Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Other Skills That Will Help You Get the Job: Part 1 of 4- Active Listening

A person can have all of the experience and technical skills the company is looking for but may not get hired if he does not demonstrate strong soft skills. Soft skills are the skills, abilities, and traits that pertain to personality, attitude, and behavior rather than formal or technical knowledge. It is the combination of abilities and soft skills that will set you apart from the crowd.

Soft skills include the following:

Active Listening

Body Language

Accepting Change

Good Attitude

Judi Adams, the founder and senior job search coach at RightChanges, the Affordable and Successful Job Search Coach, will address each of these in the four part series The Other Skills That Will Help You Get the Job.

In part one of the series we will cover active listening. You probably have heard we were given one mouth and two ears for a reason – we are to listen twice as much as we talk. A wise man once said that there is nothing more dangerous than the illusion that communication has taken place. When asked who they consider a great communicator, people often indicate the person who in fact spent most of the conversation listening. Communication is important, listening is an important aspect of communication, and active listening is the best approach to listening.

In fact, humans spend 40% of our conscious time listening yet the average person only retains 25% of what they hear. Let’s look at the reasons we don’t retain more.

1) We treat listening as a passive activity. We multi-task while we are supposedly listening to a friend, a conference call, or the news.

2) We listen faster than people speak. The average person speaks at 130 words per minute yet the average person listens at 500 words per minute. Our mind either jumps ahead or takes a mental walk, thinking of other things.

3) We don’t clear our mind first. Think about a time someone suddenly approaches you speaking to you while you are in the middle of doing something. Most of us have to ask the person to repeat what she said because our mind was still on what we were doing.

4) We are concerned with our reply or our own agenda. This is a common mistake of job seekers. We are so intent on making sure we share certain information about our skills and accomplishments that we don’t listen to the hiring manager. She may be sharing essential information that could help us get the job yet we miss it because we’re busy playing our responses in our head.

5) The perception of the person talking is different from the person listening. Example: I am from the south. If you said “you are welcome to join us for dinner” I hear that I am welcome but not my husband. In the south “you all are welcome to join us for dinner” would mean that I can include my significant other.

So let’s review examples of what is not active listening.

The Lighthouse: Like a lighthouse that scans the horizon with its light, a Lighthouse listener is a person who scans the room while supposedly listening to the person in front of him. They are usually looking around to see who else is there and only half listening at best.

The Goldfish: When asked to do an imitation of a goldfish, most people push their lips out and open and close their mouth. The Goldfish listeners are so busy trying to speak (opening and closing their mouths) that they look like a goldfish.

The Duet: A duet is when two people are singing at the same time. The Duet listener, as you can imagine, is a person who talks at the same time as another person. No one is really listening.

The “Yes Dear”: Imagine a TV with a good sports game (or soap opera) playing and a spouse trying to communicate to the person watching TV. The typical response is “yes dear” without really having heard a word of what the other person said.

The Blind and Deaf: There was a commercial a few years ago that exemplified the Blind and Deaf listener. People were around a board table and one person made a suggestion on how the company could save money (using FedEx?). After making the suggestion, no one said a word until the boss at the head of the table made the same suggestion as if it was his idea. The Blind and Deaf listener is one who does not make any indication that anything was said. If you are the victim of a Deaf and Blind listener, you may even look down to be sure you are not invisible and then test your voice to make sure you actually make sound when you talk.

Now that we know what active listening is not, let’s understand what it is. It is the active process of getting both the sender and the receiver of the message involved to create a two way communication.

Steps in Active Listening
Person A sends a message (speaks)

Person B receives the message concentrating fully on what is being said (listens)

Person B states what Person B understood but makes no evaluations such as “are you nuts?” (using the summarizing or reflecting active listening technique)

Person A agrees with Person B’s interpretation or sends the message again. If the message is not understood, consider trying different words. Remember what they say about a person who tries the same thing 3 times exactly the same way and expects different results.

Techniques for Active Listening
Techniques you can use to listen actively are as follows:

Use a phrase similar to one of the following to repeat back in your own words what you understand the other person to have said.
“As I understand it, what you are saying is…”
“So your point is that…”

Reflect back phrases that you heard. Example: if the person said they need a person who knows C++, you can repeat back “C++” with an intonation at the end to indicate “and?” to encourage that person to continue.

Non-verbal Communications
In part two of the four part series we will cover body language. Body language is non verbal communications. To give non-vernal active listening cues, use eye contact, nodding, and mirroring the speaker’s body language (but not to the point of mimicking him).

Utilizing these active listening techniques will increase your retention of information others share with you and, you never know, you may find out information that will increase your success at securing your next job.

In part two we will discuss how important body language is to the job search.

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