How many times have you found yourself in a conversation during which your mind is wandering at best or preparing the answer to yet-to-be-said statement at worst? I am sure we can all relate to this snapshot of 21st century reality!

Nevertheless, we hear this trendy phrase repeatedly: “Actively Listening.” Do you do it? Do I do it? Does anyone listen? The response to these questions is quite simple: I would like to think that we all have the intent to listen but often get caught in the rush of things and don’t take the time to listen well. Yet I think we underestimate the importance of the impact of not preparing ourselves to invest the time to have meaningful conversations, although we still want to have amazing outcomes. So, where do we start?

Give one 100 percent of your external and internal attention to the other person. Concentrate on what is being said and minimize potential distractions within your control. This attention includes finding the right place to have your discussion where you won’t be interrupted and also, to make a point to leave your unresolved issues “at the door” and clear your mind. Some individual have “clearing” rituals… think about one that might work for you.

How well you are listening is transmitted by both your verbal choices (tone and words) and body language. These two need to be consistent with each other. Remember that over 90 percent of what you are communicating comes across nonverbally through the tone you use and body language. No matter how polished your actual words are, unless your whole self is present and coherent during the conversation, your listening will not be as effective.

Let the other party know what you have heard in two ways: first, by consistently showing signs of "presence;" and second, by paraphrasing and checking for understanding. Assumptions are the worst listening enemies. Because it is so challenging to quite our minds and we operate from the familiar, we will hear the information through all these unconscious filters. Know what these are for you and make an effort to minimize their impact through thorough preparation.

Do not judge what is being said or the person. Wait until you have all the information to reach a conclusion to share. Judging implies power and superiority over the other person. It is rare that we will ever have a full picture of the “truth” and what is actually going on for the other person. Always give the benefit of the doubt and take the time to check the information you have or what you think you know.

Search for the core meaning of the message being conveyed without getting hung up on the delivery of the content. Individuals have different levels of sophistication when it comes to communicating with others that has to do with many variables including education, background, upbringing, primary language, and family influences, to name a few. Therefore, make an effort to get past the distractions of the “how” it is being said to get to the “what” is being said quicker… And again, check for understanding.

Find an effective way to organize and retain the information you are hearing. This effort might entail taking notes, if needed, or, from time to time, stopping the other person to summarize what you have heard so far. If you wait too long, you might get derailed in hearing the wrong message. The rate of retention of information varies from person to person, but, we do know that the more senses we use, the more likely we are to retain a greater amount of data. Become familiar with your own style and preferences and incorporate them in your listening. The only caution: Don’t let them get in the way! For example, if taking notes is helpful to you, develop a method that won’t take the attention away from the other party and transform your listening into a “note taking” task instead.

Do not confuse accepting what is being said with agreeing with the other person. You can still respect other people's opinions and listen with the intention to help you understand their position. Approaching communication in this way opens many doors to positive outcomes and productive relationships. This point is perhaps the most challenging one to accomplish because of the complexities of communication and listening. Before your conversations, find words and ways to let the other person know the difference between respecting opinions and agreement. This area is a particularly sensitive one among different culture where verbal and nonverbal cues differ.

Listening. We do it every day. Listening. It is common among humans. Listening. It is easier said than done. Active and intentional listening is an art. I do not think it is a lost one. I do think, however, that it is an art that requires preparation and practice to do it well to achieve the kind of productive and effective relationships we want to cultivate in both our personal and professional environments.

Author's Bio: 

For almost 20 years, Eugenia Tripputi has held several leadership and managerial positions creating and heading training, professional development, and human resources programs as well as has consulted for Fortune 500 corporations and non-profit agencies in the United States and Latin America. Her educational foundation includes a Masters degree in Counseling from Seattle University and a Bachelor’s from California State University, Hayward, with a degree in Human Development. Eugenia's unique creations, including employee and career development resources, workshops on numerous topics, interpersonal communication tools, and innovative training materials, have earned her numerous awards and recognition. Her latest innovative products, "Talk to Me... I'm Human"™ Interpersonal Communication Tools and the Career Journey Toolkit™, are a reflection of her commitment to providing individuals with practical products for personal and professional growth.