Of all the communication skills, listening is one of the trickiest because it seems easy but actually requires conscious effort. Effective listening does not mean waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can share your thoughts. What it does mean is using all of your attention to understanding what someone is trying to communicate to you.

If you lead people, listening is even more important. In fact, studies show that an employee's job satisfaction is directly linked to how well his or her manager listens.

And, though you make think you're a pretty good listener, research indicates that most of us use only 25 percent of our full listening potential.

Here are the five most common listening mistakes, and how to avoid them:

1. Interrupting. I know why you interject; you think you know the other person so well that you can anticipate what he or she will say next. But interrupting sends a subtle signal that you don't respect the speaker's point of view. What to do differently: Don't say anything until the other person is finished.

2. Showing impatience or boredom. Ninety percent of communication is nonverbal. So when you tap your foot, stare into space or exhibit other silent cues that you're only sort of paying attention, you're sending a very strong signal that you're not listening. Instead, use body language that shows you're engaged, including:

  • Leaning your body toward the speaker
  • Maintaining comfortable eye contact
  • Nodding your head

3. Thinking about what you're about to say (not what the speaker is actually saying) Do you ever find yourself waiting for the speaker to finish talking so you can say what's on your mind? Focusing on your own agenda leads to misunderstanding and missed information. What do differently: Avoid these mistakes:

  • Assuming what the speaker will say next
  • Jumping to conclusions
  • Trying to finish the speaker's sentence

4. Judging. You know you've done this: jumped to a conclusion even before you hear the whole message.  Prematurely evaluating messages hinders your ability to listen. Try not to filter messages from your own viewpoint: remember to listen first, then evaluate.

5. Assume you completely understand. Sure, you're smart, but that doesn't mean you got the message. That's why the psychologist's technique will work for you, too: Restate the speaker's message in your own Paraphrasing the main idea for the speaker allows both of you to make sure you're on the same page.  

Ready to really listen? Start now.