“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

 – Stephen R. Covey-

Are you ready?  Are you listening? There are several issues in the realm of interpersonal communication and interviewing that are continually stumbling blocks to success.  These qualities are always present in positive interactions across the board and they need to be strengthened for consistency and optimum performance.  I’m going to endeavor to explore each of them and I welcome thoughts on others that you may feel exist.  The three I believe need to be addressed are active listening, critical thinking, and ensuring understanding.  This trilogy when done wrong sabotages so many interviews.  So, let’s start with listening.

Have you seen the results of poor listening?  Is poor listening an issue in your life, with family, friends, supervisors, co-workers?  Just this week, we were having a consultation with a doctor and he wanted to get a medical history. He would ask a question and then would provide a narrative to every question answered.  He shared tons of his knowledge and expertise, and knowledge about medical studies, and things he had seen, interrupting us all along the way.  I would finally get to say something and he would say, “I wish I knew that earlier.”  I thought if you would have just listened, you would already know that.  Poor listening affects professions and people across the board. No group is immune to this ailment. So many people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand.  This must be changed, and doing so will set us apart from many around us.

Effective communication is a vital part of human interaction, and active listening plays a key role in this process. Active listening is a communication skill that involves fully focusing on the speaker and understanding their message. It is an essential skill for building strong relationships, resolving conflicts, and enhancing personal and professional growth. However, active listening is often lacking in today’s society, leading to misunderstandings, conflicts, and breakdowns in communication. In this blog, we will discuss what active listening is, why it is lacking today, and ways to improve our active listening ability.

What is Active Listening?

Active listening is a communication skill that involves paying full attention to the speaker, understanding their message, and responding appropriately. It is more than just hearing the words that the speaker is saying, it requires the listener to comprehend the meaning behind those words. Where is this person coming from? Active listening is an essential component of effective communication and involves several key techniques, including:

  1. Giving the speaker your full attention: This means avoiding distractions and focusing on the speaker.  Stop multi-tasking, you don’t do it well anyhow.
  2. Understanding the message: This involves processing the speaker’s words, tone, and body language to gain a full understanding of what they are saying. We must pay attention to both the verbal and non-verbal aspects of all communication.
  3. Responding appropriately: This involves responding to the speaker in a way that shows that you understand and are interested in what they are saying. A little empathy, care, and concern go a long way.
  4. Asking questions: This involves asking the speaker questions to clarify their message and gain a deeper understanding. This is the essence of seeking to understand and minimizing biases effecting our conversation.

Why is Active Listening So Sparse Today?

Despite the essential nature of active listening in communication, it is often lacking in today’s society. There are many reasons why this may be the case, including:

  1. Technology: The prevalence of technology in our daily lives has led to a decrease in face-to-face communication, leading to a decrease in active listening skills.  Everything must be in short bursts.  If you are in the generation of electronics and social media, find ways to work on those in person interactions.
  2. Time constraints: In today’s fast-paced world, people often feel rushed and don’t take the time to listen actively.  Much like in interviewing, slow it down a little.
  3. Distractions: With so many distractions in today’s world, it can be difficult to fully focus on the speaker and listen actively. As the interviewer, you need to control those distractions as much as you can.
  4. Lack of training: Many people have not received formal training in active listening, leading to a lack of understanding of its importance and application. We are taught how to speak, but we aren’t taught how to listen.
  5. Preconceptions and biases: People may have preconceptions or biases that prevent them from fully listening to what the speaker is saying. This is another significant problem that is getting worse. We need to be aware of our biases and use critical thinking to keep them out of the interview room.

Ways to Improve Our Active Listening Ability

Improving our active listening ability will enhance our communication skills, build stronger relationships, and improve our personal and professional growth. In the realm of interviewing, be it investigation, audit, inspection or whatever, our ability to active listen is essential. Here are some techniques to improve our active listening ability:

  1. Practice mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness can help us become more present and focused, allowing us to listen actively and fully engage with the speaker. Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment and paying attention to our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. To practice mindfulness, find a quiet place to sit or lie down, focus on your breath, and try to clear your mind of distracting thoughts.  Get rid of distractions, expend the energy to focus.
  2. Avoid distractions: Eliminating distractions, such as turning off our phones or closing our laptops, can help us focus on the speaker and fully understand their message. When we are distracted, we are less likely to listen actively and may miss important details. If you are note taking in an interview, do it after the individual fully answers the question. By eliminating distractions, we can create a more conducive environment for active listening. Maintain eye contact, give positive verbal and nonverbal affirmations.
  3. Pay attention to nonverbal cues: Paying attention to the speaker’s nonverbal cues, such as their body language and tone of voice, can help us gain a deeper understanding of their message. Nonverbal cues can provide important information about the speaker’s emotions, attitudes, and intentions. By paying attention to these cues, we can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the speaker’s message. Pay attention and be ready to ask follow on questions.
  4. Show empathy: Showing empathy involves putting ourselves in the speaker’s shoes and understanding their perspective. This can help us better understand their message and respond appropriately. To show empathy, try to imagine how the speaker is feeling and what they are experiencing. Acknowledge their feelings and validate their experiences. We don’t have to agree with them but we can understand them.
  5. Avoid interrupting: Interrupting the speaker can be disrespectful and prevent us from fully understanding their message. Allowing the speaker to finish their thought before responding can help us listen actively and respond appropriately. If we need clarification or have a question, we can wait until the speaker has finished speaking before asking. This is difficult for type A personalities that want things answered in a certain order.  For success, we need to get beyond this trait. If we don’t, they will truncate their answers and we won’t get all the information.
  6. Ask questions: Asking questions can help us clarify the speaker’s message and gain a deeper understanding. It also shows the speaker that we are interested, listening, and engaged in the conversation. To ask questions, we can use open-ended questions that encourage the speaker to elaborate on their message. For example, “Can you tell me more about that?” or “What did you mean by that?”
  7. Paraphrase and summarize: Paraphrasing and summarizing the speaker’s message can help us confirm our understanding and show the speaker that we are listening actively. To paraphrase, we can restate the speaker’s message in our own words. To summarize, we can provide a brief overview of the main points of the speaker’s message. We know from studies that the more complicated and longer an interview, the less likely summaries are completed.  This is oxymoronic.
  8. Reflect on our biases and assumptions: Reflecting on our biases and assumptions can help us become more aware of our own perspectives and how they may impact our ability to listen actively. By becoming more aware of our biases and assumptions, we can work to overcome them and become more open-minded and receptive to different perspectives.
  9. Practice active listening with intention: Practicing active listening with intention involves making a conscious effort to listen actively and engage with the speaker. To do this, we can set aside dedicated time to practice active listening, such as during a meeting or conversation with a friend. By practicing active listening with intention, we can improve our skills and make active listening a habit.

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”

– Ernest Hemingway-

What can you do this week at home and work to listen better.  Whether it is in interviews, meetings, or interactions, invest in employing all your senses to listen to understand.  Listen in situations where you normally tune out. Invest to learn what more you can learn. 

Anderson Investigative Associates is positioned to custom-tailor training to your specific needs.  We build programs for you, our clients.  If you have any questions or would like to discuss the issues of listening and understanding or any training need, please reach out.  Additional issues pertaining to interviewing, auditing, and investigations can be found in other blogs and videos that we have produced and are contained in most blocks of instruction that our company presents.

If you have additional questions, comments, or have an interviewing topic you would like me to address, give me a shout, please.  In the meantime, be well, stay safe out there, and diligently endeavor to listen better…don’t miss the world around you.

Mark A. Anderson

Director of Training and Development

Anderson Investigative Associates, llc

114 Loucks Avenue

Scottdale, PA 15683