Part of my job is to conduct interviews of database users. Another part of my job is to sit in with my client on interviews being conducted by vendors when they are gathering user requirements for a new system. One thing that has struck me in these meetings is that not many people have very good listening skills.

What I have observed is when two parties are talking, too often the party that is not talking is trying to anticipate what the other party is saying, rather than really listening to hear what is being said. One technique I use is to try to re-phrase what the speaker has just said, in my own words, to make sure I've heard what they're saying. (I believe it's referred to as reflective listening.) For example:

Client: When we go to meetings, we have several people checking in attendees. They all work off of different sheets. When we come back to the office after the meeting, it's very difficult to mark all of those who attended because there are five or six different sign-in sheets.

Me: So you're saying what you need is the ability to easily mark who has attended a given meeting in the system, after the meeting has finished. Is that correct?

If I'm right, the client says so. If I'm not, they correct me. But either way, we're getting closer to what they want, rather than me trying to guess at what they want.

So whether it's a meeting about your database, a staffing issue, or trying to decide what to do for dinner, practice reflective listening. You'll be amazed at how much easier conversations become when one side listens while the other side talks.