Have you ever been in a meeting or out to dinner with someone who would not stop talking? You know the type. They always chime in and never take a break to just listen. I’ve wondered if people like that never learned basic communication skills, like to hear themselves talk, or just don’t care how they are perceived. When I’m in these types of situations, I usually stop trying to join the conversation because I feel like I’m not being heard, and my thoughts and opinions are not valued.

Listening is a powerful tool that can help you not only maintain friendships but also grow your business and leadership skills. Here are six ways to be a better listener:

1. Show Interest

When you’re engaged in a conversation with someone, asking well-timed questions shows you are invested in that person and really care about what he or she has to say. Be sure to pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal clues so you can respond appropriately. In a business setting, it’s important to try and fully understand the needs and wants of your colleague, potential Customer, or your team so you can provide thoughtful feedback.

2. Don’t Interrupt

This can be challenging, especially if you’re like my six-year-old son or if you’re passionate about the topic of discussion. But, interrupting someone or talking over them shows your thoughts are more important than theirs and you aren’t willing to listen to what they have to say. If people feel like they aren’t being heard, they may have a harder time developing a relationship with you. As a leader, this is a skill you need to perfect to successfully connect with your team.

3. Stop, and Think About What You Heard

Maybe a friend drops a bomb on you and says she feels like you never want to hang out. Or a new client says he wants to meet more frequently. Instead of responding immediately, try to fully understand what this person is trying to communicate. Maybe your friend is lonely and needs someone to talk to, but she’s having a hard time articulating her feelings. Or perhaps your client doesn’t feel like he is a priority. You don’t have to read minds, just try to be more aware of the needs of those around you. If you’re not sure what was said (or meant), it’s OK to politely ask for clarification.

4. Minimize Distractions

How annoying is it when you are talking to someone and they keep looking down at their phone? SO annoying! It’s not only rude, but it also makes people feel like they are not worthy of your full attention. Everyone is busy and guilty of multitasking at times, but try to make a conscious effort not to multitask when you are a having a conversation with someone. That text or email can wait a few minutes.

5. Make Eye Contact

When you look someone in the eyes, you can better focus on the person talking and really hear what they are saying. According to Forbes, we increase eye contact when dealing with people we like, admire, or who have power over us. In more intense or intimate conversations, we naturally look at one another more often and hold that gaze for longer periods of time. In fact, we judge relationships by the amount of eye contact exchanged: the greater the eye contact, the closer the relationship. Your actions, not just your words, can make a big impact on your friends or your team. Give them the attention they deserve, and stay focused on what they are saying.

 6. Be Empathetic

Maybe your husband said he thought your sarcastic comment about his T-shirt choice was hurtful, or your client said she doesn’t think you’re spending enough time working on her website. To be a good listener, you need to try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes to gain perspective. Only then will you be able to be more open-minded and relate better to others.

Already a great listener? Kudos! However, maybe striking up a conversation with a stranger (especially with a business proposition) is what makes your heart skip a beat. No need to worry. Try the Say, Share, Do method to help you chat up a prospect without the awkwardness. With a little practice, you can gain confidence, improve your relationships, and grow your business!