Active listening to build a career in the golf industry

Being an excellent listener is important in your professional life, and spills over into lasting professional friendships.


Three men in a golf course maintenance shop office talking and listening to each other

“The art of conversation lies in listening.”

— Malcolm Forbes

In this month’s Career column, I want to encourage one simple action item as we enter the summer and all the challenges it will bring: Listen up! Choose to intentionally embody a posture of genuine listening, learning and growing as you lead your team and operations at your golf facility. 

Let’s highlight areas of professional life where the art and skill of listening well could ignite the career breakthrough you are seeking.  

This summer, your calendar will probably include items such as green committee meetings, social events at your golf facility or maybe even a job interview. Many GCSAA members have shared with me that they are not inclined to feel confident naturally in these settings. Just as Malcolm Forbes infers, a key to improving your performance and poise starts with focusing first on listening well, rather than fixating on what we are going to say.   

Start with body language by turning toward the person speaking and using affirming gestures, such as nodding and making good eye contact. Practice not looking ahead to what you plan to say, but rather train yourself to first listen and learn. Excellent listening includes asking questions and creating dialogue where the speaker feels heard and understood.     

Surround yourself with great listeners and communicators to learn and grow your active listening skills. One great example of someone who might be right at hand for many GCSAA members is your PGA Professional. Many of them have exceptional listening and communication skills. Learn from them. Stand alongside your facility PGA Pro when they are greeting golfers at the putting green on a Saturday morning as a way to activate your listening “muscles” on a regular basis and gain confidence in interacting with your customers. 

At networking events, make an intentional choice to listen well and invest your valuable time in genuine conversations to connect beyond shallow pleasantries. Approach business functions, social events and local GCSAA chapter meetings as opportunities to learn from others. Before attending events, review your go-to open-ended questions that you can ask if any nervous situations arise. My personal favorite, particularly in a room full of golf industry professionals, is to ask what they like to do when they aren’t at the golf course. This is a great way to find connections through learning what is important in their life through hobbies and recreation, instead of just reciting job titles and golf facility names. 

Be present. We all know the feeling when we are speaking to someone who keeps looking around the room for the next conversation or is distracted by their phone. Excellent listeners make us feel valued and truly heard. Of course, you will eventually need to end the conversation, so prepare a go-to exit statement to end conversations well. 

Finally, becoming an excellent listener is not only important in our professional life and career advancement, but it also spills over into our professional friendships that we build along the way. There is joy in the camaraderie of building relationships with the men and women in this industry who share your experiences in the life of managing golf courses. 

As a final encouragement as we seek to become exceptional listeners, I will end with this quote from Edward Cunningham, who authored the book “Reciprocity.” As GCSAA members, let’s live this out as we build relationships in this industry we love so much: “Friends are those rare people who ask how we are, and then wait to hear the answer.” 

Carol D. Rau, PHR, has been a career consultant and speaker with GCSAA since 2005 and specializes in golf and turf industry careers. Rau is a frequent speaker at national, regional and local GCSAA conferences and teaches GCSAA webinars.