CAREER ADVANCEMENT / APR. 05, 2014
version 3, draft 3

How to Listen Like a Pro

Want to make a great impression with everyone you encounter? Want to get a reputation as someone who “gets” it, quickly and the first time? Want to be highly regarded and respected by your boss and superiors? Want all this with little actual effort? Great. One word can give it all to you...LISTEN.

Of course, it’s how you listen that makes all the difference. Most of us equate “not talking” with listening to someone, and nothing could be further from the truth. Listening is a skill, and like all skills, it requires some practice and yes, a little bit of effort.

Practice, Practice, Practice

You’ll initially have to consciously work at becoming a better listener. You probably have some bad habits (we all do!) that you’ll need to eliminate. So, practice. Put these tips to work for you frequently, and before you know it, you’ll be listening like a pro...and getting noticed for doing so. It’s remarkable how something as innocent as listening - really listening - can reflect so positively on you.

It may take some time, but you'll eventually start doing these things without having to think about it. You just need to recondition yourself on the art. 

Think Before You Speak

During a conversation, don’t just wait for your turn to speak. That’s not listening, and in fact, you spend most of the time with something to say (whatever pops into your head), just waiting for an “in”, regardless of whether it truly reflects what you just heard. Instead, take a second before you speak and consider its merit. Is what you are about to say truly worthwhile? Does it contribute to the conversation and move it forward, or is it just empty filler? Does it needlessly attempt to return the conversation to you?

Resist the Temptation to Seize Control

I get it. We all like talking about ourselves and topics that interest us. But a great listener doesn’t attempt to grab hold of the steering wheel while the car is in motion. Resist the urge to take control of the conversation simply because that’s what you’re used to. Allow someone else to guide.

Ask a Question

Nothing - nothing! - does more for a genuine conversation than asking a thoughtful question. It increases engagement of the participants, it generates greater investment, and it moves it forward. It also gives permission to the other person (or people) to continue speaking.

Not to mention the fact that we appreciate and respond positively to people that show a sincere interest in us. And questions demonstrate that better than anything else.

Pause Before You Speak

This is an extension of the “Think Before You Speak” rule, but it applies even if you don’t necessarily have something concrete to say, or if you have something perfect to add. Take a two second pause. Hold it. Revel in the silence, and for two spectacular reasons: 1) It doesn’t make it seem like you were waiting for the first break in the other person’s speech to jump right in, and 2) It allows them to continue speaking if they weren’t actually done.

Active Listening Cues

Listening should be active, never passive. Standing there silently, arms hanging lifelessly at your sides (or sitting hunched over in your chair, or wherever you happen to be) makes it seem that you’re not actually listening or invested in what the other person is saying.

Active listening involves both verbal and visual cues. When we are really listening to someone, we smile. We nod. We make gestures. We laugh (quietly). We say “right”. Or “uh-huh”. Or “really?” Basically, we react to what we are hearing. Be careful though, as too much (too loud, too emphatic, etc.) can often come across as artificial or like we are desperately waiting for our turn to speak. Just react. Genuinely and sincerely.  

Look ‘Em in the Eye

Ever speak to someone who wasn’t looking at you? Not a good feeling, is it? Eye contact is a dying art, especially in a world with ubiquitous smartphones and tablets. Looking down at a screen while someone is speaking to you is rude, inconsiderate, and a surefire indication that you are not listening. In fact, nothing says “I don’t care” more than avoiding eye contact. You should look directly at someone speaking to you. Always.  

Be Your Ideal Self

Taken altogether, these reminders will have you listening like a rock star. Imagine how you would want someone to listen to you, and be that ideal listener. People appreciate a good listener, and they like someone who is one...even if they can’t quite articulate why. It’s a skill that will only serve and benefit you.

Listen. And hear.  

Photo by Lifehack quotes

 

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