Giving someone your full attention in conversation isn’t easy, but it is a skill we can practice and hone.

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with somebody who wasn’t listening to you? Could you tell? Have you ever seen yourself nodding and smiling during a conversation while in your mind you were landing the space shuttle? Expertly, you might add. And do you think it was obvious you were in orbit?

Of all our communication skills, listening is the one most called upon—and neglected. Philosopher Martin Heidegger identified it as a key to maintaining meaningful relationships with family, friends, and even colleagues. But what is listening? Often we hear something and before we know it we’ve labeled, categorized, and shelved it. At its core, listening is really just taking time instead to experience what we’re hearing in the moment.

Listening takes time and effort, and it’s a skill that requires honing. The good news? You can hone your ability to listen.

First, you need to set a clear intention to be a better listener. That way you create a frame of reference for checking in with yourself, so you can catch yourself getting lost in your own thoughts while someone’s talking to you. Once you recognize what you’re doing, take a breath, smile because you noticed, and redirect back to genuine listening. It’s like returning to your breath in meditation. And just like with meditation, noticing and returning to the present is really the goal. Your mind will drift away, so keep on coming back.

– Elaine Smookler

Read more: Are You Hearing Me?

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