10/02/2014 12:30 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2014

Everybody's Talking But Is Anyone Listening?

While on the NJ Transit Train traveling to Manhattan for a meeting, I was thinking about a conversation I had with a fellow coach about the art of active listening. It's one of the most important skills a coach can possess and probably one of the most valuable benefits for the client.

Looking around I noticed loads of people using various forms of communication.  Many were texting, some on cell phones, a mom was talking to her son who had on his iPod earphones, and still another man was talking to his companion, who seemed to be listening, but was also turning the pages of his newspaper.

What is wrong with this picture?
  It struck me as odd that I was exploring the topic of listening, but does anyone actually do that anymore?  In our world of instant messaging, email, text, BBM, faxes, and voice mail, there is no lack of ways to "talk" with others, but how do we know if we are really being heard?

I got to my meeting, and was instantly drawn to the woman I had my appointment with.  She greeted me with a giant smile and hug.  After months of emails back and forth, we were both happy to finally meet face to face.  I was so surprised when the first question out of her mouth was, "How is your father doing?"  She remembered that I had to cancel our first scheduled appointment because my dad had been ill.

She then sat down, looked me in the eye, and listened quietly while I filled her in.  I could feel her warmth, empathy and understanding without her saying a word.  We then moved on to discuss the reason for our meeting, and our exchange was wonderful.  I left feeling that we had both heard each other, understood what we were both looking for, and excited about the prospect of possibly doing business together in the future.

Although the business opportunity was quite interesting, part of my excitement came from the feeling that I really like this woman, and she is someone I could trust.  She is a master at the art of active listening.  And I am one who believes that all relationships could be enhanced if we practiced this skill more often.

I believe we are all hungry for someone to truly listen and hear us.
Whether you are doing business, conversing with family or friends, or having a casual conversation with an acquaintance you run into in the store, practice these tips, and you will be amazed at the out pouring of warmth you will receive from others.

1. Make sure the time is right to concentrate on your conversation.  Don't attempt to have a meaningful conversation if you are busy with something else. Relay the message that you care with a statement, such as, "I really want to hear what you have to say, but need to concentrate on what I am doing right now. Can we set a time to talk when I can give you my full attention?"

2. Make eye contact.  Resist the urge to look around at other people or glance at your cell phone.  By looking directly at the speaker, you will convey the message, "What you are saying is really important to me."

3. Quiet your inner voice and truly focus on what the other person is saying.  Rather than think about what you will say next or how you will respond, really listen to the words and meaning of the person you are speaking with.

4. Reflect back what you heard to make sure you understand correctly or ask questions.  Say your friend is speaking about the overload of work at the office, try responding, "It sounds like you have more to do than is possible within one day."  Your friend will then know that you have heard and understand what he/she is talking about.  "Tell me more." conveys your desire to get the full picture, and allows the speaker to further explore his/her thoughts.

5. Listen for the emotion and feelings behind the words.  In the above example, if you state, "You seem overwhelmed and frustrated." you will validate the speaker's feelings or learn more about what is going on. You may be surprised by an answer, such as, "No, actually I am angry at myself for procrastinating working on this project when I first found out about it."

6. Remove any words or body language that might appear you are making a judgment about what is being said.  Respect the right of others to see the world differently than you do.

7. Don't multitask your conversations.  Reading the newspaper, looking at emails, glancing at the TV, or anything else that takes your focus off the speaker sends the message, "What you have to say is really not that important to me."

8. Stay engaged and fully present.  Try your best to push away distracting thoughts and really pay attention.  If you do find yourself unable to concentrate, admit it, apologize, and reschedule for a better time.