People always want to know what it takes to make it to the next level or to obtain career success. If you focus on three behaviors, listening, learning and living, you will be on a path for career success.
Listening is the most underutilized communication skill. Some of us think that a business or networking conversation is like being a contestant on Jeopardy. We are waiting for that moment the question is done so we jump in first and speak, or we are so busy thinking about what we are going to say that we are not really listening to the other person’s view. This is the wrong approach. You must focus on the speaker so you can understand why he or she is saying it and what his or her end goal is — to enable you to meet the person’s needs.
Not listening can also lead you to misunderstand an assignment or miss the business purpose. You may also jump to a black-and-white answer rather than thinking more creatively and offering up an alternative solution. Or you may not hear that critical information that would have allowed you to modify your approach to be better positioned to get that new piece of business.
Listening takes patience. I have seen people physically have to contain themselves to allow someone to express his or her opinion and not take over the conversation. When you behave in this way, your audience thinks that you do not care about what they are saying or their needs, so they may shut down or worse not listen to your viewpoint. You, therefore, must breathe, have engaged body language, and focus on and appreciate the other views before you.
People know and appreciate you are listening when you demonstrate it. Asking follow-up questions allows you to confirm that you understand what is being said and that you can add value. You also want to make sure that your attention is on the speaker and not on your smartphone or the window. You need to make sure your focus is known. A colleague once told me one of the most impactful things I had ever done for her as she came into my office and said she needed to talk to me about something important. I reacted by turning my computer screen away and moving my keyboard so I would not be distracted. If you are an obsessed multitasker, you may want to consider not taking a device with you if it will distract you.
Listening is even more critical when you are disagreeing with the other person. In these situations, we all, especially Type A personalities, are honing our arguments and readying to react. Again, take a minute, pause and listen to the debate — and then remember that this person is coming from a place of good intentions. You may disagree, but that does not mean the person is evil. Doing this allows you to listen and be more open to finding common ground. You should also acknowledge in these circumstances the person’s position and why he or she is thinking that and then explain why the person may want to consider other factors or views. Taking this approach creates an environment that is welcoming to open communication and may lead to compromise and resolution.
Listening is also critical when you are receiving feedback. As I have mentioned before, it is tough to grow if you are not getting feedback. Feedback, as we all know, is not always easy to hear and act on. So again, remember that the input is coming from a place of good and listen to it, and then take some time to digest it and think about it.
It is critical in this ever-changing world to be in a continuous learning mode. To stay where you are — let alone advance — you need to be continually developing. You must be learning about the changes in your field of expertise. You need to focus on how to become a better manager, leader and human being. Often, those in skill-based professions, such as legal, accounting and IT, focus on technical skills. Those skills got you where you are, but to advance, you need to learn other skills. These skills are often soft skills, such as communication, management and broad strategic thinking. So how do you learn these things? Of course, you can read books and take classes, but one of the easiest ways is to watch and listen (see how it all ties back) to how people who have achieved success react to, speak in and handle situations. How do they raise issues/solutions? What is their communication style? How do they galvanize resources behind a common goal? We are all different, so what they do may not feel right for you — but try it out and see what parts feel authentic to you.
Most true learnings and improvements come not through the classroom but through action- based learning. That is learning through doing. Often, it comes from a stretch assignment at your job. Taking on an assignment out of your comfort zone is the best way to learn, develop and show your capabilities. If you cannot find these opportunities at your day job, see if you can find a way to stretch and grow by taking on a task for an industry or volunteer organization. If that doesn’t work and you are getting stagnant, you may need to think about whether it is time to seek a new position.
Finally, we learn through feedback. You cannot grow if you don’t know what people are saying about you. Once you have the input and have assessed it, work on a development plan with key milestones and hold yourself to obtaining them (or have a buddy, and both of you hold each other to your goals).
Some of us are so focused on our day-to-day careers and objectives that we forget that we need to live a little. Having a life outside of work serves many purposes. It makes you a more interesting, creative and relatable person. This can help you develop relationships. If you are only focused on work, it is hard to connect with you and create a bond. Colleagues, clients, managers and sponsors want to have relationships with someone who they view as a human being and not a robot. Finally, having time away from the office to pursue other interests allows you to be more effective and creative at work. So live a little — it will give you a ton of benefits.
So take some time to listen, learn and live. You will feel more fulfilled and will reap enormous personal and professional benefits.