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Are You a Good Listener?
Who doesn’t want to be a better speaker? To be able to effectively communicate and articulate your points to captivate an audience or motivate your troops is a wonderful skill to have. There are hundreds if not thousands of articles on the topic, organizations like Toastmasters, etc. As important as this skill might be, perhaps a more important one is the art of listening. It is a critical skill needed in our everyday personal and professional lives, and yes, especially for a transitioning JMO; but its quickly becoming a lost art. I recently watched a Ted Talk on listening and the author states we spend 60% of our time listening but retain just 25% of what we hear. We are often so busy wanting to hear the sound of our own voice we fail to really listen to the world around us.
In a memo from In November 1980, that Sam Walton sent Wal-Mart employees entitled “A Positive Approach to Managing People”, he specifically addresses the importance of listening. In the memo he states, “Another important quality for managing people is the ability to listen. I have found that through the years I have learned a great deal more about ways to improve our Wal-Mart Company from listening to individual associates in stores, warehouses, and offices than from my own knowledge, or from reading trade journals or other material on management or the retail industry. It’s important that we learn not to interrupt when an associate is talking. Also, when someone comes to us for an answer, we should respond by asking a question. Sooner our associates will learn to think through a problem and solve it themselves. Then they will only come to us with problems we really need to be involved in.”
For a JMO looking to transition into a developmental role, listening skills are especially critical. Companies are trying to get sense of your ability to lead within their organization, to help solve their customer’s problems, negotiate with suppliers and vendors, etc. all of which require strong listening skills. It is often very frustrating to a recruiter when a candidate fails to actively listen to their question, and instead delivers the exact answer they’ve prepared instead of the one the recruiter actually asked. Don’t get me wrong. To be successful in an interview, preparation is critical, but so is your ability to listen to the interviewer and adapt your answers as needed. Asking good quality questions also requires strong listening skills. A common mistake often made in an interview is to ask the recruiter a question and then tune out their answer because you are thinking of your next prepared question. Now, you’ve not only missed quality information but are more likely going to ask a question that is unrelated to the recruiters answer.
Luckily, listening is a skill that can be improved and our personal and professional relationships give us ample opportunities to practice and become a better active listener. If you are interested in watching the TED Talk I referenced, here it is: