The Art of Listening

9 10 2012

The art of listening:  Yes, it’s an art.  In the hustle and bustle of an instant gratification world, listening is seemingly becoming a lost art.  You might be saying, “I’m supposed to be selling myself as a job seeker, having my elevator pitch ready to deliver at a moment’s notice.  I thought this was about ME?”  Well, it is…sort of.  Having your pitch ready to go will only get you so far.  You have to listen, really listen to yourself and your potential employer or client if you want to succeed.

Here are a few examples:

DURING THE SEARCH: Research your potential employer or client. Listen to their story, learn what challenges they face.  Before you go in with a solution to end all problems, listen.  You would be amazed at how many times I’ve seen someone in an interview or executive presentation that had absolutely NO idea what the real issues were.  They simply had the solution, but didn’t actually listen (ie: research, interview, etc.) to the people who were faced with the challenges.  I am not saying that you need to know everything about everyone.  It does help to know as much as possible.  As a job seeker, knowing the company’s challenges and how you can help them overcome their challenges can set you apart from the rest of the competition.  Calibrate yourself to target their needs.  Don’t tell them all about YOU.  Tell them what you can do for THEM.  Show interest in the organization’s success and explain how you can contribute to that success.  In the end, it really isn’t about you!

WHEN YOU NETWORK: When you’re networking, the opening line should ALWAYS be about them.  Something like, “I’ve heard of your company, but what exactly do you do?” or “Congratulations on your recent award in sustainability!  Would you mind sharing with me one of your key initiatives?  I’d love to learn more.”  Break the ice about THEM, and then know enough about them to carry on an intelligent conversation.  Take note of what they’re saying, but also note what they’re NOT saying.  Nonverbal cues such as crossed arms, wandering eyes, or stronger cues like complete disinterest (this is typically when the person pulls out their smartphone) tell you that you need to wrap it up and move on.

GIVE CREDIT: Give credit where credit is due.  If you found all your valuable information on the company’s website, mention that to them when you’re presenting your solution to the company.  If the idea for your solution was sparked by a conversation you had with a colleague, be sure to credit them appropriately.  This could be something as simple as, “Bob and I were speaking about this issue the other day.  During that conversation, my interest was sparked and I was inspired to expand on his solution with the following research.”  Give Bob some credit – he helped you arrive at the solution.  In the world of work, giving credit to your team goes a long way.  It’s much better than taking all the glory yourself.  To be honest, too much spotlight-hogging is a real turn-off for most managers.  If it’s a team effort, mention it.  Give credit where credit is due.  It’s a small way to pay it forward.

Listen.  It really isn’t that hard to do.  People love to talk about themselves.  So if you’re a job seeker, ask questions of those that are employed by the companies of interest.  Ask them what they love about their job.  Ask them what their biggest challenges are as an organization.  The same thing applies to you if you have a job.  If you ask questions, listen with intent, and provide relevant and valuable solutions, your potential is unlimited!

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