You must decide to listen well. Unless you consciously say to yourself, "I'm going to pay attention," as a conversation gets under way, you will miss the full message. To sharpen your focus:
Adopt a "Teach Me, Teach Me" mantra.
Keep thinking, "Teach Me, Teach Me," as you listen. This way, you'll arouse your curiosity and thirst for knowledge. You'll also observe speakers more closely if you're eager to learn--and notice subtle shifts in their body language that help you accurately interpret what you hear.
If a conversation sputters to a halt, keep quiet. Resist the urge to jump in and talk. Maintain friendly eye contact during the silence (warning: five seconds will feel like an eternity!) to signal that you're comfortable waiting to hear more. That's when speakers will reveal what's truly on their mind.
Pry open silent clams.
Some people are shy or reluctant to speak up. They may say little and leave you filling in the conversational holes. Instead of over-talking, make succinct comments such as, "You may be on to something. Tell me more," or "You seem to know a lot about this subject." Then let them respond.
Some listening "experts" will advise you to ignore distractions. Yeah, right. A more realistic approach is to acknowledge distractions as they arise, address them and resume the conversation when you're able to concentrate. Example: Instead of pretending to ignore a ringing phone, say, "Please excuse me," answer your call and then say, "I'll shut off the ringer so we're not interrupted again."