Say What? Listening as a Career Skill

Fast, non-stop, whirlwind – does this describe your day? Regardless of your profession, family life or personal interests, there’re just not enough hours in the day. And with all this hustle and haste, there’s one skill that’s rapidly becoming a lost art – listening. 
But it’s often overlooked that listening is one of the most important and sought-after soft skills we can possess – particularly in the workplace. Listening properly requires us to slow down. It forces us to drown out other thoughts in our heads and focus intently on the person speaking, what they are saying and how they’re saying it. 
Listening Tips to Further Your Career
We listen at a rate of 125-250 words per minute, but think at a rate of 1,000-3,000 words per minute, according to Get In Front Communications. Take that combined with the fact that less than 2 percent of people have had any formal education on how to listen, and you can see why so many people may have a difficult time with this skill. 
Below are a few tips that will get you on the right path to enhancing your listening skills. They include comments from Angela Vitzthum, branch director of The Creative Group in Chicago, based on her work with employers and job seekers in the Chicago area. 
1. Stop multi-tasking. Many times, we are listening while typing, reading, looking elsewhere or listening to someone else. Stop trying to listen while doing ten other things. “There’s a big difference between hearing and listening,” said Vitzthum. “To get the complete picture of the message, and be respectful to the person speaking, it’s important to stop and give them your complete attention.” 
2. Focus on the speaker. This includes facing the speaker, maintaining eye contact and watching the speaker’s body language. You will glean much more of an understanding by focusing on not just the words spoken, but on the person as a whole. 
3. Resist the urge to think about your response. With our brains hard-wired to think at the rate of 1,000-3,000 words per minute, this may be the most difficult guideline to put into practice. “Oftentimes, we begin evaluating the message prematurely,” said Vitzthum. “We start sorting, classifying and drawing conclusions before the person is even done talking.” Make a conscious effort to clear your mind and completely focus on the message – don’t think about what you’ll say next.”
Improved listening skills can lead to fewer errors in the workplace, greater understanding between colleagues and fewer conflicts. If you can make it your goal to implement even just one of the above tips, it will go a long way to furthering your professional relationships.