The best advice my Dad gave me when it came to girls (and this advice applies to anyone), is "Ask questions." That was all he said to me. Now granted I was only twelve at the time but I had plenty of time to think about it. "What does he mean 'ask questions'? What do I ask them?".
Well what I hadn't realized at the time but eventually learned, was that if you ask someone questions, it is showing them that you have an interest in them. Whether it is an interest in their abilities, or political view, you are showing that you care. And when they are doing the talking, it gives them a chance to speak their mind. And when they speak their mind, you are gaining an advantage into knowing what that person cares about.
The thing that might surprise you the most is that when your conversation has ended, people will be amazed at your conversational skills. What they don't realize is that "listening" is a conversational skill. Of which they have probably not used.
Lessons to Apply
When engaged in a conversation, make the person you are aware of what they are saying by SHOWING them you are listening.
93% of communication is non-verbal. You may not be saying anything, but your body is saying more than you ever could. So focus on what you need to do to be an effective listener. Five simple things to do:
1. Give your conversation partner your undivided attention. Look your conversation partner in the eyes. Don't stare. But you need to make that connection.
2. Nod your head occasionally. This is a natural response and should not be that hard to do.
3. Ask your conversation partner relevant questions. If you aren't listening, you cannot complete this step. This is also the point in which you can steer the conversation into a direction you would like it to go.
4. Let your conversation partner know that you didn't understand them. Wait for an appropriate time to stop them and say "I'm sorry to stop you there, but I didn't quite understand what you meant by........" or simply "What did you mean when you said........?"
5. Use your body to show you are listening. This means that you should not be fidgeting or moving your body around. Lean towards your partner just slightly when they are talking. This small movement will show them you are interested in what they are talking about.
update: Listening skills are something that never go out of style! But they are also skills that if you don't practice from time to time, you may lose them. Continually strive to be a better you everyday by practicing your listening skills.