Listening is one of the most difficult skills on the planet,” says Nicole Lipkin, author of What Keeps Leaders Up At Night.

It’s very hard to stop your mind from wandering . You can always tell when someone’s not giving you their complete attention. Most of us in the workplace are so overwhelmed with things to do—instant messaging, phones ringing.

Listening can feel at times like a lost art, maybe because we are communicating so much more electronically. Being a good listener can help you in every aspect of your life – with family and friends, and with your colleagues at work.

Here are a few exercises that leaders should use to test their ability to suspend judgement and really hear what the other person is saying.

  1. Stop interrupting -This will be hard to do, but try not to finish the other person’s sentence. You often do this because you think you know what the other person is thinking, but this isn’t always true. In fact, it’s often not true. Our brains are wired to share what we want to hear and we will look for information that supports what we want to see and hear and ignore everything else.
  2. Listen for feelings – People do not always express their feelings or concerns directly, especially to their bosses. Pay attention to words that express feelings or needs and to nonverbal behaviors that may reflect how someone feels.
  3. Use Body Language – Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.
    Learning body language can feel odd, and it’s likely you’ll be doing some of these already without being aware of them. However, the more conscious you are of these four factors the easier active listening will be for you.
    –  Make sure you face the speaker
    –  Move closer to the speaker
    –  Incline your head towards the speaker
    –  Hold eye contact for longer
  4. Acknowledge what the person said. This is where you tell the person what you think after acknowledging the person’s contribution. Lipkin advises not to criticize what they say, but be genuinely honest about your opinions. This is how you build a relationship.
  5. Repeat what you heard back to the person. You should always paraphrase what you think the person said. Paraphrasing helps you check for accuracy and understanding.

You should also take note of the person’s tone of voice, because often people will say one thing that seems angry, but they’re actually not. Sometimes this is a cultural thing.
Active listening is an important social skill that has value in many social settings. Practise it often, and it will become your second nature.