I read somewhere when you are speaking with someone you should imagine them wearing a hat that says “Make me interesting.” The point is to ask questions that allow the other person to speak because the more someone speaks during a conversation, the better they think the conversation went. This is because people like talking generally, and talking about themselves specifically.

When you ask question make sure to listen to the answers. It’s a skill to fully listen to one or more people in a conversation. With new clients and others I test whether they are listening or, even if they are listening, whether they understood what I was saying, by asking them to repeat back to me the message or information I was trying to convey. You will be surprised at how often the other person wasn’t fully listening or took something from your words that is different than what you meant.

At times I struggle with active listening because my mind goes into overdrive on what I want to say or how I want to respond. In my role as an attorney I have to be able to think on my feet, immediately respond to questions from judges or clients, and all the while respond in a meaningful way that answers a question or drives home a position. This doesn’t help me be a better listener, but only a better advocate for my client. Turning this off in other conversations is difficult.

The struggle to listen is evident in conversations any of us have with clients, friends, and family. You may be thinking about a response to a question or position, or a story you want to share, but if you focus on what you want to say, you are not focusing on what you are saying. Maybe you are better at this than I am because I constantly am working to be a better listener and it is a work in progress.

A good reminder to yourself during a conversation is to remember that if your mouth is open, your ears are closed. You know the desire to interrupt someone to get a point across or tell them a relevant story, but you have to listen to really know what they said and what to say.

I notice when I focus on asking questions and on what the other person says my responses are more thoughtful and directed at what I understand the speaker is interested in discussing or trying to convey. I challenge myself to do this all of the time. Such a challenge or remembering to “Make me interesting” may help you to listen better in conversations too.