Listen Up!

Listening is an important skill. Just about every job requires us to be good listeners. I listened to my peers and supervisors when I was a new aircraft mechanic almost three decades ago. They shared their experience and knowledge with me, and helped me grow personally and professionally. I have been working as an editor for over 14 years now. I believe the most important skill that has helped me is not my writing ability – it’s my ability to LISTEN.

Here are a few tips I have learned over the years to be a better listener:

Eliminate Distractions

It is not easy to concentrate when someone is talking to us. The task becomes even more challenging when we have distractions around us. Eliminate as many distractions as possible. Cell phones are a big distraction. Turn your cell phone off if possible – especially during a long meeting. A phone in vibrate mode will avoid distracting others in the room, but will still distract you each time a call or message comes in. Also try to avoid other distractions like interruptions from coworkers.

Face the Person

This is a good way to help eliminate distractions. If someone is talking to you, face him or her and pay attention. If you are working on your computer or looking around the hangar, you are distracted and not focused on what is being said.

Don’t Make Judgments

Don’t try to come up with solutions to problems or think of alternate ideas while the other person is talking. Let them finish talking before asking for clarification or offering ideas of your own.

Repeat Important Information

If there is important information that the other person is trying to convey like the status of an inspection during a shift change, repeat that information back to him or her to make sure you understood the information. Likewise, if you are conveying important information to someone, ask him or her to repeat the information so you can ensure they understand the information.

Take Notes

Taking notes can help you remember important information that the other person is trying to share. But be careful – don’t try to take down every word he or she says. This can shift your focus from listening to writing, and you could miss some important information.

Some people like to record technical briefings and presentations so that they can refer to the audio later. This practice can be helpful, but don’t rely on the recording. You still need to pay close attention and take notes in case your recorder malfunctions. Technology is wonderful, but it can fail.

Speaking of technology, I use a hybrid note taking solution when I am doing an interview or while sitting in on a presentation or technical briefing. It is called Livescribe. It uses a smart pen and special paper to record audio as you take notes. All you do is hit the recordbutton on the paper at the beginning of the seminar and start taking notes. When the presentation is over, you just hit the stopbutton. Then, you can click on any part of the notes you took and the Livescribe pen will play back what was being said at that exact moment. You can tether the Livescribe pen to a laptop or PC via a mini-USB cable and all of the files will transfer from the pen to your computer. You can see the notes you took on your computer. You can then click on any point of the note and it will playback the audio from that exact point you were taking the note. The company’s motto is “Never miss a word.” I can’t think of a more appropriate motto. You can learn more about it at And no – I don’t have any personal stake in the company. I just believe it is a good product that can help you get more out of your note taking.

The bottom line is we all need to be good listeners. If we spend all our time talking about ourselves or what we know, we will never learn anything. Even worse, we could be thought of as the “know-it-all jerk.” There seems to be one know-it-all in every company. If you don’t see a know-it-all in your company, you might ask yourself – am I the jerk?

Thanks for reading, and we appreciate your feedback!  – Joe Escobar