During meetings and conversations, do you ever find yourself losing focus on the conversation at hand because you’re concentrating on remembering the information you’d like to add? It hopefully doesn’t happen all the time, but there are instances when we find ourselves so focused on remembering what we want to say, that we lose site of the information being presented to us all together. In short, we forget to listen.

More often than not, we mean well and really want to be active participants in the conversation, but it can be tricky to listen, remain engaged and remember what we wanted to add or question. When we do this, we risk missing out on our colleague’s new ideas and set ourselves up to potentially waste time bringing up topics and ideas that have already been discussed. You learn from a young age that being a good listener is an important skill to have. The importance of good listening skills only multiplies as we continue into the professional world. Don’t worry; all is not lost if your listening skills are lacking. Follow these four steps to turn yourself into an awesome listener.

1. Zip your lips
If you want to hear what people around you are saying, you’re going to have to shut your mouth once and a while. It’s simple, it’s obvious, but most people forget that it’s hard to hear other people over their own voice. Become more conscious of how much time you spend talking. Listening more means that you’re going to have to start talking less.

2. Avoid potential distractions
Concentration is a huge struggle for many people. You probably have a million other things on your to-do list and it’s easy to get distracted. Make it easier on yourself by creating meeting environments that address potential distractions. If you lose focus when you can see what’s going on outside, sit facing your back to the window or don’t set up meetings in rooms with windows when possible. If your mind goes astray when you can hear side chatter, meet in low-traffic areas or schedule your meetings when people aren’t buzzing around the office.

3. Write down your thoughts
Sometimes, we don’t do a good job listening because we’re worried we might forget something that would be helpful to add on. Maybe something your colleague said interests you, but you have a great idea that would take their idea to the next level. When that happens, quickly write your idea down so you remember it, rather than interrupting them or ignoring what else they have to say so you can remember your thought. When you write your idea down, you’ll remember to come back to it and you’ll be able to listen to the ideas presented in their entirety. By letting them finish, you’ll avoid rudely interrupting and you might hear something else from them that could help you flesh your idea out even more. Writing down your ideas and thoughts will help you get rid of that unnerving feeling of possibly forgetting your next brilliant idea.

4. If you’re confused, ask questions
While it’s best practice to avoid interrupting people whenever possible, if you find yourself drifting in and out of the conversation because you don’t understand what the person is talking about, asking questions is necessary. Stick to short, clarifying questions. When you interject these types of questions, it will help you stay focused and engaged in the topic and prevent potential miscommunications due to an honest misunderstanding. If your question is off topic or might bring the conversation a completely new direction, make a note of it and ask when they have completed their train of thought.

Listening skills should be important to everyone. Being a good listener isn’t always easy, but with a few minor adjustments and some practice, you can become a star listener in no time. Add “listening” to your business skills arsenal today.

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