The Art of Listening
EACE Blog contribution by Beth Settje, Associate Director for the Center for Career Development at The University of Connecticut
The Art of Listening
When was the last time you really listened? You put down your gadget – you turned off the television – you stopped reading whatever you were reading, and just looked at the person talking to you? Listening is a key attribute that is often highly valued yet equally often underutilized. In the day-to-day rush of existing, it is very easy to forget to take the time to pause, reflect and focus.
If you have a job or position that requires highly attentive listening, such as career counseling or interviewing, you may already be in the mode of paying extra attention to what someone is saying. Many of us though, do not have that role or do it all the time, and may in fact not realize when we stop listening and go into action mode. I have frequently believed I heard someone, when in fact, I had already jumped three steps ahead, formulating a solution to the proposed situation. This of course is problematic, especially if the person speaking just wanted to vent and did not want me to provide an answer.
Listening is not problem solving. Listening is not jumping to conclusions. Listening is not thinking of a response while the other person is speaking. Listening is making the speaker know he or she has your undivided attention. Listening offers a chance for someone to vent, share, or cry without judgment or criticism. Listening allows the person talking the chance to speak uninterrupted and to potentially process out loud.
Knowing that listening is a critical element to success, my department reviewed how we listen when we serve students. As a result, we developed training focused on listening and engagement. To have some context and make it applicable to everyone on staff, from front line receptionists to the executive director, we identified customer service as the conduit for excellent listening. The main points of emphasis are to demonstrate sincerity and genuine interest in what is being stated, so the audience knows we are active participants. Though a simple concept in theory, we have found it is fairly difficult in practice.
When we started thinking about our customer service and the different ways we interact with students, especially those with quick questions, we realized that many of us would briefly hear the question or comment and then immediately go into solution mode. We would offer what we believed the student needed to hear, whether just setting up an appointment or redirecting a thought, instead of pausing and finding out the full story. In our effort to be efficient and offer quality content, we lost sight of the quality experience. Ideally, by having our entire staff (students and full-time) go through the training and being more aware of the need for good listening, we will make effective change.
So Listening is on my mind right now. How can I stay attentive and genuine? How do I avoid my mind wandering or keep my fingers away from a keyboard when someone is in front of me? Well, I am working on it. First of all, I made it a New Year’s Resolution for both work and home. I no longer bring my tablet to every meeting, so the temptation to check email is eliminated. I can get up from my desk if someone unexpectedly comes in to see me, so there is not a barrier between us. I will not interrupt people talking, especially if I think I know what they want to say. And most importantly, I will be sure that whoever is in front of me feels special, valued and legitimate, by my body language and undivided attention. They will know, without a doubt, I am really listening.
Beth Settje has been working in higher education for more than 20 years, and in career development four about 14 years, with a focus on internship and co-op development since 2005. Beth earned her BS in Business Administration from Arcadia University and her M.Ed. in College Student Personnel from the University of Maryland. Currently, Beth is the Associate Director for the Center for Career Development at The University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT. One of Beth’s favorite pastimes is speaking to, and writing about, career related topics, and she regularly presents at state, regional and national conferences on these subjects.