November 20, 2012
Better listening skills could mean more promotions
I recently evaluated the difference in listening skills between my 7-year-old niece and a grown adult. My niece won.
She told me exactly what I said in a previous conversation, while the other adult could barely remember the topic we discussed. As I stood there shaking my head, it reminded me of the importance of listening and how often we fail to do so, especially at work.
Have you ever been sitting in a meeting only to realize someone just asked you a question and everyone is staring, waiting for your answer, and -- oops -- you weren't paying attention? Ever looked down at your watch or glanced at a clock while listening to a slow talker?
If that has happened to you, you're not alone. Studies show that adults tend to listen at only 25 percent efficiency, and "most adult listeners are preoccupied, distracted and forgetful nearly 75 percent of the time" (Jalongo, 1995, p. 13). Unfortunately, when listening skills are poor, we miss out on a lot of good information, which can negatively affect relationships and hinder our chances of obtaining promotions at work.
Multiple research studies show listening as the most frequently cited critical employment skill, and say it is considered "a good predictor of who receives promotions and other similar rewards" (HRDQ, n.d., p. 18). When good listening skills are practiced, the results can be positively amazing.
The hard part is that listening must be practiced, which can be energy-consuming. Some of the most exhaustive business meetings are when I'm actively listening and taking notes. Effective listening does require concentration and effort, but it's well worth it.
To improve your listening skills, try these tips for effective listening from Kinicki and Kreitner (2008, p. 310):
Pay attention. Give the speaker your full attention, don't interrupt and don't be distracted by other activities, such as looking at your watch or phone.
Listen to understand, not to reply. Listen closely to ensure you understand what is being said, and don't think about what you'll say next.
Repeat or clarify information. Repeat back or ask questions about what you heard to make sure you understand.
With so many benefits to good listening, isn't it about time to work on improving your skills? Maybe we can all gain back the skills we had as 7-year-olds.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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