I don’t usually think of Kim Kardashian as someone to turn to for work and career advice, but she said something this month at a conference I attended–the Forbes Women’s Summit—that I thought was very helpful. During a Q and A session, she was asked what had enabled her to become a super star on social media.

She said that the secret was not only to be authentic (which we’ve all heard, of course) but also to really listen. 

Kim admitted that she followed other feeds and paid attention to what people were saying, then engaged with those people. Smart. Social media has to be a two-way street.

I’ve been thinking about listening a lot lately, in part because of an interview I conducted with Hal Gregersen, executive director of the MIT Leadership Center. I spoke to him in conjunction with research I’ve been doing for the re-release of a bestseller I wrote 22 years ago, Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead (April ’18). According to Gregersen’s research, one of the most important things a leader can do is listen.

If you asked me to picture a gutsy woman in action, I’d probably imagine her at the front of a room, commanding everyone’s attention. Maybe she’d be leading a meeting or else giving a presentation, dazzling every listener with her remarks.

And yet according to Gregersen, she needs to spend plenty of time listening, too.

“As leaders,” says Gregersen, “we tend to believe our job is to tell people what to do and look like we have all the answers.” But you have to be willing to shut up and hear what needs to be said.


Some important tips:

  • Ask questions, plenty of them. But keep your voice neutral. Don’t box the other person into a corner.
  • Really hear what’s being said. Resist the urge to jump in and start talking.  Become the master of the pregnant pause and let the other person fill in the gap. Even take notes. Later, review those notes and let yourself absorb the words.
  • Don’t be defensive. The other person will clam up if you are.
  •  Lastly, recognize that according to Gregersen, you need to find out not only the unknown but also the “unknown unknown.” Those are the things that you don’t realize you need to know. Only through listening and asking questions will you discover them.