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8 Ways to Take It to the Next Level

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8 Ways to Take It to the Next Level
Take It to the Next Level

No matter what you’re doing, there comes a time when you are going to want to take things up a notch. Maybe it’s your career — even if things are going along fine right now, ultimately you’d like to get a promotion, increase your client base, or reach a larger audience. Or maybe it’s a hobby that you think you’d like to turn into a career.

Getting started with anything can be a struggle, but once you reach a certain level of success, it can be hard to figure out how to make whatever it is you do truly remarkable. The things we do have a way of developing their own inertia, and if we’re not careful, we get carried along in the routine without ever realizing the full potential of what we and our lives can be.

How can you shake things up a bit? What do you have to do to take your project, your career, your product, or your life to the next level? Read on…

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1. Build Your Brand

Long-time readers know that I haven’t always been fond of the idea of personal branding. Consider me convinced.

The strength of your brand is how well you are associated with whatever you do. For instance, lifehack.org offers tips and hacks to increase personal productivity. When people hear the word “lifehack”, they think of personal productivity, and when they hear “personal productivity” they think of lifehack. It’s a pretty strong brand. Some people have equally strong brands: when you hear about permission marketing, chances are you think of Seth Godin.

How strongly is your name linked with what you do? What could you do to link them more strongly? Some things to consider:

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  • Traditional marketing: Commercials, print ads, billboards, bus wraps — anything that gets your name and message in people’s faces. There are a few problems, though: people might mistake your message, linking you with the wrong speciality; people tend to tune out a lot of advertising as a survival mechanism; people often respond negatively to blatant branding efforts; it’s quite expensive.
  • Blogging: A blog is a conversation with your audience, and can help build up a loyal following that actually cares about what you do.
  • Word-of-mouth: Hard to create and hard to fake, but very effective. Seek out people with a great deal of influence and focus on convincing them of your value. If Seth Godin wrote on his blog that I was the best web writer he knew of, you can bet that within the day my career would be at the next level (maybe the level after that, even!).

2. Build Your Audience

Make a concerted effort to increase the number of people who know about you. Branding is part of this, but it’s not all of it. Give something away, find a new outlet, tell everyone you meet what you do, hand out cards wherever you go, show up at conferences and exhibitions, go to your kids’ classrooms and talk about what you do (and make it interesting enough that they tell their parents). Make yourself useful so people have a compelling reason to pay attention.

3. Increase Your Output

Give your audience, whoever that is, more of what they expect from you. Double, triple, or septuple your output. If you’re a writer, write twice as much. If you’re an actor, get into more plays. If you’re a filmmaker, pledge to produce four short films this year instead of one. Make a painting a day. Aim to top your sales quotas by 50% every month. Do whatever it takes to make yourself more productive. Learn to do whatever you do in half the time — then halve it again. (Read lifehack.org every day, of course!)

4. Improve Your Output

Make whatever you make twice as well. Improve the quality of your work until people have no choice but to stop and gape. Create benchmarks for your output, and aim to top them every single time. Take classes, read book, follow a mentor, practice twice as much, commit yourself to doing what it takes to master your craft or profession.

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5. Expand Your Niche

Do what you do now but with a wider outlook. If you write about dogs, start writing about pets in general. If you sell widgets, get into the widget case business. If you’re a musician, learn how to produce. Think about the people whose needs you aren’t meeting, and figure out how to meet them. Don’t try to create a new niche altogether, just look for ways to complement and leverage the work you’re already doing.

6. Restrict Your Niche

Or, do the opposite. Focus yourself on a narrow part of your niche until you’re the only one doing it. If you write about sports, write about baseball, then write about left-handed pitchers. If you make household appliances, make appliances for college students (and then for left-handed college students, maybe). If you paint landscapes, paint trees. If you do marketing consulting, offer viral marketing techniques that work with teenage boys. Become the person people have to go to when they have very specialized needs, because you’re the only one that does it.

7. Cross-Develop

Figure out how to use what you know in an entirely different way. If you coach little leaguers, write a book about coaching. If you offer one-on-one organization coaching, work with a developer to create home organization software. If you’re a TV camera operator, tutor middle schoolers in video podcasting. Find a new way to challenge yourself and put your knowledge to the test — while developing new knowledge and skills.

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8. Expand Your Network

Your audience are the people who buy, read, or otherwise use your product; your network are the people that help you make it, market it, or distribute it. Focus on building strong relationships with a variety of people both in and out of your profession. Don’t try to fake it — strong relationships have to be genuine or they won’t last. Join a social networking site like LinkedIn and work it like mad. Go to trade shows, conferences, and exhibitions and talk to every exhibitor and every presenter. Make a list of 20 people in your field you want to know and email them introductions. Build relationships with your 10 best clients. Build relationships with someone from your top competitors (if that’s legal). Join a professional organization and run for an office.

Obviously these are not all exclusive — you can and sometimes have to do more than one at the same time. And they’re not all necessary — some even contradict others. But all of them shake up your routines and make people pay attention to you, whether those people are potential clients, potential customers, or potential partners.

None of these are keys to instant success. All of them require hard work and time to show any effect. If you’re ready to take it to the next level — and you’re ready to put in the work and commitment that entails — then go through the list and ask yourself how each item could help get you there.

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8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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