People always want to know what it takes to make it to the next level or obtain career success. If you focus on three behaviors - listening, learning, and living, you will create a strong foundation 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 when the speaker stops so we jump in and talk, or we are so busy thinking about what we are going to say that we are not listening to the other person's view.
Not being fully engaged is the wrong approach. It is best if you focus on the speaker to 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.
Listening is critical to understand what a client or target's needs or expectations are.
Not listening can also lead you to misunderstand an assignment or miss the business purpose.
You may not hear that critical information you can use to modify your approach or better position yourself to get that new piece of business.
Not having the information can also limit your ability to provide spot-on and innovative advice. You jump to a black-and-white answer rather than thinking more creatively and offering up an alternative solution based on the information unique to that situation.
Listening takes patience. I have seen people physically have to contain themselves to prevent them from interrupting the speaker and taking over the conversation. When you behave in this way, your audience thinks you do not care about what they are saying or their needs so they may shut down or worse, shut down and 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. Ask follow-up questions to confirm understanding and add value. You also want to ensure 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 disagree 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. It would be best if you also acknowledged 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 a welcoming environment with 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. 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. It would be best if you focused on becoming a better business developer, 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 skills?
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.
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. Tackling a project 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 consider 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 critical milestones and hold yourself to obtaining them (or have a buddy and both of you hold each other accountable 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 engaging, creative, and relatable person. Having a life outside of work can help you develop relationships. If you focus only on work, it is hard to connect with you and create a bond.
Colleagues, clients, managers, and sponsors want to have relationships with someone they view as human beings and not robots. One of my clients took more time to pursue some outside interests and she was surprised to learn how she had deeper relationships over time as a result of this.
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.
Want more tips on how you can advance in your career? Download Sheila's 10 Tips for In-House Counsel Struggling to Advance where she shares her time-tested tips for in-house counsel to release fear, jump-start your career, and propel towards promotion.