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My wish for you in the upcoming month is for you to become a better listener. That simple act opens doors, deepens friendships and just makes life easier. Too good to be true? Read on.

When the word communication comes to mind for most of us, we immediately think of speaking or writing. When you reflect on your education, you had English, speech, writing and reading class. Never was there a class on listening! Yet I believe your skill as a listener can define the way others view you, the kind of leader you are and how successful you are at moving ideas forward. Think about it. When you listen well you know more about those around you, you can fine tune the words you use and ultimately have a better chance of making your point.

Given all of that, let’s look at some ways to become a better listener. Many of these thoughts are gathered from the book, “The Lost Art of Listening” by Michael P. Nichols, PhD.

Yearning to be understood is one of the most basic human needs: We want people to, put simply, “get” us. But it’s hard for that to happen if the person we are speaking with isn’t really listening. And the operative word is “really.” We’ve all been in a conversation where the person is there, but they are not really listening. Through all the research and reading I’ve done on listening I’ve seen listening is work – it’s effort – and that is a great place to start. We need to put the effort in if we ever hope to see any results. Be purposeful about listening and see the difference it makes.

We often think we are better listeners than we are: If you are, right now, thinking, “This is a great idea for somebody else,” I want to ask you to check yourself. Our default process too often is to think about that other person who needs to improve instead of first asking how we can improve. In fact, let’s just assume we are NOT as good a listener as we think we are. By starting there, we can begin the vital work of getting better at this critical skill.

Three quick ways to improve your listening skill: First, determine to be purposeful in your listening for any important conversation. If you think about it you will already be ahead of the game. Second, don’t be a “competitive conversationalist.” Too often we are thinking of that clever comment or come back instead of just quieting ourselves and listening. Finally, make a point to summarize what you think you’ve heard from the person, so they can know they’ve been heard and can correct any misunderstandings.

Just listen. Sometimes that’s enough.

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: