Whether you are actively looking for a new career path or hoping to strive in your current one, there are more things to learn than just hard skills. According to Forbes, there are multiple soft skills that you can learn to help your personal and professional development. “In fact, 57% of leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills.” One of the most important skills? Active listening.
Everyone defines active listening differently. Ultimately, it “is the key to getting the most out of a conversation…, while studies show that most people believe that they have above-average listening skills, the average person listens with only about 25% efficiency.” So, how do you actively work on this soft skill?
Start with asking yourself the following questions: when you pick up the phone to call your parent, sibling, or best friend, are you calling to ask how they’re doing? Or are you really just calling because you hope they will listen to you rant about your dramatic relationship, work problems, and other tribulations that you’ve endured over the past week? When you’re in a meeting, do you listen to peers or talk over them? When you’re in your quarterly meeting, are you quick to chime in with your thoughts before your manager is able to provide full feedback?
The truth is, we all love to talk. Whether it’s about drama, sharing our accomplishments, or contributing our feedback - we love to do it. Well, the majority of us do, whether we choose to admit it or not. A part of us will always feel like we need to be heard in order to feel validated and supported in our decisions moving forward.
I recently read Austin Kleon’s book, “Show Your Work!” and one of the chapters really resonated with me. In his quick, picture-filled, page-turning book, the chapter titled ‘shut up and listen” offers great advice when it comes to the soft skill of active listening.
In a world where so much information is thrown at you a mile-a-minute, it is easy to get inundated with a lot of content about almost anything. So, it’s easy to think, “Well if everyone else is purging everything on their minds, why shouldn’t I?” This is where quality over quantity takes precedence.
Austin Kleon captures the dilemma perfectly. “The world becomes all about them and their work. They can’t find the time to be interested in anything other than themselves.” However, if you take a moment to actively listen, read articles, and do your due diligence when listening to constructive feedback, you would most definitely learn a thing or two about yourself, your art, and the world around you.
Conversations are an exchange of ideas, a give and take that is mutually beneficial, ideally. When participating in this reciprocal process, you gain so much more than by just giving the other party your two cents. Active listening takes time and training. It “serves the purpose of earning the trust of others and helping you to understand their situations. Active listening comprises both a desire to comprehend as well as to offer support and empathy to the speaker.”
At the end of the day, we love sharing! Some of us want to share our day-to-day minute details with everyone and the fastest way to do that is to broadcast it on social. You’ve probably heard the saying, “If it’s not on social, it didn’t happen.” Social media has made pushing out content and the story of our lives so much easier. While it is satisfying to be the one doing the sharing, social media becomes a platform that exacerbates the behavior of both actively listening and sharing.
Some of the best social influencer profiles are ones that actively listen to their fans and deliver content based on fan recommendations. Because these influencers listen to what their community wants, they get great engagement and followers.
If you find it challenging to listen, sometimes it helps to remind yourself to take a breath, pause, and ask the other person about what’s happening in their life. You’d be surprised that sometimes just listening can be extremely impactful. It’s always easier to push out content, but taking a moment to really, truly listen to others’ opinions and contributions will make you that much more self-aware.
I might not have perfected the art of listening, but through practice, I’ve become pleasantly surprised by what I have learned, and the people I have met by simply listening to their experiences and stories. Everyone has a story, you just have to be willing to listen.
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