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Work on Your Listening


Ever overheard part of a stranger’s conversation and wonder, however briefly, what the outcome was? Ever heard music playing in the background at a restaurant when you first walk in—and never paid attention to it again?

Hearing and listening are not the same. The distinction is very important. What do you hear when your manager says “Great job, Tyler. I especially liked the bond you created with the client. Next time, though, see if you can get your report in by noon instead of 5 pm.”

Do you pat yourself on the back and walk away satisfied—or do you start thinking about how you can complete the same quality work a little faster? If your answer is the former, you probably tuned out after “great job.” If it’s the latter, there are ways you can up your game. You can:

  • Take a 50,000-foot view of the project with the purpose of critically assessing your performance.
  • Set up a meeting with your supervisor to discuss ways you can be more efficient.
  • Talk to a mentor or coach about how to approach the situation.

Good listening is a skill you can learn, and one that will be important to your career growth. The above example is pretty simple; real life situations often require more intuition. That’s especially true when you’re looking for business development opportunities. They can easily slip away if you don’t know how to read between the lines.

It takes practice, but it’s possible to become good at listening. Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t multitask. Stay in the moment; resist the urge to check your phone.
  • Show the speaker you’re listening. Body language is important. Maintaining eye contact, leaning forward and nodding as appropriate are common ways to do this. (Don’t forget to watch the client’s body language. It’s as important to the outcome as your own.)
  • Don’t interrupt unless you need clarification. Let the person finish his/her thought before saying anything—unless you aren’t sure you understand what’s being said. Saying something like “I’m sorry to interrupt, but is this what you meant when you said….” Then, restate what the person said in your own words.
  • Silence isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s a sign that the person is thinking about what’s been said. It may feel awkward, so don’t let it go longer than about 30 seconds before restarting the conversation.
  • Keep track of things that are significant to the other person. People often drop tidbits of information along the way, like birthdays and anniversaries, favorite restaurants and hobbies. Keep track of these things in your contacts’ details. They can be good conversation starters at your next meeting.