How many times have you found yourself tuning out, daydreaming or perhaps listening to some of what a person was saying, then started to form your reply or interrupted before she/he was done? Guess what? You may have been only hearing and not actively listening.
The old adage says we were given two ears and one mouth so we would listen more than talk. Even ancient proverbs reinforce this view:
"The truly wise person restrains his words, and the one who stays calm is discerning.", Proverbs 17:27
"The one who gives an answer before he listens -- that is his folly and his shame.", Proverbs 18:13
So the next time you find you are not actively listening, try these ideas: refocus your attention by looking the person in the eyes; focus on what is being said, not how; ask clarifying questions and summarize key points. You may also choose to write down quick notes so you remain focused on the conversation. Then come back to those specific points when the person has finished talking.
By actively listening, you will learn a lot about the other person's interests, goals, abilities, concerns, hopes and more. Plus, that other person will feel appreciated, respected and valued. A positive outcome for all involved.