These days, we’re all in such a rush that every task we carry out happens in the shadows of what’s coming next. But not focusing on the job at hand often delivers substandard results. This is especially true of listening. Some say it’s a lost art – hardly surprising when we conduct so much of our communication in the digital world.

There are so many reasons to improve your listening skills. Effective listening develops empathy – the capacity to deeply understand another’s experience. And if you can do this, then your relationships will thrive, not just at work, but also in your personal life. People will feel more drawn to you. You could learn something new. You will solve problems more effectively. So how do you do it better? Read on.

1. Pay attention

Our brains have the capacity to process 400 words per minute, yet we speak at the rate of about 125 words per minute. What are we doing with the rest of that brain power? Thinking about lunch? Replaying the previous meeting over in our minds? Planning the rest of our day?

Paying attention is the first rule to improving your listening skills. Block the chatter from your mind. When you feel thoughts drifting away from the moment at hand, refocus. Hear the words and let their meaning into your consciousness. If your own goals for the interaction start dominating your thoughts, let them go while the person is speaking, and balance your need for a certain outcome with the desire to sustain good relationships.

2. Make sure you understand

To be absolutely certain you understand what the other person has said, repeat it back to them: “So what you’re saying is…” Don’t sit there like a zombie nodding your head and mumbling “Mmm” throughout the interaction. Be open and use your body language – uncross your arms and make eye contact to show you’re invested in the conversation.

3. Be curious and show interest

Ask relevant, open-ended questions. Accumulate your thoughts and deliver them when the other person is ready. Be mindful of your audience – don’t just broadcast anything that comes to mind. Keep your reactions sympathetic to the person you’re speaking with and attempt to take the conversation down a logical, deeper path.

4. Don’t interrupt

Hear the person as if you’re talking for the first time and try to put aside preconceived ideas about them. When you feel the urge to talk over them, take a breath and let it go, or at least store the thought for later. Interrupting is a negative habit that runs counter to the art of fine listening skills. Being courteous and respectful is a much better approach for resolving issues and moving forward. Let go of your need to be right and be open to forming new ideas. If you need to move the conversation along due to time constraints, preface your comment with, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but we’re running short on time…”

Improving your listening skills now will save you time and serve you well in future relationships, so start practising today!