Career Coaching Competency: Active Listening

This is Article #3 in our Series: The “Must Knows” of Career Coaching – Core Competencies

By Diane Hudson Burns, CPCC, CEIP, CPRW
Director, Certified Professional Career Coach Program

Today we will explore the importance of Communicating Effectively focused on Active Listening.

As a career coach, Listening is not about us – it is about the job seeker (or other person). Careful listening leads to query / questioning that reveal information needed by the job seeker to prepare a successful career search plan. Effective communication is important in developing and maintaining positive relationships and co-creating the coach-job seeker partnership.

Typically, when we think of communicating, we think of talking, speaking, consulting, or presenting. However, speaking is only a part of the communication equation.

Fifty-five percent of communication is what a person looks like; 38% of communication is what a person sounds like; and seven percent of communication is what a person says. So, if only seven percent of communication is what someone says – active listening is an integral part of communication


Listening means making a conscious effort to hear a sound and is a form of effective communication – it is the art of evaluating a spoken message. Sincere listening is attentive and open; and the listener is able to reflect the content and even the feelings of the speaker.

Active listening goes beyond turning off the radio or TV, and removing other distractions that may cause a problem in the ability to receive information. Certainly, turning off distracters will help you listen better. Beyond that, active listening requires a listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what s/he heard.

The majority of people would rather talk than listen. Moreover, while someone is talking they are thinking what they might say when the speaker stops. Or they interrupt him/her in the middle of the sentence. These interruptions can be upsetting and distracting to the speaker; and prevent the listener from actually hearing and understanding what the speaker said. Research indicates that the average person listens for only 17 seconds before interrupting and interjecting his/her own ideas.

Practice Active and Reflective Listening

There are some exercises you can use to practice active listening:

  • Listen to a recorded message – and then repeat or summarize the story. Then listen again, to see how much of the story you got correct.
  • Listen to someone read a passage from a book or newspaper article, and then summarize and report back what you heard.
  • Listen to someone read directions to build something simple, i.e., connect a computer, remove and clean a garbage disposal drain pipe; install a shower head, or other, and see how well you are able to complete the task, without having the directions repeated.
  • Practice listening for a potential job seeker’s name when they call on the phone – repeat his/her name during the conversation.
  • Practice listening for a person’s name at a networking meeting – repeat his or her name back during your interaction.
  • Close your eyes for three minutes. Make a list of all the sounds you hear (try not to fall asleep).

A Good Listener

This does not include if the listener does not actually speak verbally, s/he is thinking of what to say next.

As you begin to listen even more to a job seeker’s situation, begin by asking some clarifying and reflective questions to glean additional information:

  • Do you mean…?
  • Can you further describe / specify?

Listening Between the Lines

In addition to listening to the words your job seekers speak, you will want to learn to listen between the lines, and listen for the tone of the message, the goals being presented, and attitudes. After working with a job seekers for a session or two, you will learn his style and learn to listen for changes in behavior and attitude – these changes may indicate sadness, happiness, excitement, or other needs/issues. You may also identify a change in direction.

For example, a job seeker may talk all along about finding a new job; and suddenly he wants to get a promotion. That will now become a new topic to explore.


If you find yourself interrupting others, interjecting your opinion, and offering advice, both with job seekers and in your personal life, you may want to take the lesson to heart, and practice active listening.

Feel free to make comments below or contact me with any questions!

Wishing You Success,


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View all articles in this series: The ‘Must Knows” of Career Coaching – Core Competencies

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