07/30/2015 02:20 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2016

Don't Underestimate the Importance of Listening

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Recently, I was repeatedly interrupted by someone in a conversation. It was very frustrating. When I thought about it, I thought, "People have years of training in reading and writing, but how much training do people really have in listening?" Listening requires emotional strength, patience, openness and a real desire to understand. Just like any other skill, it requires practice over time. Here are some tactics I use when I am face-to-face in a conversation.

Participate. I look at the speaker directly and put aside distractive thoughts. I watch the speaker's body language.
Show interest. When the other person speaks, I focus on what he/she is saying. I try not to let my mind jump ahead to figure out a reply. I check my posture and make sure my body language is open and inviting.
Make eye contact. Making eye contact during a conversation indicates to the other person that I am listening with undivided attention.
Stay engaged. I pay attention and show active interest by smiling, nodding, laughing, shaking my head and sharing expressions that are right for the moment.
Defer judgment. Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. I try not to interrupt with counter arguments.

There is a saying, "Be quick to listen and slow to talk." I enjoy talking about myself and most people do. Research confirms that talking about oneself triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as eating or having a lot of money. That means that barriers to paying attention to another human being are more than simply the distractions in the room, the email, and our to-do list, but they may stem from the chemicals in the brain!

The next time someone tells me a story or shares an accomplishment, I will notice if I want to say something about myself in response. Although it's difficult habit to break, it's not only enjoyable but actually peaceful to not share a similar accomplishment. I want to exude the quiet confidence to surrender a need for attention and instead share in the joy of someone else's glory.

I really don't underestimate the power of listening. Listening enables me to learn much more about someone else, to discover new opportunities, to gain respect of another, to hear about different perspectives and make better decisions due to having more information.

Sometimes it is difficult. However, I do my best to withhold judgment while listening. I participate in the conversation by being actively engaged, showing interest, maintaining eye contact and remaining fully engaged. Practicing these techniques improves understanding and reduces the risk of misunderstanding. It also creates a feeling of mutual respect.