It's an oldie but certainly still rings true today (no pun intended!): 'You have two ears and one mouth, in that order for a reason,' my old boss used to say to me very frequently. As is very common in the recruitment industry, I have a propensity to talk far too much and far too often, and my awareness of this has helped me enormously during my time both as a consultant selling recruitment services, the talent I am representing to the market, and as a manager of staff. Awareness is the first step in being an effective listener.
Many people are simply oblivious to the fact that their communication is one way and that they are simply speaking at someone and not actually having a conversation. When you are communicating with someone, give them your undivided attention. This is hard to do if you are not used to taking responsibility for listening. Many of us are thinking about the next thing to say or what is going on in the room rather than paying attention to the words, the voice or the body language of the person you are with. Similarly, when you are on the phone, avoid multitasking. Reading an email or sending a text whilst on the phone will limit what you hear.
Once you have awareness and you are taking an active interest in the other person, you should also avoid interrupting the person. You should be giving the appropriate nonverbal cues. Eye contact is obvious, but nodding in appreciation and your facial expressions are also just as important. I have been at dinner telling a story, and the person opposite has turned to the person next to them and started another conversation. It was a story related to mine, but the message I got was that their story was better and more interesting...which it wasn't, by the way. It also meant that the person next to this friend of mine was compromised. Who do they listen to? Finally, you should take time.
Silence is not your enemy, and filling the air with unnecessary words doesn't make for effective communication. If need be, let there be silence for either party to think. If there is a pause in the conversation, you can also use this to confirm what you have heard. Repeat back your understanding to the person speaking. As a recruiter, this is profoundly important for me when I am taking a job brief or when establishing with a candidate what exactly they are looking for in the job market. If I did not listen to either my client or the talent I am representing in the market, I cannot be an effective recruitment consultant. Listening is hard. Learning to do it effectively, however, will give both you, your staff, customers and even those closest to you in your family enormous rewards. Two ears, one mouth, in that order for a reason.