Interviewing Tips: When Active Listening Gets Annoying

January 24, 2013

Not too long ago I was sitting in a meeting when I heard my colleague laughing under her breath. When I asked her what was prompting the stifled giggling she replied, “You should see your face! You are literally nodding your head in agreement with everything the presenter is doing. Are you even paying attention?” Um, the truth was probably not, but it was a physical reaction to show the presenter I was engaged.
After I was called out for my over-active listening, I started paying attention to how others around me listened. Clearly, I am not alone.
An overwhelming number of people I speak and interview with daily engage in active listening. Note: There can often be a distinction between active listening and good listening. In fact, over-active listening is actually akin to faking attention.
Think about it: When someone interrupts a phone conversation with an “mmhmmm” or a “yep,” it disrupts the flow of a conversation and creates confusion.
Here are some tips to avoid over-active listening, especially in interview situations:

Remove Listening Barriers

Typically, we tune people out when we believe what they are saying is not pertinent to us, or if their ideas are not in accordance with ours. A good idea is to go into conversations — whether you are the interviewer, interviewee, presenter, or a member of the audience — with an open mind, and hold off on forming an opinion immediately.

No One Wants to Hear “mmhmm…”

Stop using it. Try to avoid interrupting the speaker with any verbal sign of your agreement (or disagreement), altogether. And please, don’t interrupt to blurt out your opinion or next thought or cut them off before they’re finished.
Be mindful of your non-verbal queues, as well. If you are in-person with the speaker, your body language can be just as distracting as an outburst. Opening your mouth to speak, rolling your eyes, shifting around in your seat — these can all be perceived as rude or annoying.

Take Notes

Taking notes on key points you want to touch on when the speaker is done speaking can help you adapt a less-intrusive way of actively listening. Whatever technique you try, be cognizant of how you actively listen, and make sure it does not impede those around you.
It may seems like good idea to nod and verbally agree with the person who is presenting or speaking to you, but in fact, it may have the reverse effect. Next time you are trying to demonstrate your active listening skills think about how others may be perceiving you.

Senior Corporate Recruiter

<strong>Lindsey Gurian</strong> is the Senior Corporate Recruiter at <a href="">Acquia</a>. She was previously a Senior Talent Specialist at Sonian, responsible for recruiting initiatives at both the firm and its portfolio companies.