Listening is a funny skill. For many leaders, it is a non-skill.
However, what could be a more fundamental skill for hiring talented teams, leading people, or closing the next big sale?
And what skill is more important in getting hired for your dream job and achieving career success?
Beginning during my Ph.D. training as a psychologist, and over the subsequent two decades as an and leadership advisor, I observe that there are 5 degrees of listening skills.
Here they are from worst to best:
1. The worst way to listen is to not listen. To just talk. It’s really hard to listen when you are the one making all of the sounds in the room. Don’t be the one doing all the talking.
2. The second worst way to listen is simply to not talk. Your future boss may think that you are not smart enough to keep up, or you don’t really care, if you just sit there and don’t talk. Not talking is not the same thing as actively listening.
3. Nod and say “mmm hmm.” Oh good, at least there is a pulse in you. But just nodding and making moaning noises is not super insightful and does not build rapport as well as the next two levels of listening.
4. Reflect what you heard. Just say what they just said. If they said, “Our growth strategy is primarily through international expansion,” then a pure reflection would be to say, “So your growth strategy is international.” Your future boss will say, “Yep,” and will be only mildly impressed with you.
5. Reflect the “emotion behind the statement.” Imagine if your future boss just told you that the industry is changing extremely fast, and that the company has been struggling to change as fast as the industry is changing. She told you this with a frown on her face.
Degree 4 would be to say “The industry is changing fast. The company has to change fast.” This is child’s play compared to the Degree 5 listening where you reflect the emotion behind the statement.
Degree 5 listening would be something like, “It sounds like everything is changing so fast. It must be stressful keeping up.” Your future boss will say, “Yes, it is.” Then you add, “You need to count on your team, and know that they can keep up with the speed of change.” Your future boss will say, “Exactly.” Once you first hear the word “exactly,” the probability that you will receive a job offer is at least 80%. That is because your future boss feels that you understand him or her, that you care, and that you are the person to deliver them something good (like results), or to remove something bad (like stress). We are animals. We seek safety with others. We need to know whether someone is an ally or an enemy. Reflecting the emotion behind a statement can help leap-frog you right into “ally” mode with your future boss, and get you your dream job.
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