Listening for Career Advancement

Ultimately, effective listening makes better managers and employees.

By David Cox, SPHR, SHRM-SCP | October 17, 2017

You can’t possibly give your full attention to everything you hear throughout the day. However, there are times that call for you to be fully present and attentive, such as when a coworker is sharing a concern about a critical step in a project that’s being neglected, or an employee is explaining his/her idea for improving a key process that serves customers. It’s no wonder that those who demonstrate good listening skills often advance the farthest.

I recently read an excellent article about effective listening in the workplace by a veteran Executive Coach and author Jody Michael ( Her article sparked my interest and renewed my own conviction in how important listening skills are to successful career development.

According to Michael, it’s important to understand two different levels of listening: Attentive listening and empathetic listening.

She says that when you practice attentive listening, you’re genuinely interested in the other person’s point of view and accept the fact that you have something to learn from the interaction. However, you’re listening with your own perspective and beliefs in mind. You’re thinking about whether you agree with what’s being said and more to the point, how you want to respond. Thus, there is a risk that you may miss some of what the speaker is saying and make assumptions about the message.

However, she notes that empathetic listening is much more active and intentional. When you move from attentive listening to empathetic listening, your focus changes from yourself and your perspective to the speaker and their frame of reference.

Michael recommends the following active listening techniques to show that you are available, ready to pay attention and interested in what the other person has to say.

  1. Eliminate (or minimize) distractions: At work, this could mean closing your office door, turning off your cell phone or closing your laptop.
  2. Keep an open posture: Face the speaker directly and uncross your arms and legs.
  3. Maintain eye contact: This reassures the speaker that you are focused on what they are saying and helps you read their emotions.
  4. Paraphrase: When the speaker conveys something of particular importance, restate in your own words what you heard them say, using a lead-in such as “What I’m hearing you say is …” or “So, if I’m correct, you are telling me that …” This allows you to correct misconceptions as they occur and helps you remember what was said.
  5. Clarify: From time to time, ask questions about what the speaker is saying in a helpful and empathetic way: “How did you feel when that happened?” or “What did you think when he said that?” This provides more depth than merely paraphrasing and shows the speaker that you are engaged and want to know more.
  6. Provide feedback: Give verbal feedback while the person is speaking, such as “I understand” or try reflecting their feelings back to them by saying something like “That must have been difficult.” Use nonverbal feedback, too, like nodding, smiling, or frowning when appropriate.
  7. Look for nonverbal cues. When listening, be aware of nonverbal elements including the speaker’s facial expression, tone of voice, body posture, eye contact and gestures to gain a deeper understanding of the message they’re sending. These signals are particularly useful in deciphering whether the person’s emotions are aligned with their words — and if they aren’t, that’s an additional level of insight to use.

Listening to individuals at work actively demonstrates that you respect them and are genuinely interested in their ideas. When your coworkers or team members know that they’ll be heard, they’re more willing to share their ideas and honest feedback with you, which in turn encourages innovation, employee engagement, productivity, and even profitability.

These factors clearly demonstrate why it’s important to develop effective listening and why it needs to be included in your career strategy.

David Cox


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