but by actions. Actions that demonstrate consideration, respect and understanding.
It is this single character trait…or lack thereof, which has served as the demise of many candidacies, the loss of promotions, fracturing of relationships and the source of negative impressions. On the flip side, it has created competitive advantages, elevated careers, strengthened relationships and has been a strong contributor in enhancing professional reputations.
So what’s all the fuss about “listening” anyway? Why such polarizing impact? Listening is easy. We’ve been doing it since we were kids – all day every day. Second nature…Right? Wrong.
Being all ears is not easy. In fact, it’s downright difficult. Why? Because being a good listener is a selfless act. It requires a person to check his/her agendas, insecurities, fears, stubbornness, ego and all other “me” issues at the door and focus, for a short period of time…on the other person. Wholly and completely: his/her needs, point of view and expressions of what s/he finds important. When this successfully occurs, the message you project is that you value your conversation partner. You are engaged. And you care. These are powerful messages that go to the heart of cultivating good relationships and creating positive experiences.
We’re all operating in a lightning speed, Darwinian world. A “me” culture. And while we’ve needed to develop the mechanisms to compete in such a world, at times these mechanisms undermine even the greatest of intentions. So it’s our responsibility to take inventory from time to time to ensure we are tending to the most important qualities that influence our professional and personal success. Being a good listener is one such quality. So in your next quiet moment, think about what makes you a good listener and how you can improve. And the next time you engage in an important conversation – whether it’s with your boss, colleague, interviewer, spouse, friend or the kids – I recommend the following: (1) Clear your mind and slow it down; (2) Make eye contact with and focus on the person speaking; (3) Engage, ask questions, gain understanding of what s/he is saying or seeking; (4) Determine whether there are any cues or requests for you to act. If so, define what they are. And act. You’ll be blown away by the results.
Tuning in requires effort, patience and tremendous skill. It also takes courage. I know that may sound a bit odd, but it isn’t easy to set aside one’s needs and emotions to fully attend to another individual in a conversation. But that is what being a good listener is all about. And for those who possess this highly valued and coveted skill, it will serve as a great asset towards achieving a rewarding professional and personal life. A noble goal…and message most worthy of being heard.