For many of us, listening is the communication skill we use the most. Yet, many people listen poorly, and they rarely think to improve this important skill.

Poor listeners “hear” what’s being said, but they rarely “listen” to the whole message.

They get distracted by their own thoughts or by what’s going on around them, and they formulate their responses before the person they’re talking to has finished speaking. Because of this, they miss crucial information.

Good listeners, on the other hand, enjoy better relationships, because they fully understand what other people are saying. Their team members are also more productive, because they feel that they can discuss problems easily, and talk through solutions.

When you have good listening skills, you not only “hear” what’s being said, but you listen to the whole message as well. Because of this, you help others express themselves fully.

When you need to listen, make sure that you’re prepared. Ensure that things in your environment will not distract you.

Also, do what you can to put people at ease.  Next, use active listening techniques so that you give people your full attention, and so that you can understand the nonverbal elements of their message.  Then, take your listening skills to the next level with empathic listening.

When appropriate, embrace silence, and make an effort to see things from other people’s perspectives.