Of all the communication skills, listening is by far the most underrated. There are countless books and courses on how to be a better public speaker, much less on being a better listener. If you want to be a top-notch leader, you have to be an effective communicator and that includes being a good listener.

Here are three simple, yet effective ways, to train your listening muscles.

1. Practice mindfulness

While it may sound a bit fuzzy, research shows that being mindful can lead to being more creative, productive and effective both in life and business. Simply put, mindfulness is the act of being present to what's happening in the moment both externally (your surroundings and the people around you) and internally (the thoughts cropping up in your mind about what you're experiencing).

As this blog writer points out, "(Mindfulness) might seem trivial, except for the annoying fact that we so often veer from the matter at hand. Our mind takes flight, we lose touch with our body, and pretty soon we're engrossed in obsessive thoughts about something that just happened or fretting about the future."

Our thoughts take us away from what's happening in the here and now, which is disastrous for clear communication because you can miss key pieces of information you need for an appropriate response. Just being aware of your surroundings and the words that are being spoken (without the need to inject your own personal commentary to it), helps create clear communication which is valuable in any personal or professional exchange.

2. Avoid mental commentary

Most of us hear what others are saying, but how often do we actually listen? In today's fast-paced, highly-distracted world, rarely do we listen to understand. We listen to respond.

In conversations, instead of listening to what the other person is saying, we tend to get absorbed in our own mental chatter - we're thinking up snappy replies or dissecting what the other person's saying. We may not be responding with our mouths. But we're certainly responding in our heads, and that's the opposite of listening.

Next time you're in a conversation, see if you can suspend your internal narrative of what's happening and just listen to the content of the conversation. Resist from diagnosing the other person's words. Instead, try to get beneath the words to gain a deeper understanding of what the other person needs or wants.

3. Ask and Repeat

One way to make sure you've heard what's being said is simply to check. Was message received, message sent?

If there is any doubt, just ask: "Did I understand that correctly?" or "What did you mean by that? I want to make sure got it right."

It's always better to double check that you heard the right things than assume you did.

It's Your Turn

Do you consider yourself a good listener? How do you strengthen your listening skills? Share your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments.

Published on: Sep 1, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.