What Is Active Listening? Here’s Why It’s Important

What is Active Listening? (And Why It's Important)

According to Business Wire, communication consistently ranks as the top skill that employers seek. Perhaps you’ve recently taken courses on effective business writing or you consider yourself an excellent public speaker. However, if you haven’t been honing your active listening skills, you’re still missing key elements of being an outstanding communicator. Why?

Initially, it’s easy to focus on how we share information with others. From public speaking to email, there are many areas to showcase your communication skills. However, research shows that listening is actually one of the most critical aspects of communication. And the most effective form of listening? Active listening, or listening with intention and focus.

What Is Active Listening?

Did you know that the brain can process thoughts at more than double the speed that a person can talk? If you don’t practice focused or active listening, your brain is still miles ahead of the person talking. Otherwise, we’re just hearing, but we’re not listening. And hearing is something that most of us do without thought or control.

Thoroughly concentrating on the person speaking can be more challenging than it first sounds. How often have you found your mind wandering when someone was sharing information with you? Whether it was your high school literature teacher or fast-talking cousin, it’s our brain’s natural tendency. As with all other aspects of communication, you can practice and hone your listening skills and refine how you display them.

Even more common, interrupting. Thinking that you anticipate what is coming, you start formulating your answer before the speaker is finished. Opening your mouth to create your rebuttal or give your advice sends a visual cue to the speaker that you didn’t hear everything they were communicating.

Verbal Cues

  • Asking different questions that seek more information is one of the best ways to show that you’re invested in the communication. For example, saying something like, “Let me ensure I understand correctly” and asking other clarifying questions. Open-ended questions that share your interest invite the speaker to give more details.
  • Affirmations, such as “yes,” “that makes sense,” or “I see,” provide a verbal recognition that you are engaged and ready to proceed. Use these with caution, though, as they can be annoying if used too frequently.
  • Paraphrasing or summarizing ensures you’ve gathered the essential details that have been shared.
  • Not interrupting the speaker shows you’re hearing the details being communicated to you.

Nonverbal Cues

  • Eye contact—not allowing distractions to pull your attention 
  • Leaning forward toward the speaker
  • Nodding as a point is made
  • Smiling when appropriate
  • Pausing after they speak

Why Is Active Listening Important During a Job Search?

You’ll have many opportunities to display your active listening skills throughout your job search. From the company research you perform, the job posting you read and reread, emails from the recruiters to the actual interview. You’ll be gaining a lot of information throughout the process, and the natural tendency is to consider how you’ll fit and what benefits you’ll earn. After all, that’s why you’re looking for a job in the first place, right?

However, if you invest the time to truly “hear” and understand the message being conveyed, you’ll likely be one of the strongest applicants. And you’ll show that you’re genuinely interested in the company and the position.

Before an Interview

Find common keywords and tailor your resume to those keywords as you read and reread the job posting. This will give you a solid understanding of what the recruiter feels is the ideal candidate. More than the job title, you’ll be able to hear their nuances. Are their verbiage and tone professional or casual? Does it seem urgent or part of a hiring cycle?

What feel do you get for the company when you research their website? Are they witty or formal? Do they post photos of awards or employee events? Is the majority of their public communication seeking to educate and inspire their audience? How will you share that you are the perfect fit for their culture?

During a Job Interview

Congratulations! You made it to an interview. Naturally nerve-racking, active listening is essential when speaking with recruiters, and more so now than any other time during your job search. Regardless of the amount of time you’ve practiced, it can be a natural tendency to try and ready an answer before the question is finished. No one wants an awkward pause while their mind races for an answer.

But fight that inclination. Pause after a question is asked, and don’t be afraid to rephrase the question or paraphrase if you’re unsure. Ask for clarification if needed.

You don’t want to do that for every question, but you want to smile, make eye contact, lean in, and never interrupt. Most recruiters will give you information about the company and the job. Utilize some affirmations to show that you’re retaining what is said. When it’s your turn to ask questions, guide them to share more with purposeful and open-ended questions, or share similar experiences.

A few examples:

  • “It sounds like the workload has outgrown your team. Can you share which projects are your highest priority, or which ones this role would be focused on?”
  • “Can you tell me more about the current sales team? It sounds like they’ve worked well together for quite some time. What challenges do you see as you expand the team?”
  • “Yes, I can relate to that struggle. Something similar occurred in my previous role, and it was stressful for a few weeks while we ironed out the response.”

Active Listening Benefits Your Entire Career

Communicating effectively is one of the hallmarks of a successful leader and teammate. The more you practice and apply your active listening skills, the more successful you’ll be. It’s easy to lose sight of the impact that listening can have on a job search—especially before you’ve had the opportunity to speak with anyone. However, active listening can, and should, be applied to written communication as well. It will help determine how you respond to each job posting, setting you up for success as you present yourself as the best job fit.

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