One of my favorite quotes comes from the Dalai Lama is: "When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new." I do my best to follow this sage advice every day in my business, however; as we all know, with constant interruptions and information coming at us, it is sometimes hard to do.

One of the worst experiences to have in business is to prepare for a meeting and the other person is checking their phone, email, or is otherwise distracted. It gives the message that what that person has to say is not important, even if it is unintentional.When you listen --and I mean really listen where you are engaged in what a person says and how they say it -- you can learn so much that can improve how you conduct business and provide new ideas for innovation.

A good listener is also a stronger leader. Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has said, "Great listeners are often terrific at uncovering and putting in place strategies and plans that have a big impact." Successful business personalities, like Branson and others, understand people's needs, strengths, weaknesses, and challenges. They do this by listening to what they have to say and then acting on it.   

Strong listening skills can also help you save money. How much? SIS International Research estimates that a business with 100 employee spends an average of 17 hours per week clarifying communication. That amount of repeating and revisiting information translates to a cost of $500,000 per year.  

Of course, we all have those moments when our mind wanders and we can't keep track of what people say, or have trouble staying engaged. The end result? You don't remember everything that was said and no doubt miss valuable information. So what can you do? Practice active listening.

Training your brain to be more engaged with everyone with whom you converse--large groups, one-on-one, in-person, and on the phone--can help you stay focused in the moment and better absorb the information you hear.

Here are four tips that can help you become a better active listener:

1. Maintain Eye Contact

When you see someone speak you are much more likely to focus on what he or she is saying. It also gives you a central point to keep your mind from wandering. Put aside anything that might make you lose your gaze--paper, pens, phone, and reading materials. Look at the person and stay connected as they are speaking and presenting information to you.

2. Don't be a Sentence-Grabber

Let people finish their thoughts or points before adding your comments. If you are focused on what you want to say, you won't be listening to what others are saying.

3. Offer Minimal Encouragers

Use brief, positive prompts to keep the conversation going, for example, "umm-hmmm," "Oh?" "I understand," "Then?" "And?" These brief trigger words can also keep your mind engaged because you have to respond to what has been said.                

4. Ask Probing Questions

Ask questions to draw the person out and get deeper and more meaningful information. For example, "What do you think would happen if you ... ?" Asking questions offers new information that can stimulate your thinking and thus your listening.  Also, ensure you understand what they are trying to get across by restating it, "What I heard you say was ..., is that correct?"

Choose one of these tips to practice each day and in different situations to see which work the best for you. Some days will be better than others, but keep at it and hone your skills.

Active listening is a skill that takes time to develop, so don't worry if you are not always successful. Eventually, the more you listen, the more opportunity you have to learn something new, create happier employees and customers, and improve your business outcomes.