How to Climb the Career Ladder by Listening

Listening well requires an investment of time and effort.

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Karen Burns
You have the right education, you keep your skills and qualifications current, you work reliably and diligently, and you are willing to pay your dues. That should be enough to succeed at any job, right?

Well, it’s a start.

[See 21 secrets to getting the job.]

You also need good interpersonal skills. Meaning, you want to be easy to work with and an invaluable member of the team. Your aim? To be the one that bosses choose to hold on to when faced with the task of thinning the ranks.

A fantastic way to boost your people skills is to be a good listener. This may sound pretty basic. But have you ever worked with someone who is a bad listener? It’s like talking to a wall, isn’t it? Even when bad listeners are whizzes at the work itself, they are always a problem and an irritant in the workplace. No one likes having to deal with them.

[See why you need to be better public speaker.]

The opposite is also true. Listening well and carefully makes you shine on the job. Listening builds rapport, enriches relationships, and can ease a tense working environment. Being a good listener even makes you a more productive worker, because you better understand assignments and expectations. Good listening is also one of the most important ingredients in being a good leader.

In fact, listening is such a splendid skill it’s surprising that good listeners are as rare as paid overtime. Maybe it’s our hurry-it-up, want-it-yesterday world. Maybe it’s that we’re all busy trying to “brand” ourselves or to impress people. Or maybe it just sounds too simple. But it’s not. Listening well requires an investment of time and effort.

[See why you don't need to love your job.]

Okay, so you can probably stand to spiff up your listening skills. How? Start with these tips:

  • Put aside your own thoughts and focus on your speaker.
  • Look for the meaningful, the worthwhile, in what the speaker is saying.
  • Pay attention to your speaker’s facial expression and body language.
  • Ask meaningful, relevant questions.
  • Paraphrase what the speaker just said.
  • Nod your head, or tilt it to one side.
  • Meet the speaker’s gaze from time to time.
  • Put a receptive expression on your face.
  • Use interjections (“aha,” “yes,” “hmm,” or “I see what you mean”).
  • Adopt a posture similar to that of the speaker (“mirroring”).
  • Lean forward, toward the speaker.
  • Sit (or stand) still.
  • Take notes.
  • That’s not all. There are also a few things you should be sure not to do:

    • Don’t be mentally formulating your response.
    • Don’t be looking for errors.
    • Don’t change the subject.
    • Don’t jump to conclusions.
    • Don’t finish the speaker’s sentences.
    • Don’t text, check E-mail, or indulge in any other so-called “multitasking.”
    • A final word of warning: Go easy on the head nodding/tilting, eye contact, interjections, and mirroring. Overdoing them quickly turns to parody. Your speaker may feel patronized or—worse—mocked. Remember that listening is a power you already have; you don’t need to exaggerate.

      Listening! Try it and see what happens.

      Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at