You can build up your resume, but without good listening skills it’s all wasted. Here’s how to rise above modern distractions to focus on what you hear — and make sure it sticks.
Here’s a typical scene every time I go through a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through:
Me: One medium hot latte with skim milk
Crew: OK, would you like it hot or cold?
Crew: Whole or skim milk?
Me: Skim milk
Every. Single. Time. And that’s just a single item order.
What happened to not fiddling with your phone while serving customers?
Are they even taking their summer job seriously? Yes, I know internships and summer jobs pay barely minimum wage but it’s not just about the money. Sadly, this realization is lost on so many employees.
Summer jobs and internships build up your “soft” skills, particularly listening and customer service — without which it would be very difficult for you to get a good job. It’s not just a concern for fresh graduates. Even tenured professionals will find it hard to advance their career if they’re bad listeners.
Why are so many employees poor listeners?
The art of listening and communicating effectively — sans the “indispensable” smartphone — is almost impossible for many people. It’s common for many to “multi-listen,” which means listening to someone talk while doing something else.
Sometimes, they’re listening to you talk while listening to music. Other times the conversation is interrupted by checking a notification or message from their phone.
The popularity of instant messaging apps and social networking sites doesn’t help either — there’s no need to pay attention to a speaker when there’s no real face-to-face conversation. Preoccupation and too much stimulation from games and the Internet is also a contributing factor.
I really hope everyone — from fresh graduates to tenured professional — will pay attention because listening is much more critical. The work history and accomplishments listed on their resume will be wasted if they don’t care enough to listen.
Here’s how to improve communication — especially listening — skills.
Choose someone you admire and really pay attention
Commit yourself to listening to someone you admire for the whole day. Don’t just hear; use all five senses to listen. Observe the speaker’s diction, body language and tone of voice. Pay attention to what this person says as well as what’s not said.
At the end of the day, try to recall as much as possible of what the person said, including non-verbal cues. The more you recall, the better your listening has improved. This listening and focus exercise will change bad habits like multi-listening and spacing out in the midst of a conversation.
Love TV? Good, use it to listen well
Select a news or informative program you love. Listen closely for 10 to 15 minutes then turn it off. Can you recall what you heard? This isn’t as easy as the first exercise because there could be multiple speakers in the program.
Turn it on again and repeat the whole exercise, this time make eye contact with one of the speakers on the show. This is a safer way to practice your listening and eye contact skills without giving people the creeps.
Don’t be prejudiced — meditate instead
Your brain stops paying attention to the talker once you start judging his appearance, mannerisms or statements. (Click here to tweet this fact.) Never dismiss someone as nagging, shallow, ill-informed, wrong or whatever label you please without hearing the end of their story.
If you really can’t resist giving in to your bias, do it after the talker finishes what he has to say.
Easier said than done, right? You can avoid this through meditating.
When people first try meditation, distracting and uninvited thoughts often pop-up in their head, while they’re desperately trying to keep it “still.” But it’s really impossible for novices to stop this barrage of thoughts, so just let the thoughts come and go, while continuing to focus on their breathing. Eventually the disturbing thoughts fade away, as the brain becomes attuned to stillness.
That’s similar to what you will do. But instead of focusing on your breathing, you’re going to focus on the talker.
So next time your brain clouds your judgment with snarky remarks, let those unwelcome thoughts drift away and continue listening to the talker. Do that repeatedly and eventually you’ll get used to listening to the whole story without butting in.
Listening is an underrated skill for people because they’re too focused on industry-related skills, not knowing that core skills like listening trump almost every skill there is. If nothing else, listening will make it easier for you to keep your job.
Commit to improve your listening skills now. Remember, getting fired because of poor listening makes for a bad reference.
Michelle Riklan is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Certified Employment Interview Consultant (CEIC). She has written hundreds of resume and coached clients through all phases of the job search.