The ability to listen is by far the greatest tool in your bag of tricks for being able to communicate with others. Being a good listener does two things: It helps you better evaluate the content of the conversation, and it shows the person you are communicating with that you are truly interested in him and what he has to say.

This realization will cause him to open up and reveal information that he wouldn't have, had you not demonstrated that you were interested. He will be a lot more open to your ideas when he finds out that you are interested in his as well.

A person spends more time using his listening skills than any other kind of ability. This ability to be a good listener will determine your success in life. It is really that important! Listening is a skill that takes work and practice to develop.

What does it take to really understand the content of the conversation? Real listening is not a passive act, but an active process that has three basic parts.

It's more than just hearing, though hearing is a part of listening. You can hear noises and not know what they are or even what they mean. But understanding the meaning of a noise is the important point in communication.

Sometimes when a person talks, especially when one speaks rapidly in a monotone, it sounds like a motor running and the listener tends to drift off and tune out. In that case, the listener would be hearing a noise, but not understanding any meaning.

The objective is to develop understanding. I want to learn from what I hear. I can do that by asking questions: “Did I hear you say…” and, “Should I understand that to mean…” This approach gives you a broader view of what the speaker is really trying to convey, rather than just writing it off as something that I have heard before and pigeon-holing it accordingly.

Many times I have written off something someone said only to realize too late that it was information that I did not understand fully, and let the opportunity slip by to do anything about it. Therefore, it is important to give it much thought while the person you are communicating with is still there to help you understand it fully. In order to be a good communicator, you must carefully think about what the other person is talking about. Taking notes helps me understand what the speaker is saying.

In a conversation, you want to win the other person over to your point of view. However, in order to achieve that goal, you must first put yourself in a neutral, nonbiased position showing the subject that you are carefully evaluating his position on the issue.

Your body language is extremely important. If you are not interested in what the other person is saying, he will sense that immediately. Sit up straight and look directly at the speaker. Now and then, nod to show that you understand. Look the person in the eye and not at other things around the room or out the window.

Concentrate on what he is saying. Show your intensity with facial expressions. Smile when he is talking about pleasant things, laugh at the jokes, and show sadness and remorse at the appropriate times. These reactions are all ways to let the speaker know that you are really listening. Remember that you listen with your face as well as with your ears. When you catch yourself wandering off, change your position and rededicate your concentration to him only.

Don't interrupt the one talking. Let him finish his point before asking questions. You will have an opportunity to ask questions at some point, even if it is at the close of the discussion. Make sure that you understand the point before asking the question. It's less embarrassing when it appears that you have thought out your question and that you understand his point first. You sure don't want him to think that you were not listening when he fully explained that point earlier.

Listen for the main points or ideas in the discussion. The main ideas are the most important points the speaker wants to get across. They may be mentioned at the start or end of the presentation, and repeated a number of times throughout the discussion. Pay close attention to statements that begin with phrases such as “My point is...” or “The thing to remember is...”

Don't agree or disagree, but encourage the train of thought. Avoid an argument at all cost. When you sense that things are getting tense, try to defuse the moment by allowing time between your answers and his questions. This approach gives you time to think about what you are about to say and helps calm the situation down. An argument needs a rapid fire atmosphere to continue. When you speak, talk softly and in a calm manner.

Being an effective listener is a must for leadership skills, is the element of conversation that makes for good social skills, and is the key for interacting with others in most business circles.

Be a good listener! It will pay big dividends.

Ron Willis owns Masonry Estimating and Consulting Services ( He can be reached at 817-822-8595