Active Listening – What Is It & Do You Have It?

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In almost every industry, if you look for professional career guidance, before long someone will advise you to focus on developing soft skills. Job seekers are wise to highlight soft skills on their resumes. Hiring managers are on the lookout for candidates who have them because those individuals tend to be more successful in the workplace. Active listening is one of the soft skills at the top of almost every recruiter’s list.

So what exactly is active listening? How do you know it’s a soft skill you already possess, and one you should include on your resume? If you don’t have it, how can you develop it?

About Soft Skills

When they say someone has good “people skills,” they’re talking about one of that person’s soft skills. Hard skills are things like your ability to use computer software, your certification to teach high school math or your knowledge of tax laws.

Soft skills are just as important as hard skills because candidates who can’t solve problems or work with a team are much less likely to be successful in the workplace. No matter what your role, active listening is one of the most important soft skills to develop.

Active Listening – What It Is

Active listening means giving people your full attention and focusing all your senses on what they’re trying to communicate. Among other actions, it can also involve repeating back or paraphrasing what they said to encourage more dialogue and to communicate your understanding.

Why It’s Important

Hearing is passive. You can be aware someone is speaking and feel like you’re getting the “gist” of what they’re saying but not be demonstrating active listening. Developing this soft skill will benefit your career for these reasons:

Active listening will earn you trust and respect. People who really listen are rare. Most people appreciate being fully “heard” because it shows their thoughts, input and concerns matter to you. Employees and team members will be more likely to communicate openly when they can trust you to be supportive and understanding.

Active listening helps staff work through conflict. When you listen with all your senses and put all your energy into truly understanding the speaker’s thoughts and feelings, the focus is on them. You aren’t defensive or judgmental. Your neutral stance has the ability to diffuse tension. Because you consistently reflect back what you hear, you avoid missing critical information or allowing misunderstandings to develop.

Active listening achieves organizational goals. People who feel understood are more engaged. Reduced conflict means more energy for innovation. You and your team are better able to talk through challenges and find solutions.

What It Looks Like

How do you know if you already use the active listening soft skill? Next time someone is talking to you, evaluate your actions, attitudes and body language. Active listening looks this way:

  • Making eye contact
  • Paraphrasing or summarizing
  • Leaning slightly toward the speaker with uncrossed arms
  • Asking open-ended questions
  • Nodding to demonstrate agreement, encouragement or understanding
  • Offering brief verbal affirmations
  • Mirroring expressions and body language to show empathy
  • Waiting through periods of silence

Bad Listening Habits to Avoid

Bad listeners do the opposite of what’s listed above. They think they’re listening, but they’re really just waiting to talk. They daydream instead of paying attention. They interrupt to “one-up” the speaker. If what the speaker says doesn’t align with their own beliefs or preferences, they argue and get defensive. If the topic doesn’t interest or benefit them, they tune out.

Bad listeners don’t really want to listen at all. They demonstrate impatience with their body language and end conversations as quickly as possible. They always seem too busy to make time for conversation, and they make co-workers feel like they’re wasting too much time.

How to Develop Active Listening

Active listening is a skill you can improve through practice. When a conversation starts, think of yourself as a sounding board instead of a problem solver.

Start by adjusting your body language. Lean forward and maintain eye contact. Nod your head occasionally. Note the speaker’s body language and see what you can infer about their current emotions and goals.

Switch off your own internal dialogue so your thoughts don’t wander. Avoid thinking about the tasks you need to get to or how much time is passing so you don’t demonstrate impatience. Instead of offering opinions or advice, reflect back what they’ve just told you. Say things like, “In other words, what you’re saying is….”.

Suspend judgment and be open to new ideas. Remember you don’t have to agree with everything the speaker says to genuinely seek to understand their point of view.

Recruiting Active Listeners

At Brelsford Personnel, we try to identify candidates with strong active listening skills by practicing that skill ourselves. We’re successful at matching East Texas job seekers with employers because we don’t view open positions as simply a spot to fill. Before we send a worker to an employer, we’ve spent time learning about both the candidate and the company seeking to hire. The right candidates don’t just look good on paper, they are a good fit for that company’s culture.

That’s why comparing us to other staffing firms is like comparing apples to oranges. Contact us for direct-hire, temp-to-hire, temporary and contract staff with the skills your company needs.

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