Active Listening Definition, Skills, and Examples

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Active listening is the process by which an individual secures information from another individual or group.  The “active” element involves taking steps to draw out information that might not otherwise be shared. Even if you yourself are the person being interviewed for a job, think of “active” listening as being your golden opportunity to “interview” and build rapport with your interviewer(s).   

What is Active Listening?

Like critical thinking and problem-solving, active listening is a soft skill that is held in high regard by employers. When interviewing for jobs, use active listening techniques to show the interviewer the interpersonal skills you have in drawing people out.

Active listening can also significantly reduce the nervousness you might be feeling during an interview because it redirects your focus from what is going on inside of your head to what the needs of your perspective employer are. By placing your focus, through active listening, squarely upon the interviewer, you prove that you: a) are interested in the organization’s challenges and successes; b) are ready to help them problem-solve work issues; and c) are a team player as opposed to being a self-absorbed job candidate.

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

Active listening techniques include:

  • Building trust and establishing rapport.
  • Demonstrating concern.
  • Paraphrasing to show understanding.
  • 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

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 am eager to help you; I know you are going through some tough challenges.” “I know how hard a corporate restructuring can be – how is staff morale at this point?” 
  • Paraphrasing: “So, you are 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 would 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 very conflicted about returning to work after the birth of my son.” “I had the responsibility of terminating four of my personnel, due to downsizing, over the last two years. Even if it’s necessary, it never gets easier.”  

    By employing these active listening techniques, you will impress your interviewer as a thoughtful, analytical, highly desirable candidate for the position.

    Never underestimate the power of “soft skills” (also known as “people skills”) like active listening, problem-solving, flexibility, self-motivation, leadership, and teamwork. Especially for young, first-time job candidates with limited work experience, these skills often are the deciding factor in whether an employer will be willing to take the risk in hiring them over others who may have more experience (but possibly weaker interpersonal communications talents). 

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