Recently, I reconnected over lunch with someone I’ve known for a long time but haven’t seen in quite awhile. During our conversation, I realized that they were only interested in talking about subjects they introduced and/or answering questions I asked. When I raised a topic, they redirected to something about them or of interest to them.
At the end of the conversation, they said, “I don’t feel like we got to what’s going on with you; we should meet up again.” A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to observe the same individual talking with others at a professional event; their conversational style was exactly the same as it had been with me.
During our conversation, that person mentioned they felt their career had ‘leveled off’; I realized that the two things might be related. Here’s why:
- Only talking about topics you know about can make you appear self-absorbed and dull–or arrogant. If you dominate conversations by driving all of the topics, not asking questions, or redirecting every thread back to you–people will quickly tire of your monologue and potentially avoid future conversations. Do this enough in a work environment and you’ll get a reputation as a poor listener who never wants anyone else’s input. That can prove to be career-limiting.
- If you don’t ask questions, you don’t learn. Intellectual curiosity is critical for continuous learning Asking questions about how and/or why a process is done to gain understanding is a large part of how many adults learn–especially in the just in time training environment that many companies have today. Get in touch with the precocious 6 year old inside you and ask ‘why?’; you’ll be surprised at how much you may develop yourself.
- Not taking an active interest in others suggests a lack of empathy. By asking questions about someone’s life and work, then actively listening, you demonstrate empathy. Empathy is one of the most important facets of any relationship. Being able to see the conversation/conflict from the other party’s point of view and taking an active interest in that person–not just their work tasks–is an essential skill of a good leader. People want to work with/for you if they think you are genuinely interested in them–what motivates them, what might be impacting their mood/work performance, how life is going outside of work. This may not feel natural to you; but it is a skill you can develop–and if you want to be an effective leader, it’s critical you do so.
- It’s difficult to build strong relationships when you don’t make an effort to reciprocate. If you don’t seek to know and understand others–and take that a step further by understanding how you might be able to help them in their career or life–it is very difficult to build relationships that are anything more than transactional; that is, you only engage when you want/need something with the other party. If you make an effort to know people–and invest in developing a reciprocally beneficial relationship with them–you not only build a much deeper connection, but in paying it forward with them you build goodwill toward that future moment when you might need to reach out with a question or favor. I’m always surprised (and humbled) when I offhandedly mention I’m looking for a specific type of candidate–or even a new position for myself–how people in my network will go out of their way to help me. That’s because I make the effort to do the same.