There is a big difference between hearing and listening. Have you ever been talking with someone and just knew they weren’t listening? When you ask, “Are you listening?” the response is something like, “Yes, I heard you!”
Perceiving sounds is hearing.
Mentally processing and understanding what you’ve heard is listening.
What is Active listening?
Active listening is a strategy that provides tools to not only listen intently, but also proves to your conversation partner that you are engaged in the conversation. Active listening is a skill that takes practice and will immediately yield positive results in whatever conversations you have on a daily basis.
During an interview, it is imperative that you are an active listener. If you aren’t engaged, it will reflect poorly on your professionalism, your qualifications, and your ability to work with others.
Strategies to be an Active Listener
There are five basic steps to follow in order to be an active listener. They are straightforward and easy to implement, so you can start practicing immediately!
Eye contact - Direct eye contact makes is clear that the interviewer has your undivided attention. If you are wandering the room with your eyes, you seem disinterested or distracted.
Acknowledge - Acknowledge that you heard what the interviewer said.
“That’s a great point,” or “I understand” are great acknowledgement statements.
Clarify - Ensure you heard and understand what is being said by clarifying.
“If I am hearing you correctly, the number one skill you are looking for in this position is exceptional problem solving. Is that correct?”
Paraphrase - Repeating back what the interviewer has just said is a great way to be an active listener. Of course, it needs to be natural, so don’t repeat back like a parrot. Paraphrase instead.
“I agree 100%. One of the biggest problems in the workplace is lack of teamwork and miscommunication.”
Respond - When asked a question or given a statement or fact, respond appropriately. Even if you don’t understand, it’s better to respond than ignore.
“Thank you for laying out the responsibilities of the role. I’d love to share a bit about how my skills can help in these areas.” or “I’m not quite sure I understand. Do you mind going over this again with me?”
Some of these steps may seem unnatural at first if you aren’t used to them. For example, eye contact can be very uncomfortable to some! Practice with people you know and trust first and then gradually start utilizing your skills with others. It will get easier with time!
The great news is that active listening is a skill that will help you in interviews and in every life situation, personally and professionally. You can use active listening to improve interactions with your colleagues, significant other, children, friends, and even strangers!