If you're a busy manager or business owner, it's important to actually listen when you get the chance to sit down with your staff. Your team members want to feel heard, so you should make a conscious effort to hone your listening skills and give them your undivided attention, in spite of everyday distractions.

These six entrepreneurs share the tried-and-true techniques they have used to become better listeners.

Don't multitask.

We live in a world full of distractions, especially with smartphone-enabled internet access at the tips of our fingers. Andy Eastes, CEO of warehouse management system SkuVault, has learned to prioritize the speaker over all any distractions by nixing his multitasking habit during meetings.

"Focus your full attention on the speaker. I've been known to multitask during meetings, whether it's checking my phone, scrolling through emails or snacking. I find that putting everything down, having my hands on my knees, and my eyes on the speaker works best," he says. "This not only helps me achieve and effectively respond to the point being made, but also shows respect and signifies acknowledgment."

(Literally) bite your tongue.

"The fastest way to become a better listener is to stop interrupting people when they speak. When you stop interrupting others, they feel safe expressing their opinions," says Andrew Thomas, co-founder of SkyBell Doorbell, a smart home security company.

Thomas has a unique tactic that has helped him kick the habit of interrupting: "To stop interrupting others, I literally bite my tongue (with my mouth closed) and count to three after the speaker finishes a sentence. Then I let go and say something."

Paraphrase.

Many people are guilty of tuning out during a conversation, which can distort the message the speaker is trying to convey. Jayna Cooke, CEO of event venue marketplace EVENTup, holds herself accountable by paraphrasing the message back to the speaker.

"This way, you can make sure you are aligned and receiving the message the way in which the other person wanted it to be received," she says.

Reflect on the underlying goals you share.

Michael Saffitz, co-founder and CTO of in-app communication tool Apptentive, understands that listening is even more difficult when there's conflict involved. This is when listening with empathy becomes more important than ever.

"Listening is hardest when you disagree or are in the wrong. In these situations, I often start by reflecting on the courage it takes for people to address an issue directly and the underlying goals we share," says Saffitz. "This allows me to empathize and understand the person's concerns. By listening, you can build trust and deepen a relationship that thrive in the presence of conflict."

Hold informal one-on-one meetings with your staff.

"I always make myself available for one-on-ones or set them up myself to discuss anything my team members would like to chat about," says Kelsey Meyer, co-founder and president of Influence & Co., a content marketing agency.

"This helps make me a better listener because the whole discussion is centered on asking my team member questions about their day-to-day so I can get to know their pain points better," she says. "I love doing these over lunch or coffee, which helps make it informal and relaxing."

Listen to podcasts.

Firas Kittaneh, CEO and co-founder of memory foam mattress company Amerisleep, practices his listening skills outside of work. "Lately I've been listening to a lot of podcasts to train my listening skills," he says. "Sitting through 30-minute or hour-long narratives forces me to piece together the different parts of the story in a way that helps me fully grasp the whole picture."

"Since everyone has their own storytelling technique, I've learned to adapt my listening abilities to more easily process the information people throw at me."

Published on: Dec 5, 2016