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Stop for a moment and think back to the most recent conversation that you had. Were you truly listening to what the other person had to say? Or were you distracted by things around you, thinking about what you need to do later, or preparing your response? Conversations are a two-way street, but so often people get caught up in their own role that they do not put as much attention as they should on the other person.

Becoming an active listener can help you to become more engaged in conversations, reduce misunderstandings, and build stronger relationships. You are showing the other person that what they have to say is important and respecting their time. Active listening is especially important for those in leadership roles who interact with clients and colleagues at all levels and want to ensure that they are getting the most out of each conversation. Here are some tips for improving your active listening skills:

Minimize Distractions

Put down your phone, turn over paperwork, and slide away from the computer screen. External factors can take your attention away from the person speaking, even if you don’t intend for them to. Catching a glance at a new email that popped up can start you wondering about what it says and making mental notes of who you need to follow up with. This reduces the amount of focus you have on the conversation at hand and you may miss important details.

Maintain Eye Contact

While you don’t want to stare at the other person, facing forward with an attentive posture and maintaining regular eye contact shows that you are more engaged. Leaning in slightly can convey interest, along with nodding at appropriate times. Try to avoid gazing out the window or at something going on beyond the speaker. This can make them feel that you are bored or uninterested in what they are discussing.

Wait to Respond

Listen to the entire statement before jumping in with a response. Many people fall victim to only hearing part of the conversation because once something catches their attention, they are focused on how they will respond. This may mean missing out on important information that changes the flow of the discussion. Wait until they are done speaking before taking a moment to process what they have said and prepare your response.

Ask for Clarification

If there is something that is unclear or that you do not understand, ask questions to find out more information rather than jumping to conclusions. Wait for a break in the conversation to interject so that you do not interrupt their train of thought. Paraphrase what they have said to ensure that you understood correctly, then ask follow-up questions for more clarification. This can help to reduce misunderstandings.

By engaging in active listening, you are able to focus on the issue at hand and validate what the other person has to say. Giving the speaker your full attention can not only make them feel more respected, but also increase their respect for and trust in you. Learning to push aside distractions, wait to respond, and not jump to conclusions can take practice, but in the end it can make for more meaningful and productive conversations.

The professionals at JP Kantor Consulting value the art of communication and can help you to become a better speaker and listener. By ramping up your communication skills, you can position yourself as more of a leader and build stronger relationships with clients and colleagues. Contact JP Kantor Consulting today to find out more about our executive coaching, management training, and consulting services.