These days, we wear our “busyness” as a badge of honor. We rush through emails, meetings and business lunches—and lose something valuable in the process: the ability to stop and listen. Ironically this ability is the one thing we need for success in the 21st century.
“It used to be that the smartest guy in the room was the one who was constantly talking,” says Professor Ed Hess, author of Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization. “Not anymore. Now, the smartest guy or gal in the room is the one who asks the right questions and then truly listens to what others have to say.”
According to Hess, listening is the most important skill for job success in today’s market. But in an attempt to keep up our frenetic pace, many of us have developed poor listening habits. Here are some of the worst and what you can do about them:
Interjecting. Your experiences are entirely unique and will not correlate with everyone else’s. In fact, your view of the world may be inaccurate. There is a good chance your opinions have been affected by your preconceptions and ignorance. “This is another situation where well-timed questions will serve you much better than talking over someone or trying to interject your way into the conversation,” notes Hess.
Becoming defensive in the face of feedback. Hess discusses an early mentor he calls “Mr. Feedback.” Mr. Feedback taught him the value of negative feedback and how to not to indulge in the three Ds (deny, defend and deflect) when receiving it. “Rather than getting the kind of specific, constructive feedback that can help us improve our skills, most of us will receive guarded or politically correct feedback that is fairly useless in practice,” he explains.
Confusing the speaker with his ideas. This is another tactic we use to discredit someone else or steal the spotlight. When we attack people instead of critiquing their ideas, we may secretly be hoping that our ideas will come out on top. Hess says, “It’s important that you always critique the idea, not the person giving it. Listening in a business context should focus on the merit of the idea and the credibility of the data provided to support it. The person presenting the idea should never be on trial.”
“When you work hard to improve your listening skills, you’ll become a better collaborator—a necessary skill for critical and innovative thinking and being successful in the 21st century,” says Hess. Learning to listen well can give you an important edge over the competition.
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