Listen up! Your job might depend on it


May 22, 1994|By Niki Scott | Niki Scott,Universal Press Syndicate

A friend of mine who's bright, imaginative and hard-working is in trouble at work and can't figure out why.

"I must be screwing up," she said. "I'm making lots of mistakes, and my boss is complaining that she has to clean up behind me. It's true that I'm making lots of mistakes. I think I know exactly what my boss wants, but a lot of times it turns out I've gotten it wrong."

While we talked, her eyes darted around the room and she interrupted me often in the middle of a sentence. She also drummed her fingers and fidgeted with the silverware, salt shaker and napkin. Margie is good at a lot of things, but listening isn't one of them.

Chances are her problems at work are compounded, if not created, by poor listening habits.

She's not alone.

Truly attentive listeners are hard to find, which is too bad, because poor listening skills cause most of the misunderstandings, disagreements, disputes and screw-ups in our business lives as well as our personal lives.

If you're having problems at work, you might ask yourself if it's because you haven't been listening -- really listening -- while other people talk.

Your answers to these questions should give you a clear picture of how you rate on the attentive listening scale:

* Is it hard for you to maintain eye contact with people who are talking to you?

* Do you often start to respond before other people have finished speaking?

* Do you sometimes talk on and on, so that no one can react or respond to what you're saying?

* Are you likely to make small, impatient non-verbal noises, drum your fingers or sigh while others talk -- or punctuate their sentences with "yes, yes," "unh-huh," "right" or "I know"?

* Do you sometimes repeat a point another person has just made, or ask a question that has just been answered?

* Even though you may not actually interrupt other people, are you in the habit of allowing your mind to wander? Or do you listen with half an ear while planning what you're going to say next?

If you've answered "yes" to any of these questions, you may need to brush up on your listening skills, and your first step might be to listen carefully to yourself for a while, and pay close attention to your own body language while others are talking.

It's a good idea to practice maintaining eye contact, as well. This is a skill like any other -- it can be learned.

Repeating or paraphrasing what's just been said will allow you to practice listening skills -- and let others know you've heard what they're saying. You'll get a chance to verify that you've heard correctly what was said, too.

Good listening habits can mean the difference between success and failure for us, too -- in our jobs, and in our lives.

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