How to Be a Better Listener for Career Success

 Marketing Director   May 6, 2022  Career Advice

Professional looking at laptop screen and listening during a virtual conference call on laptop.

According to a 2019 survey of education hiring managers and HR professionals, the most in-demand skill from employers is a “soft skill” – listening. Despite this, so many continue to work with colleagues that could benefit greatly from improving their listening skills.

Some examples include:

  • The supervisor that talks a mile a minute without waiting to see if what they are saying is understood.
  • The teammate whose listening skills only seem to apply to those in senior roles and not to peers at the same seniority level.
  • The folks who only seem to listen so that they can get their opinion in, not to engage with others at the discussion table.
  • The “interrupter” who talks over others.

What can you do to sharpen your listening skills? Here are 7 suggestions for things you can work on.

1. Put the phones and laptops down.

People feel more heard and respected when you are not distracted by screens and give them your full attention.

2. Repeat what was said and paraphrase your understanding.

Paraphrasing what was said contributes to the speaker feeling heard and keeps the conversation on track with what was presented. Doing this also helps to reinforce that you have integrated what was presented. The speaker will know if any clarification is needed.

3. Pay attention to, and use, physical and nonverbal cues.

Body language can have an impact on both your understanding and the speaker’s impression of how well you are paying attention. For example, nodding as a response to the speaker’s statements if you agree (or shaking your head if you disagree) and maintaining eye contact help demonstrate that you are absorbing information.

4. Ask questions.

Raising questions ensures that the speaker feels understood as well as helps ensure you get the clarification needed for a full understanding of what was said.

5. When you agree, say so.

Nodding in agreement helps a speaker feel heard, for sure. But nothing reinforces that you’ve heard what they’ve said like an actual verbal statement, like “I agree with everything you’ve said” or “you’re right!”

6. Don’t anticipate what you think will be said.

Listen for what the speaker is saying, not to anticipate what your response to it will be.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask the speaker to repeat.

If you missed something that was said, apologize for the failure in attention and ask the speaker if they can repeat it. 

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About the Author: Shirley Huey, J.D., is a consultant providing research, writing, and strategic development assistance to organizational clients. Her experience includes service on academic and professional hiring, diversity, and professional development committees as well as coaching peers and mentees. She is also a freelance writer, with a focus on her passions: food and culture