ListenImagine: you’re involved in a emotionally charged discussion. Maybe it’s with just one other person or maybe your sitting at a table with a group of your peers. Whatever the situation, you’ve got an opinion.

Let it go.

To be clear, I am not saying to forget that you have an opinion on the situation or that you should not voice it. But often what happens when we enter a conversation in which we have something to say, we stop listening. And when we aren’t really listening, there’s little chance we’re actually gaining anything valuable.

During the course of a conversation, there are plenty of verbal and non-verbal factors that could change your opinion on the subject, but you’ve got to be listening to catch them. Sure, if you need to, jot down some key words or notes that strike you while you listen to others speak. This will help you collect your thoughts and refer back to them when you do take the opportunity to voice your opinion. But ultimately, you should be listening in order to understand more clearly.

Great leaders listen. They open themselves up to other points of view. They are willing to change and they engage others. And one of the best ways to engage others is not to command the attention of the group, but to listen to the people who are talking.

Most of us hope that others will be engaged and listen when we speak. Remember that the person speaking wants the same thing.

But planning your next words is not the only way we become disengaged. Technology can also be a huge disruption in our listening. Put down the phone, iPad, whatever it is that’s distracting you from what’s going on right there in person.

Nothing sends the message that you don’t really care more than paying attention to something else besides the person speaking.

Maybe you’re already a great listener. Maybe this is all obvious to you. But chances are, most of us can improve the quality of at least some of our daily interactions. It’s something I will never stop working on. The next time you’ve got an opportunity, audit yourself. Are you really listening?

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