Expert Interviews 5: Active listening

A businessman in a videoconference with another businessman.

This lesson will help you respond naturally, encourage the expert to continue, or interrupt so you can change direction.


Being clearly engaged with what the expert has to say is the final and most important aspect of rapport. It shows you are listening and following what the expert is saying. 

Warm Up: 

Ask your teacher the following questions. As you ask them, think about the expected answer. When you hear the answer, react naturally based on your expectations. 

  1. Nordstrom sold jeans with fake mud on them.
    • How much did they sell the jeans for? 
  2. Since 1820, global extreme poverty has declined.
    • How much has it declined by?
  3. About a century ago, less than one in five people globally lived in a democracy.
    • What's that number like now?
  4. America is famous for being a country of startups, disruptor companies and radical innovation.
    • How much of wealth is earned, and how much is inherited? 

React naturally

The first step to active listening is to not think too much about active listening. If you’re formulating your response while the other person is speaking, you’re not listening! 

Come up with few responses for when you understand or you are surprised. Then, say them each 10-20 times. It should only take 10-20 seconds for each phrase. Each one should roll off your tongue naturally. 

If you feel the need to expand your response phrases, then discuss what you would say in the following situations: 

  1. You understand what was said.
  2. You are surprised by what was said.

Keep the conversation going

If you’d like the expert to keep talking about a topic, then you can repeat one word that you are interested in. 

Expert: So, that means in the last 3 years, this industry has more than doubled in size.
Consultant: More than doubled?
Expert: That’s right. A few years ago this was a 5 billion dollar global industry, and now it’s roughly 11 billion...
Consultant: 11 billion?
Expert: Yep, that includes quite a bit though. It includes.... 


Your teacher will tell you some facts about a certain industry. Choose one fact and repeat it in order to get more detail.

Confirm information

You can confirm information that is unusual or surprising, or that you didn't understand. 

As you progress through your project, you get a clearer idea of the key issues, facts and subtleties. Therefore, you will also be able to expect the answers to some questions. If the answers are as expected, you can continue as planned. However, if an answer catches you by surprise, you may want to confirm it and get more detail.

You can use a phrase like this:

  • Would you mind repeating that last bit?
  • Could you say that again?
  • I didn't quite catch that. 
  • Sorry, did you say [...]?

You can also confirm core information: who, what, when, where, and why. 


You expect that global sales last year were USD $7bn. 

Expert: ...sales were just four billion U.S. dollars. 
Consultant: Did you say four billion?
Expert: That's right.
Consultant: Is that globally? 
Expert: No, I mean just here in the U.S. 
Consultant: I see. In the last fiscal year?
Expert: Correct. 
Consultant: So what about global sales last year?
Expert: Globally, sales were 6.9 billion. 
Consultant: Ah, that makes sense.


You know that one modern steel plant in a specific market can produce about 1 million tonnes of steel annually when running at full capacity. Respond to the information you are given.



The client is a high-end modern American restaurant chain located in the city of Los Angeles, in the United States. The restaurant chain was founded 15 years ago by two brothers with the help of their families and friends and has grown to 4 highly profitable locations. 

Recently, the two co-founders have been contemplating expanding their business. Your consulting firm has been retained to advise them. The hypothesis is that expanding into other geographic areas in the best way to drive growth.

Information about the L.A. market (in U.S. dollars): 

  1. Average cost to open a restaurant: $54 per square foot.
  2. Since 2008, L.A.'s restaurant real estate prices have risen by 11%.
  3. Average salary costs: $40,740 for a head chef; $25,300 for a cook; and $27,570 for a server.
  4. Ingredient costs: $36 for a flat of strawberries.

Ask an expert about the New York and the San Francisco markets. Assume for this exercise that you expect the costs to be in the same ballpark as L.A. Make sure you clarify times and more exact places where appropriate.