Interacting with other people is a necessary part of life, no matter how much we'd like to avoid it. Too often, we all have conversations where we concentrate on the information we want to convey rather than what the other person is talking about.
Active listening is not just about hearing a person speak, but also about paying attention to their meaning, which can be found in their body language and other nonverbal cues. An active listener is empathetic to a person's emotions, past experiences, and current circumstances. Often, as we grow older, we are more in tune with other people's emotions. As you reach your 20's and 30's, your active listening skills are much better than when you were a teenager fresh from high school.
Your life experience gives you certain skills that cannot be acquired elsewhere. Young women who find themselves ready to make a career change may not realize how their life experience may translate into jobs skills. Certainly, those who are coming from a job in the service industry will have active listening skills, while mothers who choose to go back to work once their children are in school will have heightened awareness of other people's needs and wants.
The skills required for your job search are often applicable on the job as well. This is certainly the case with Active Listening, which is a necessary characteristic of a good networker. Whether you have a career in healthcare, retail, IT, or administration (or pretty much any workplace for that matter), being able to listen effectively will help you negotiate, avoid conflict, and care for others.
Where can Active Listening help?
Once you start consciously paying close attention to the conversations you have, you will be surprised at the variety of situations in which you can use active listening. When talking to your family and friends you may also find yourself getting more out of the interactions than previously.
Paying attention to more than just the words used will also help you to ask the right questions. If a certain topic seems to cause anxiety, which can present itself in the form of fidgeting or quickened breathing, you know there might be further issues that need to be talked about. Here are just a few ways active listening can help your working life.
Searching for a Job
You never know who will help you along your career path. Obviously, this means being nice to people you meet, but it also means actually listening to what they have to say. People love to talk about themselves; encouraging this is the best way to approach a new contact and expand your network.
Working in Healthcare
When working in frontline healthcare, 'care' is not just a word in the title. Caring is an essential aspect of these roles, in terms of both a patient's physical and mental well-being. Simply feeling as if they have been listened to can help a patient navigate a difficult situation. It can also result in better health outcomes.
A patient is much more likely to share important information when they feel the person they are speaking to is actively engaged with them and genuinely wants to know more about their health and well-being.
Working in IT Support
When working in information technology positions, especially in support roles, dealing with clients and other departments can be extremely frustrating. Often, the person you are speaking with will not have the same knowledge of a topic as you do. You will have to listen for keywords that can clue you in to what you can do to solve the issue.
Not only will you need to use active listening skills to really understand what a client needs, but you should also have the skills to explain complex processes in a simple and clear manner while remaining patient and calm. It can be a stressful situation when technology is not working how it is supposed to, so rather than make a situation worse for your client or coworker by getting stressed yourself, you should have the ability to diffuse the situation.
Working in Retail
You've heard the old adage, "The customer is always right." While this may not stand up in practice (we've all met particularly difficult people in our time), implementing active listening when dealing with complaints can ensure you find a resolution that suits both parties. Most customers just want to be acknowledged. As the salesperson, you need to be listening for what possible solutions are when they are telling you what the issue is while also being engaged with them so they feel heard.
Whether it is giving them a friendly smile and nod when they are waiting for service and you are helping someone else, or by being completely present and respectful when dealing with an issue, the acknowledgment and understanding active listening creates can help ease a potentially tense situation.
10 Top Tips for Active Listening
Here are ten tips on how to listen well to develop your career networks, and also improve your working relationships with clients, management, and coworkers.
- Break the ice: Small gestures like a warm smile and a friendly handshake can make someone feel more comfortable talking to you.
- Be present: This is a skill that takes a lot of practice, and no one else can teach you. If you are constantly looking at the clock, the door to see who is coming in, or looking at your phone, it will give the impression that you have somewhere more important to be. The idea is to be completely focused on the person in front of you and what they are saying. It also means asking relevant questions (see below) and making them feel at ease.
- Use open body language: Crossed arms and legs, hunched shoulders, glances over your shoulder are all signs telling the person you are talking to that you don't want to be there. Keep your body language and posture open, make sure you avoid fidgeting as much as possible. If your body language is calm it will encourage the person you are speaking with to be calm as well.
- Take it all in: Let them finish what they are saying! Nerves can get the better of all of us but to listen actively you need to hear all of what a person has to say. And don't be afraid of silence. Give a few seconds pause after the person stops speaking to ensure they have said everything they need to. A pause will also show you are truly thinking through what they have said and were not just listening to respond to what they said.
- Paraphrase: Repeat back to the person what they have said, using your own words, in such a way that they feel comfortable enough to correct you if you have misunderstood their meaning.
- Reflective Listening: While paraphrasing focuses on what the person is saying, reflective listening is about what a person is feeling. This involves acknowledging how the person is feeling but, just like paraphrasing, it also means leaving room for them to correct you if you get it wrong.
- Ask relevant questions: Show genuine curiosity in the person in front of you. Use their response to frame your responses. Ask questions that build on what they just said.
- Get rid of the phone: This is so important it bears repeating. We just can't help it— we are all drawn to check our phones. But every time you glance at your phone you are telling the other person that you have other things to do. Act like you genuinely want to be there, give the person your full attention, and put the phone in your bag.
- Talk about yourself, when appropriate: Insert your own relevant points of experience or information about yourself to put them at ease. This shows the other person that you understand what they are saying, not just intellectually, but on a personal level as well.
- Be honest, always: In any situation, honesty is the best policy. If you don't know something, you will gain more respect in the long run if you admit to it. This is a good chance to ask about it! People usually love talking about something they are knowledgeable about so this is a great way to keep the conversation flowing – and show that you are keen to learn.
Again, active listening is a skill that we acquire as we grow older, and it is an area where life experience can directly translate to an important and sought-after job skill. The more active listening ability you have, the easier your employer will be able to train you, and the better you will interact with clients, patients, and customers.
Active listening is taught alongside interpersonal, customer service, and communication skills within CCI Training Center's Business Accounting program. For information on how to further your listening skills or learning more about a career in IT or healthcare fill out the form and we'll get in touch.