I know I’m not the only one who isn’t the best listener at times. Who finds themselves tuning out instead of actively listening. I get it, the average attention space is now 8 seconds. With electronic devices stealing our attention and demanding work lives, we don’t always give people our full attention. Often if someone doesn’t grab our attention right away we zone out and nod as if we heard them.  There are two sides to every conversation – listening and speaking. Both sides are essential to the art of effective communication.

Take a moment to ponder on your communication style. Are you an active listener who keeps eye contact? A smooth talker or a rambler? Or are you an interrupter who can’t wait to get their word in? Do you text or scroll while listening to someone speak? It’s important for you to identify your listening issues before you can improve them. Most of us retain only 25 percent of what we hear. If you’re ready to increase that percentage, read my tips below.

1. Concentrate on listening to understand

Listen with the intention to understand not agree. Postpone your own agenda when you’re listening to the speaker and focus on learning something. When we seek understanding, we’re more inclined to listen to the other person’s viewpoint and be empathetic. Concentrate on what the person is sharing and do it with genuine interest and attention.

2. Ask open-ended questions to learn more

Asking questions shows that you’re interested. It also allows you to get a deeper understanding of the message being delivered. Inquiring about one’s interests, passions and journey often leads to the most intriguing stories and meaningful connections. Never assume people know what you mean without you thoroughly explaining where you’re coming from. Your responses should make the person feel heard.

3. Pay attention to the speaker’s body language

Studies show that only 7 percent of communication is verbal and 93 percent is non-verbal. The non-verbal component is made up of 55% body language and 38% tone of voice. Good listeners keep their eyes open while listening and paying attention to differences in the speakers facial expressions, eye contact and tone. When someone feels uncomfortable you can usually tell by their questioning tone or fidgeting body language. Good listeners remain relaxed and engaged without distracting the speaker.

4. Summarize what you heard 

I love to quickly summarize what I just heard and then elaborate on the person’s point. That way I can confirm that I heard them correctly and I can share my viewpoint in a constructive manner. If your summary was incorrect, it’s an excellent moment for the speaker to reword their statement until the listener really does understand. You can communicate all you want but if the listener doesn’t comprehend what you’re saying, the message is lost.

 5. Consciously decide whether to add input

This one can be tricky. There are moments in conversation when the listener can add value to what the person is saying without interrupting them. For instance, helping someone find the word they’re looking for, or agreeing with them verbally when they’ve made a good point, or asking a clarifying question. There’s a thin line with this point because you want to avoid interrupting the speaker, throwing off their train of thought or dominating the conversation. The safest bet is to wait until the speaker has paused for a couple seconds to start speaking.

6. Avoid judging and responding irrationally 

We all can think of someone that makes judgmental comments, reacts irrationally or finds any opportunity to tell their own story and dominate the conversation. All of those behaviors are annoying and make the speaker feel invalidated. Check your ego at the door please! There are times when these forms of communication can be necessary – such as, if someone is saying something very offensive, acing super ostentatious or saying something designed to hurt you. Majority of the time, those reactions aren’t necessary.

 7. Remember that listening is an active behavior 

Listening is different from hearing, which is passive, because it involves your conscious attention. You don’t just listen with your ears, you listen by facing the person speaking, using your brain to comprehend what’s being heard and not allowing yourself to be distracted while someone is speaking to you.