How to Be a Better Listener

Being able to listen effectively to your audience is one of the most important skills you can have as a recruiter. In fact, it’s one of the most important skills you can have as a person. Regardless of the job you have.

Increasing your ability to gain and impart information ensure you’re as successful as possible. You’ll make more money. Your relationships will strengthen.

I’d like to start this article with practical advice that goes against consensus. When you need to listen, turn off your notifications. Turn your phone on silent. Turn off vibrate. Don’t allow anything to distract you.

The only noise that comes from my phone without me wanting it to, is my alarm. And believe me I need it.

Everything else doesn’t make a noise. I don’t get notifications for WhatsApp, emails or texts.

Why? Because I check my phone too much as it is. I’m normally within 3 feet of it and check it when I have time. I’m so aware of the time I spend on devices and know my ability to concentrate is vastly diminished when I’m interrupted.

And here are some more top tips for being a great listener.

1) Make eye contact

I’m obviously not suggesting a constant stare when facing someone. That’s a touch weird. And if you couple that with not blinking, questions are going to be asked.

Maintaining eye contact’s a great way to show your counterpart you’re listening attentively. I was once in a meeting with someone who kept tapping their watch. When I asked if I was keeping them, they explained calmly it was actually an iWatch, somehow thinking that was better.

I didn’t really see the difference.

In fact, it was probably worse, given the content on the smartwatch was deemed more important than me.

Maintaining eye contact shows you’re not multi-tasking and are interested.

Pro Tip

If you’re not the most confident of people, eye contact can be daunting. But the best way to practice is speak with someone you know well. A family member for example.

Don’t tell them you’re practicing, just maintain eye contact for as long as possible. If you’re still a little shy, try looking at the bridge of the person’s nose. This is a good trick that lets them think you’re attentive, but gives you a barrier at the same time.

2) Be empathetic

As a recruiter, you’re trained to be a problem solver. Which means when someone poses a problem, your first reaction might be to offer a solution.

That’s not good practice if you want to be considered empathetic.

Pro tip

When people voice problems, it’ll mean a great deal to them. Therefore diminishing the issue or responding in a matter of fact way probably won’t help. Instead, focus on simply listening first, then showing you understand the issue. Use phrases like “I understand” and “that sounds tough” before moving on and trying a fix.

Your partner will feel heard a great deal more and the next stage will become easier as you’ll be more aligned.

3) Use open body language

This article on body language might help you to conquer the non-verbal world. And while it’s argued how much of an impact body language has on overall communication, the general consensus is it’s a lot.

Pro tip

Don’t sit with closed body language. Don’t fold your arms or look opposed to your partner. Try to mirror them. Make sure you’re open and inviting. You’ll hear more of the things your partner says, but they’ll also feel heard. Which in recruitment’s the basis for open communication.

4) Ask questions

You’re taught to ask open questions all the time in recruitment. You can then tailor the flow of conversation by narrowing down on the subject and getting to the bottom of the issue.

Whether you’re asking open, closed or leading questions to your conversation partner, if they’re irrelevant to the conversation, or only relevant to you, it won’t be obvious you’re listening.

Pro tip

Tailor your questioning to the topic. Directly respond to a subject by zoning in. Try and repeat sentences and words but directing the path to explore a subject more deeply.

Questions like “how did that make you feel?” or “what were you thinking at that point?” show you’ve been listening and want to hear more. It’s also a great way to move the conversation along without shutting down a particular path.

5) Don’t interrupt

When you’re up against the clock, and in recruitment you typically always are, it’s tough to let conversation flow. You’ll know who the chatterboxes are in your network, and perhaps welcome or shudder at a phone call from them. It probably depends on the time of the week.

Not interrupting can be difficult if your counterpart can talk the hind legs off a donkey.

But it’s important to let them finish, or at least let them be heard.

Pro tip

If possible, use visual clues to interject discussion.

Ask whether it’s alright to respond or throw in visual clues indicating you’d like to get involved. This works a lot better in person of course. On the phone it’s often difficult but if you at least try and respond during lulls you’ll sound a lot more empathetic and polite.

Another good tip is practicing being the last person to speak. This is a negotiation tactic that works wonders, but if you let your counterpart say everything they need to, you can then respond to everything.

6) Don’t let sodcasters affect you

What’s a sodcaster? You’re possibly thinking.

A sodcaster is someone who’s completely unaware of the volume they emit. That could mean their booming voice or music from their phone in quiet places like a train.

My Dad’s a sodcaster. He picks up the phone and in reality, doesn’t need the phone at all. The person he’s speaking to could hear him without it. I think I’ve heard him from London before. He lives in New Zealand.

By eradicating a sodcaster’s influence you’ll help yourself become a better listener.

Pro tip

Where unwanted noises from phones will distract you, so will sodcasters. But you can’t turn a sodcaster off. They’re just there. So, meeting in a busy cafe isn’t conducive to listening well. Try and go somewhere quiet so your full attention’s on your partner.

Book a private room in your office. And don’t be afraid to move away if you’re struggling to concentrate.


There you have it. The better you listen, the better recruiter you’ll be. Here’s some further reading you might find useful.