My Guide to Career Success: When to Listen, When to Talk & When to Shut the Heck Up

The jury is still out on whether my hefty investment in a professional coaching certification was worth its weight in trade school loans, but I certainly collected some valuable take-aways that can be applied to the career and business space. One of the interesting things about going back to school in pursuit of a career change is that the benefits and results are very different for everyone, regardless of the fact that you and your peers may enter into it with similar career intentions.

My goal was not to be a life coach, and their promise was not to churn me out as such upon graduation. I was interested in developing a new base of business and personal skills that I could apply to a career and business consultancy. In the same regard that you have thousands of business students entering into an MBA program, while they’re collectively interested in learning the same material, they’re more interested in applying that material to pursue their own unique professional path within the business landscape. And in my case, what I took away from my education wasn’t “how to be a coach” within any particular niche, but rather the core principles and skills that one can apply to every niche, as well as a variety of career paths outside of the coaching industry.

“Now everybody crouch down and pretend that you are a lotus emerging into the sun from the winter soil. Reinvent yourselves! Find your inner spirit!”

Maybe it’s my lack of metaphorical green thumb, but I didn’t emerge as a botanical form so much as I emerged simply as a better businessperson. I learned to be a better listener, a better communicator, and to engage with and relate to my clients on a deeper level. This is extremely valuable knowledge for anyone, and certainly for a small business entrepreneur and consultant, being that people don’t buy from brands, but rather from people they like and trust. The blanket of skill sets that I learned in coaching school ultimately trained me to be a better professional and a better relationship builder, no doubt something that will be a benefit to me in any professional situation. Whether your target market is a specific client, or a specific career, here are a few of the top “coaching” skills I gained that you can repurpose for your own business and career path.

There are 3 Levels of Listening
Fine-tuning your listening skills sounds basic, but being a great listener and communicator is crucial to being an excellent relationship builder. There are three different levels of listening. On the first level, a new contact is telling you about their idea for a business venture, to which you respond “Right, right. I gotcha.” You are simply emphasizing the fact that you’re very passively listening and acknowledging what they’re saying. Fail, because you’re not hearing their message, let alone relating to it. On the second level you might be listening more intently, making eye contact, and responding with your own opinion and interpretation of what the other person is saying. Fail again, because while you understand their message, jumping in with your own opinions makes them feel like you don’t relate to their position. When you’re listening on the third level, you are all eyes and ears to the person speaking, and your focus is on really understanding what the person is saying and where they’re coming from. Your responses are intelligent, sympathetic, and reiterate your understanding of what they said. Now you’ve won their trust, and they’re likely to engage with you again.

Implement This: When you’re in a job interview and trying to tailor your skills and experience to the needs of the organization. Listen to what the interviewer or hiring manager is saying, and read between the lines for additional insight. Understand what keeps them up at night, how the role can speak to those challenges, and what you have that will make you successful in that role versus your competition. “It sounds like there’s been a challenge with retaining good developers. We had a similar situation in my last company that I had to work around…”

Approach People With a Genuine Interest in Their Success
Successful networking and relationship building is all about building rapport with someone, and rapport generates trust and likeability, which in turn generates business and opportunities. Set the stage for a new relationship with someone not by spending several minutes talking about yourself, but by putting them on the spot and asking them about who they are, what they do, and what their interests are. This also helps relieve the intimidation of starting a conversation with a stranger when you approach from it an angle of generosity rather than feeling like you’re asking for favors or approval. And of course, once you ask them about themselves, they will no doubt return the favor and give you a chance to talk about yourself.

Implement This: When you’re at networking or professional events, in a coworking space with other professionals, or anywhere else where you have the opportunity to strike up either a casual or professional conversation with someone new. You never know who knows whom, and if they like you they’ll be more willing to invite you into their network.

Don’t Talk About Your Product, Talk About the Benefits
Something like coaching is a tough sell because many people don’t know what it is, and similar challenges exist for any service-oriented business. The fact is, nobody wants the facts. It’s okay to talk about what your business sells or does, or what the company you work for provides, but what your target audience really wants to know is, “What can you do for me?” Instead of listing off the features of your product, talk about the personal benefits it provides, which they can relate to on an emotional level. Your event planning business has won several awards and provides great value for the price point. Great. But what your true benefit is, is your ability to be a supportive and detail-oriented wing woman to a stressed out bride-to-be, and with your help she won’t have to worry about any of the millions of details of her big day slipping through the cracks! Whew!

Implement This: In a job interview by focusing on your quantitative results and accomplishments that really tell the “story” of your career and your success in your field, versus rattling off all of the technical skills required for the role. It’s about differentiating yourself from the competition by exposing who you are beyond the 11-point Ariel. ¬†How will hiring you and utilizing the expertise that you bring to the table, ultimately make someone else’s job, and life, easier?

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