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The Most Critical Skill

key elements of listening

Key Components of Listening

In the midst of my job search, I’m fascinated by the variety of qualifications and expectations listed for various roles. Beyond knowledge of specific methodologies, experience, and software, I’m noticing an increased emphasis on soft skills.  Organizations are learning that the ability to be a self-directed, collaborative, flexible, and analytical problem solver who can manage multiple assignments is as important as your technical expertise. However, I believe the most critical skill is so intrinsic to others that it is rarely listed.

The art and skill of listening is the most critical for any job. I recently read a great article on LinkedIn, “Can You Hear Me?” by Beth Comstock, the Chief Marketing Officer at GE (https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130205150842-19748378-can-you-hear-me?ref=email) . In the article, she explained how an unexpected bout of laryngitis allowed her to “luxuriate in listening”. I believe that listening is a luxury we can all afford. Imagine the time and effort we could save by simply listening and ensuring that we fully understand a situation instead of reacting based on assumption. Imagine how much more effective our decision-making process would be if we focused on listening. Beth’s article spurred some thought as I did some additional research about listening skills. Many people have heard about active listening where we repeat or summarize what we heard. However, there are a few steps that must proceed or accompany listening. The Chinese symbol for listening perfectly reflects these steps:

  1. Eyes – when interacting face-to-face, we need to make eye contact to acknowledge the other person and give visual cues that we are listening.
  2. Undivided Attention – we need to focus on the speaker. This means turning away from a computer screen, paper, mobile device, or other distraction to assure the speaker that they are our primary focus.
  3. Heart – we need to observe how the person appears to feel about what they are saying. This means picking up cues in vocal tone and body language.
  4. King/Mind – we need to carefully consider what the speaker is saying instead of formulating our next comment based on a preconceived notion rather than what the speaker is currently conveying.
  5. Ear – we need to actually listen, advising the speaker if we are having trouble hearing or need to clarify a previous comment.

As much as possible, try not to interrupt. Allow the speaker to complete his or her thought. Instead of formulating your next comment while they are speaking, paraphrase their statement and use it as a bridge to connect to your own thoughts and inputs. Hopefully, when the speaker sees you as being engaged and focused on their comments, they will reciprocate and listen just as actively when you are speaking. Whether it’s a colleague or client, applying this critical skill set contributes to everyone’s success. The good news is that we have daily opportunities to practice and hone this skill.

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