I knew an executive whose career success was widely attributed to his extraordinary ability to listen. When he was with you, he was with you. He recognized that listening carefully is one of the greatest of compliments.
Here are some basic listening tips:
Listen for a theme. Rather than getting distracted by trivia, listen for the main message. It may be hidden amid unrelated facts but your job is to determine what the person is trying to say.
Recognize that the speaker might not know the real message. Some powerful expressions of pain or frustration may be wrapped in clichés. Listen for hesitations, anger, and fear, and watch for nonverbal signs of each.
Look through a window, not a mirror. Don't assume that the person means what you would have meant under similar circumstances.
Subdue your ego. Stop thinking about how wise you look, the eloquence of your reply, or whether the speaker is indirectly talking about you. Each time you do that, you've stopped listening.
Act as if you are listening. Let your body language declare, "I'm paying close attention to you." If it isn't, you can count on the person giving a condensed message in order to bring the conversation to a close.
Use an old investigator's trick. If the speaker is describing an event, sit tight and don't interrupt. When you seek further details, go over the story in reverse chronological order. By reversing the order of recollection, you'll jar the person's memory and get more information.
Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.