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Workplace Communication: What Is Active Listening?

By Kristin Kizer
Mar. 2, 2023

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Summary. Active listening means giving the speaker your full attention, engaging with them to fully understand their meaning, and responding in a way that shows you are focused on their words.

In the world of soft skills, there’s one hiring managers and recruiters value more than most: active listening. You’d be surprised how many candidates have the right technical chops, yet miss out on job opportunities because they’re not great listeners.

We’ll cover what active listening is, why it’s so important, examples of active listening skills and methods, and provide tips on how to highlight your active listening skills during a job search.

Key Takeaways:

  • Active listening is critical for the health of our personal relationships as well as our professional ones.

  • When practicing active listening you should pay attention to what they are saying, keep an open mind, and ask questions when it’s appropriate.

  • Active listening helps the speaker feel heard by using both verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate that they are engaged and interested.

What is active listening?

What Is Active Listening?

Active listening is a method of listening that involves focusing entirely on the speaker, doing your best to understand what they’re trying to communicate, and responding in a considerate way that shows you’re paying attention.

  • It’s not just about hearing what the speaker is saying, but the ability to understand the message, really process the information and incorporate it into your knowledge base, and then respond appropriately, whether that response is verbal or physical.

  • It might be easiest to understand active listening by contrasting it to passive listening. Passive listening is hearing the words someone is saying and then either missing the point or not being able to fully incorporate their statements into the rest of the conversation.

  • Have you ever asked someone if they’re listening to you and they can repeat the words, but you can tell they really didn’t hear what you said? This is passive listening.

  • On the flip side, active listeners will make a speaker feel heard by using both verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate that they are engaged and interested. Active listeners aren’t just waiting for their turn to speak — their attention is solely on the speaker’s words.

Why Is Active Listening Important?

Active listening has a number of benefits in both your personal and professional lives. Consider the following ways that being a great active listener can benefit you:

  • You build and maintain better relationships. Active listeners have an easier time making friends and making acquaintances feel comfortable. People enjoy speaking to those who really pay attention to what they’re saying.

    In a professional setting, this means that collaboration becomes more natural and projects get done more quickly and with better results. That’s what hiring managers are interested in.

  • You learn more. Whether it’s a problem that needs solving or a topic that you need to study, being an active listener makes it easier to pick up on new information. Great active listeners are also able to incorporate what they hear into their own lives, thus building an ever-growing base of knowledge that they’ve acquired from the wisdom of others.

  • You avoid misunderstandings. In both big-picture strategy and the minute details of a project, misunderstandings can be deadly time-wasters. Active listeners don’t miss out on crucial information, and if they do, they’re not afraid to ask questions and get confirmations. Productivity can’t really thrive without at least a few active listeners in the room.

  • You’re most trustworthy. People will trust you more if they feel they can talk to you without being judged or interrupted. This goes for your partner as well as a client — truly, active listening is one of the most transferable skills out there.

    Plus, when you have a reputation as a great active listener, others will be more likely to take your word when you pass along the details of a conversation.

How to Use Active Listening Skills

One way to think of active and passive listening is to think of hearing versus listening. Your ears automatically hear but that doesn’t mean that you process what you’re hearing or that you even notice what you’ve heard. Listening implies that you’re paying attention to what you’re hearing. Some ways you can practice active listening include:

  1. Pay attention. It seems obvious; if you’re going to listen to someone, you need to pay attention. But how many meetings have you been in where there are people doodling on paper, playing with their phones, checking computers and email?

    Yes, you should pay attention but that can be really hard to do and it takes some work and practice. If you find it hard to pay attention, try these tips to stay engaged.

    • Maintain eye contact

    • Once you catch yourself drifting mentally, bring it back

    • Apply the information mentally to your situation

    • Relate what you hear to what you already know or situations that are similar

    • Continue working to stay engaged and don’t give up

  2. Keep an open mind. Don’t jump to conclusions, rather, listen to everything the speaker has to say. You might start building your argument, your agreement, or your next steps while listening but your job is to let the speaker say everything they have to say before you actually form any judgment.

  3. Don’t interrupt. Some people interrupt to agree, others interrupt to argue. Sometimes interrupting is valid, but in most situations, it’s seen as rude and distracting to the speaker and to other listeners.

  4. Ask questions when appropriate. When someone is done speaking, you might be full of questions to clarify what they said. You might also find that you have things to add that help move the conversation forward or that change the course of the discussion.

  5. Summarize. Adding a summary after the speaker talks is a great way to show that you’ve not only heard what they’ve said but that you’ve internalized it enough to have processed it already.

  6. Work on empathy. While a work situation may not seem to require empathy, it can be useful to understand why you’re being asked to do something. In fact, knowing where the speaker is coming from might even help you do your job to their satisfaction.

    Outside of work, it’s much easier to see how empathy is important ininterpersonal communications.

  7. Don’t forget non-verbals. Those motions you make and the speaker makes are very important. Your head nods and smiles obviously tell the speaker that you’re engaged with what they’re saying.

    But consider the other side; can the speaker’s facial expressions help you interpret what they’re saying? They certainly can bring more information to the table and add to the content presented.

How to Improve Your Active Listening Skills

Active listening is a soft skill, which means it’s less straightforward to improve than hard skills. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get better at hearing people and making people feel heard.

Consider these tips to become a better active listener:

  • Take a class. There are online courses available in just about everything, and with how critical active listening is for professionals, there are plenty of options out there. Some of these even offer certifications, which can look great on a resume.

    You can also simply start listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos, or reading books on active listening. The important thing is that you’re deliberate about making improvements and applying whatever you learn to your daily life.

  • Stop judging. Judgments get in the way of active listening because you’re prejudiced before you’ve even fully heard the speaker out. Make an effort to keep an open mind — especially when dealing with those people at work who really get on your nerves or always fail to see eye to eye with.

    Being an active listener doesn’t mean you have to be entirely objective (your opinion is valuable too, after all). But it does means respecting people enough to give them a fair chance to communicate what they believe.

  • Ask more questions. A simple strategy to become a better active listener is to ask more questions. Don’t ask things just to ask them, or folks will get annoyed, though. Instead, wait for opportunities in conversations where you believe you understand what the speaker is saying but need confirmation on a point or want to learn more.

    Questions always give the speaker more opportunity to expound on their point, which gives you more opportunity to exhibit great listening skills using the methods outlined above.

  • Keep a journal. Writing may not obviously be linked to listening, but keeping a record of your conversations can be a powerful tool for stepping up your active listening game. These entries don’t have to be super long — simply jot down a few bullet points that summarize the conversation you’ve recently had.

    It will do wonders for your memory recall and show that you were paying close attention next time you speak to that person. Plus, keeping a journal will improve your organizational skills and make you a more dependable individual.

Examples of Active Listening in the Workplace

Whether you’re the person listening or you’re the speaker, the following responses show that active listening is happening. Remember that conversations can go both ways. It’s not always one person that’s speaking and another that’s responding. Quite often, the conversation goes back and forth, requiring both participants to display active listening responses.

  1. Paraphrasing. Repeat what the speaker said but in your own words to make sure you understand their meaning.


    “If I’m understanding correctly, you’re saying that this new plan won’t work as we originally intended because the contractors’ fees are putting us way over budget.”

  2. Asking questions. If you’re listening, you might notice the speaker has left out key facts or they could state things that you need clarified, this is where asking questions is a big help in the understanding process.

  3. Example:

    “I agree that there’s a lot of time wasted on social media projects that fail to generate results. Where would you like to see those resources allocated instead?”

  4. Compare or share. If you have an example that relates to what is being said you can share that, or you can possibly compare and contrast the content to show your understanding. This is particularly useful because it shows that you can extrapolate what was said and apply it to other situations.

  5. Example:

    “Ah, so the customer wait times on the chat service are leading to lower satisfaction rates and you’re suggesting a text-back feature. That sounds like the call-back feature we started offering last May that worked so well for our clients contacting us by phone, so I think you’re onto something.”

  6. Eye-contact. Keeping eye contact is one of the best, non-verbal ways to show you’re engaged in what the speaker is saying and paying attention.

  7. Physical and non-verbal actions. Smile, frown, move your head, shrug — whatever the situation calls for, respond accordingly to show that you’re not only listening but your entire body is involved in the conversation. This can be particularly useful in today’s Zoom world where you are seen but often not heard.

  8. Summarize. At the end of the statement, summarize what was said so you know you’re both on the same page.


    “So essentially, we have to move this office space up two floors, which is going to cost us a few thousand dollars and lose us a day or two on publishing.”

Active listening skills on resume:

Now that you can more readily see how you can use the soft skill of active listening and weave it into your work experiences, let’s look at a real-world example of how active listening can appear in your resume.

Tom Smith

123 Main Street, New York, NY 10001 | (555) 123-4567 | tomsmith@email.com

Professional Summary

Started as a Cashier at Big Box Store and quickly advanced to Team Lead. Both positions required a high level of responsibility and financial acumen and contributed to a promotion to Assistant Manager. Proven history of carefully managing team members, handling customer complaints, and articulating staff and customer needs to management through excellent communication skills and a friendly demeanor.

Work History

Big Box StoreNew York City, NY
April 2015 – Present

Began employment as a cashier, after two months was promoted to Team Lead. Held that position for two years and then was selected to serve as the Assistant Manager.

  • Listened to team members and accurately reflected their concerns and issues to management.

  • Voted customer relations specialist on three occasions due to positive reviews from customers who came in with issues that were resolved.

  • Stocked and maintained shelves for customer purchases.

  • Managed a cash register, which included reviewing differences between accounting information and the draw and resolving those issues.

  • Processed point-of-sale transactions with checks, cash, credit cards, and traveler’s checks.

  • Promoted customer loyalty and employee loyalty by being positive and listening carefully to any complaints.


New York High School
123 School Street
New York City, NY 10001

General Studies with degree earned in 2014

  • Graduated with honors

  • Voted class treasurer

  • Participated in soccer all 4 years and earned a letter

  • Involved in forensics

  • 4 years of Spanish language education


  • Customer service

  • Refunds and exchanges

  • Cash register operations

  • Cash drawer management

  • Meeting lead

  • Scheduling

  • Credit card processing

  • Payment collection

Active Listening FAQ

  1. What is active listening and why is it important?

    Active listening is when you are fully focused on the speaker. Active listening is important because it improves communication. Communication is a two-way street. The listener has to be just as engaged as the speaker if both parties are to fully understand each other.

  2. What are skills for active listening?

    Skills for active listening include:

    • Paying attention verbal and body language

    • Asking questions to clarify meaning

    • Summarizing what was said to clarify meaning

    • Refraining from judgement

    • Responding at appropriate times (not interrupting)

    • Being genuinely curious

    If you combine these skills, then you can ensure your active listening abilities will improve dramatically.

  3. What are barriers to active listening?

    Barriers to active listening include:

    • Being biased, judgemental, and forming a pre-conceived opinion

    • Lack of empathy

    • Distractions

    • Lack of awareness

    Active listening does not come easy to a lot of people. This is because it can take effort to stay engaged, but it is critical you do so! The more you practice at it, the better you will get, until soon, you will be a natural.

  4. What are non-verbal signs of active listening?

    Non-verbal signs of active listening include:

    • Nodding your head

    • Maintaining eye contact

    • Smiling or frowning when appropriate

    • Furrowing your brow

    • Mirroring the other person’s actions

    Body language plays an important role in active listening. It shows to the other person that your whole presence is engaged in their words.

    For example: imagine talking to a coworker and they do not look up from their computer. Now imagine another coworker who stops what they are doing and turn to face you when you speak. Which one do you feel is listening fully?

  5. Is active listening important in the workplace?

    Yes, active listening is critically important in the workplace. This is because active listening improves communication. Almost all business relies on successful communication, whether its between employees, business partners, or clients.

    Effective communication helps ensure that the objectives of the workplace are met. Improper communication can result in costly delays and setbacks.


  1. U.S. Department of Labor Soft Skills: The Competitive Edge

  2. Office of Personnel Management – Communicate

  3. National Library of Medicine – Active Listening

  4. U.S. Department of State – Active Listening

  5. Center for Disease Control – Active Listening

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Kristin Kizer

Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.

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