Millionaires and CEOs alike stress the importance of being productive, organized, and pushing yourself 24/7 to build a successful career.
While this may be true, there’s a different skill that gives successful people a competitive edge in the workplace: being a good listener, says Sarah Sarkis, a psychologist and senior director of performance psychology at Exos.
At Exos, a performance training company, Sarkis and his team of dietitians, physical therapists and other health experts teach NFL players, executives at Fortune 100 companies like Intel and Humana, and other professionals how to thrive in high-pressure environments.
Sarkis has found that what sets high achievers apart from others is that they excel at communication, and active listening is “an important and underappreciated part” of that, she says.
“Few people know how to be fully present in a conversation and respond thoughtfully to what another person is saying,” Sarkis adds.
Instead, most people fall into the trap of listening without hearing the other person’s perspective.
Sarkis explains, “You come into the conversation prepared for where you want it to end, or distracted…whether it’s rolling your eyes, huffing and puffing, interrupting someone, or being distracted by your phone. But sometimes this same style of listening is the reason your conversations, your negotiations, and your conflicts go awry.”
Here, the performance psychologist offers three strategies for becoming a better listener at work:
Know your strengths and weaknesses
First, you have to find out how well you are listening. Sarkis recommends asking three co-workers, mentors, or trusted friends how they usually carry themselves in conversations.
“Ask them how it makes them feel when you’re at your best: okay, dialed, relaxed?, and at your worst: distracted, agitated, stressed.” she says.
Great listeners have a positive impact on how people feel after talking to them, Sarkis explains, and these responses can help you gauge how close or how far you are from this goal.
During your next conversation with a colleague or client, practice reflective listening: Summarize what you hear and ask the other person if that’s an accurate synopsis of what they just said.
If not, Sarkis suggests asking them to clarify or elaborate.
“Reflective listening allows us to hear and receive what is being said with less of an agenda,” she says. “It also shows that you’re empathetic and really care about what they think.”
If you lose time during a conversation or don’t understand what someone is saying, ask open-ended questions, Sarkis says, such as:
- How can I help you with this?
- Can you give me an example?
- How do you feel about this situation?
Doing so helps you build rapport and trust with the other person, Sarkis says. He also shows that he is open to feedback and willing to learn from it.
Becoming a better listener takes practice and patience, but once you get there, “it’s like having a superpower,” says Sarkis. “There’s so much more you can accomplish when the people you work with feel seen, heard, and supported.”
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