Being a Great Listener Can Help Your Career

Here's how to hone this skill.

(Antonio Guillem /

One of the one of the most important skills in building a successful career is the ability to listen. While drive and assertiveness may get you in the door of a dream job, listening enables you to build successful products, teams, and partnerships that will help you climb to the top.

In fact, in an article published in McKinsey Quarterly, Dr. Bernard T. Ferrari, professor and dean of the John Hopkins Carey Business School wrote: “If you aspire to be better at your job, no matter what it is, listening may be the most powerful tool at your disposal.”

Honest and genuine listening – one that is for the sake of comprehension and not rebuttal –is transformative as it fosters a supportive and collaborative workplace. When colleagues feel listened to, they feel safe to communicate, pitch ideas, and grow.

When people actively listen and ask the right questions, they enable their partner to come to innovative and important conclusions and solutions. Research also shows that in order to influence people, it is important to use his or her opponent’s framework. Listening carefully enables people to understand where the other is coming from and what will truly persuade him or her.  

So how do people become good listeners? 

Go into the conversation with the goal of gaining insight
While we all have preconceived ideas, to properly listen we must put these aside while the other person is speaking. Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer told McKinsey Quarterly the best advice he ever received about listening came from Sam Palmisano from IBM who said that he was successful because he learned how to listen with the objective of understanding what the person was trying to convey. Palmisano said," Listening for comprehension helps you get that information, of course, but it’s more than that: it’s also the greatest sign of respect you can give someone.

Ask questions
This shows the other person that you’re paying attention and genuinely interested, which will lead to a more honest and productive conversation. Clarify things that may be unclear, reflect back what you heard, and ask probing questions that allow the person to unpack the topic. Open-ended questions are best since they don’t impose an answer into the inquiry. 

Be supportive
Create a safe and nurturing space by showing your support. This can be done by displaying confidence in the person and by avoiding extensive criticism. Tone of voice and body language can also play a significant role in being an empathetic person and creating  a supportive environment. Constructive and positive feedback is also an important part of creating an encouraging environment. Gaining new information is the best way to stay on top of the game, no matter what the job is. 

Don’t forget to be patient with yourself. Learning to listen effectively doesn’t happen overnight. Take the time to preside over your own successes in this field and remember that little changes can go a long way. 

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