What's active listening, and why is it important for your career? Active listening is the process by which an individual secures information from another individual or group.
It involves paying attention to the conversation, not interrupting, and taking the time to understand what the speaker is discussing. The “active” element involves taking steps to draw out details that might not otherwise be shared.
Active listeners avoid interrupting at all costs, summarize and repeat back what they have heard, and observe body language to give them an extra level of understanding.
Active listening is a helpful skill for any worker to develop. It helps you truly understand what people are saying in conversations and meetings (and not just what you want to hear, or think you hear).
It’s also a particularly useful tool to use during job interviews, since it can help you build a positive rapport with your interviewer.
What Is Active Listening?
Like critical thinking and problem-solving, active listening is a soft skill that’s held in high regard by employers. When interviewing for jobs, using active listening techniques can help show the interviewer how your interpersonal skills can draw people out.
Active listening redirects your focus from what is going on inside of your head to the needs of your prospective employer or interviewer. This technique can help reduce your nervousness during an interview.
By placing your focus, through active listening, squarely upon the interviewer, you prove that you:
- Are interested in the organization’s challenges and successes
- Are ready to help them problem-solve work issues
- Are a team player as opposed to being nothing more than a self-absorbed job candidate.
It’s important to not interrupt, or worse, try to answer the question before you know what the interviewer is asking.
Listen carefully to the interviewer’s questions, ask for clarification if necessary, and wait until the interviewer has finished talking to respond.
Examples of Active Listening Techniques
There are plenty of active listening techniques that will improve the impression you can make at a job interview.
Active listening techniques include:
- Building trust and establishing rapport
- Demonstrating concern
- Paraphrasing to show understanding
- Using nonverbal cues which show understanding such as nodding, eye contact, and leaning forward
- Brief verbal affirmations like “I see,” “I know,” “Sure,” “Thank you,” or “I understand”
- Asking open-ended questions
- Asking specific questions to seek clarification
- Waiting to disclose your opinion
- Disclosing similar experiences to show understanding
Examples of Active Listening Responses
It’s often easier to learn by reading examples. Here are some examples of statements and questions employed with active listening:
- Building trust and establishing rapport: “Tell me what I can do to help.” “I was really impressed to read on your website how you donate 5% of each sale to charity.”
- Demonstrating concern: “I'm eager to help; I know you're going through some tough challenges.” “I know how hard a corporate restructuring can be. How is staff morale at this point?”
- Paraphrasing: “So, you're saying that the uncertainty about who will be your new supervisor is creating stress for you.” “So, you think that we need to build up our social media marketing efforts.”
- Brief verbal affirmation: “I understand that you'd like more frequent feedback about your performance.” “Thank you. I appreciate your time in speaking to me.”
- Asking open-ended questions: “I can see that John's criticism was very upsetting to you. Which aspect of his critique was most disturbing?” “It’s clear that the current situation is intolerable for you. What changes would you like to see?”
- Asking specific questions: “How long do you expect your hiring process to last?” “What is your average rate of staff turnover?”
- Waiting to disclose your opinion: “Tell me more about your proposal to reorganize the department.” “Can you please provide some history for me regarding your relationship with your former business partner?”
- Disclosing similar situations: “I was also conflicted about returning to work after the birth of my son.” “I had the responsibility of terminating some of my personnel, due to downsizing, over the last two years. Even if it’s necessary, it never gets easier.”
More Active Listening Skills
- Emotional Intelligence
- Problem Sensitivity
- Nonverbal Communication
- Accepting Constructive Criticism
- Creating and Managing Expectations
- Attention to Detail
- Vocal Tone
- Sensitivity to Religious and Ethnic Diversity
- Situational Awareness
- Identify and Manage Emotions
- Understanding Hidden Needs of Others
- Body Language
- Facilitating Group Discussion
- Reaching Consensus
By employing these active listening techniques, you will impress your interviewer as a thoughtful, analytical, highly desirable candidate for the position. Think about possible situations that may occur during an interview and come up with strategies to allow you to listen actively.
Improving Your Skills
Never underestimate the power of soft skills (also known as people skills) like active listening. Your CV or resume may look great, with a strong array of professional experience and training, but employers are also looking for people who have the ability to communicate and to team well with others.
Important soft skills (besides active listening) include problem-solving, flexibility, self-motivation, leadership, and teamwork—all of which need to be highlighted both on your resume and during a personal interview.
Especially for young, first-time job candidates with limited work experience, these people skills often are the deciding factor in whether an employer will be willing to take the risk in hiring someone young over others who may have more experience (but possibly weaker interpersonal communications talents).
Looking to strengthen your soft skills? One great way is to take these free online courses in subjects like public speaking, problem-solving and decision making, and how to be happy in your workplace.