It's year-end for many businesses, and most engage in a dreaded ritual between managers and employees: the performance evaluation!

Now some can be quite elaborate, with multiple statements, rating scales, essays--as if the SAT is haunting you. Others can be a bit simplistic, for example, a thumbs-up or thumbs-down as you pass your employee in the hallway.

While important, the evaluation process is painful. I don't enjoy the formality of it, much preferring to give feedback in the moment or within a few days of observing great work or behaviors that give me pause. What is critical in either scenario is both parties' ability to listen.

It's tough. As Stephen R. Covey says, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."

This is never truer than when you are receiving negative feedback, and it's a natural defense mechanism. However, it rarely gets you the right results.

As such, I would challenge you to make 2015 a year of more effective listening. Not only will it help a performance evaluation go more smoothly, but in almost every aspect of our professional lives, listening skills are vital to success.

Here are three ways to go about listening more effectively:

1. Stop everything else. Put your phone down (unless that's what you're using to listen), back away from the keyboard, and put your hands in your lap.

"You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time."  --M. Scott Peck

We all think we are the masters of multitasking, and for most things, you can be effective and still do multiple things--except listening. When's the last time you truly got anything out of a webinar as you were toggling back and forth to your email? What about the conference call you put on mute so you could answer John's "quick question"? And guess what, that Christmas list you were running through in your head took priority over your boss's marketing-plan review.

"When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen." --Ernest Hemingway

Take a deep breath. Clear your head. Relax your brain, and truly listen.

2. Respond, don't react. I love this mantra and keep it top of mind, especially when I know I'm about to hear bad news or something that could upset me. It's perfectly normal to want to spout out the first thing that hits your mind, but in most cases you're better off to take a second to digest the content of what you've just heard.

"Listening is being able to be changed by the other person." --Alan Alda

Sometimes this means saying, "I heard you, but I need time to think about my response." That's cool, as long as you don't let too much time lapse. Or, respond in the moment, and then come back if after further thought you have additional comments to make. Both actions show the person 1) you heard him or her, 2) you want to be thoughtful in your reply, and 3) you take what was said seriously.

3. Listen, then adapt. After you've cleared your head and responded appropriately, the next aspect of effective listening is your ability to adapt. Back to the performance evaluation. Chances are, there is an element of developmental feedback for you (as with anyone). You hear it, you respond with professionalism, and then what? The evaluation goes in a folder, and nothing changes. To really benefit from listening means you must be able to adapt.

"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." --Lao Tzu

I've found that when I listen to those who truly care about me and my best interests, I end up adjusting something. It could be my approach to a tough situation or letting go of anger. And I may not have thought it was the right thing initially, but the power of modification is amazing.

"You can't build an adaptable organization without adaptable people--and individuals change only when they have to, or when they want to." --Gary Hamel

As you begin to plan for 2015, make sure you think about what has been said in 2014 and if you truly heard the conversation, praise, or a request for help. Then think about how you can approach conversations differently this coming year to really listen.