Business people spend a lot of time stressing over improving their ability to speak, when what they should practice is their ability to listen. Information makes you more productive and powerful if you are able to capture it by listening.

Not everyone is a natural born listener. Emotions, concerns, and other distractions can interrupt your listening and put you at a disadvantage. You can take control of your listening skills with a little daily practice. Try any of these simple tips to make you all ears.

1. Focus on one conversation at a time.

Nowadays, with everyone multitasking, there are often multiple discussions going on at the same time. Make a point of focusing on each conversation. Be willing to politely stop conversations going on around you so you can turn your energy to the people in front of you.

2. Take 10 minutes to shut off all the noise.

Ambient noise can get in the way of your listening. For at least one conversation a day, turn off your phone and other distractions. Take the conversation into a private room, or at least away from busy activity.

3. Practice turning off your inner voice.

Most often, when you're listening to someone, your own brain is talking to you. You may be thinking about something else, be constructing a response, or be preparing to refute and argue a point. Practice focusing and listening non-judgmentally; find your inner quiet and really try to hear the information being conveyed.

4. Reiterate for absorption.

When someone is sending lots of information your way, you may get overwhelmed. You can break it down into manageable chunks by summarizing what you've heard and saying it back. Reiterating not only helps the other person know that you are listening, it also helps you digest what they are saying.

5. Ask questions.

One way to stay engaged through a conversation is to play a game of pondering. As you converse, form short, clarifying questions in your mind. You may or may not verbalize all the questions, but either way you can contextualize the information. This practice will keep you focused and help others recognize your genuine interest and participation.

6. Take notes for retention.

You may hear what people are saying but have difficulty remembering the key points later on. Try taking notes in each conversation. You may never look at the notes again, but the act of writing them will help you encode the information into your memory.

Published on: Feb 27, 2015