Active Listening Skills for Interviewing and Work

Whether you are interviewing or working, active listening is a powerful skill that will help you communicate effectively. Attention is a form of currency so actively listening to someone is an investment in that relationship. Remember, perceiving sound is not the same as understanding a message, so be sure to employ active listening skills like these

Make eye contact. Solid eye contact helps you to connect with the other person and signals to them that you’re focused and aren’t distracted.

Use statements of acknowledgement. Signal to the other person that you understand what is being said. Statements like “I hear what you’re saying” and “I understand” acknowledge that you are listening.

Ask them to clarify. If you don’t understand, make that known. It’s better to be honest and ask for clarification than pretend you understand and create a problem. “If I’m hearing you correctly…” can go a long way to avoiding embarrassing or problematic confusion.

Paraphrase their message. When the other person has finished communicating, it may be helpful to give them a summary of what they just told you. This can have the effect of being both an acknowledgment of what was said and a request for clarification. It shows you were listening and provides them an opportunity to correct any misunderstanding.

Listen to understand, not to reply. If you think of something important while the other person is talking, jot down a quick note to remind you to return to it later and resume listening. Apologize and ask them to repeat anything that you may have missed.

Use empathetic listening, as appropriate.  Empathetic listening can help to diffuse a tense situations with coworkers or clients. Acknowledging their emotions and asking them to explain what is troubling them can heal rifts and salvage relationships. “You sound frustrated, is there anything I can do to help?” is a powerful statement—just be prepared to follow through and help them.

Active listening is a skill you can build, so work on it regularly to enhance your communication!

Adapted from Wilibanks, C.H. (2018). Interviews and active listening.

Adapted from Engles, J.M. (2018). How empathetic and active listening can improve workplace communication.

Revised 17 August 2020



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