Most Important Active Listening Skills (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Sep. 23, 2020
Skills Based Articles

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It seems like 2020 has caused the entire world to abruptly halt and pivot. Everything has changed and we don’t know if that change is permanent or if it’s going to change, once again, down the road.

The job market landscape has been hit especially hard as companies have had to furlough, lay off, fire, downsize, and adapt. People who are lucky enough to still have a job are learning to work from home or they’re dealing with being essential employees and trying to stay healthy.

Whether you’re someone who is still employed, lost your job and looking for a new job, or you’re a first-time job seeker the professional world has changed and we’re seeing a shift in the skills companies value. One skill set that’s shot to the top of the list is active listening skills.

What is Active Listening?

This is an interesting development because listening has always been important, but maybe not valued as much as it should have been. Now, with a lot of online communications, less interpersonal interactions, and less in-person experiences, being an active listener is crucial to being successful in many jobs.

Active listening is not just hearing what the speaker is saying, but it’s also 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 meaning.

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.

Examples of Active Listening

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

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    • 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 judgement.

  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. 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 speakers facial expressions help you interpret what they’re saying? They certainly can bring more information to the table and add to the content presented.

Active Listening Responses

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.

  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. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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

More Active Listening Skills

Let’s look at active listening skills in a different way. They’re considered a soft skill, which means active listening is not something that’s taught in a classroom or something that you can get certified in. It’s a skill you pick up along the way or you work really hard to master.

It’s obvious that being a good listener makes you attractive to an employer and you’ll have an ample opportunity to display that if you get an interview but how do you show you have active listening skills beforehand to even get to that interview stage? Consider this:

  • An example. Do you have ways to show that you used listening skills to solve a problem? If you work in customer service, you can explain how you listened to what someone was saying and were able to help them. That show them you know your job and that you use active listening.

  • Advancement and education. Share any additional accreditation and knowledge you’ve gained, like a certification in a new skill. That shows that you’re still able and willing to learn.

  • Teamwork experiences. If you’ve worked in a team and were successful, this shows prospective employers that you’re able to listen and collaborate well.

  • You’ve discovered problems or solutions. Being an active listener can help you see beyond the current situation and discover new solutions or be a problem solver. Employers love that you have this sort of initiative.

Active Listening Resume Example

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 City, 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 Store — New 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.

Education

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

Skills

  • Customer service

  • Refunds and exchanges

  • Cash register operations

  • Cash drawer management

  • Meeting lead

  • Scheduling

  • Credit card processing

  • Payment collection

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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