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Is there a difference between “hearing” and “listening?” There sure is — at least according to professional-development expert and WordSmithRapport founder Karima Mariama-Arthur, Esq. In a terrific Black Enterprise post titled “Listen Up: 4 Ways to Improve Every Conversation,” Mariama-Arthur explains that listening entails being “actively engaged in the conversation” — something that’s tremendously important in the workplace. Merely listening is bound to make meetings drag on and lead to misunderstandings, and it could also damage your career. Be sure to read the following four suggestions, and get ready to start being a better communicator.

1. Cut Out Distraction — You can’t have a worthwhile conversation if you’re checking email or looking at text messages. Turn off those devices and give the other person your full attention. “Remember that the goal is thoughtful engagement, so avoid doing anything that will make the other person feel slighted,” Mariama-Arthur writes.

2. Prove You’re Listening — Since you’ve gone to all the trouble of giving the other person your full attention, you might as well prove it. While they’re talking, nod, make eye contact, and ask lots of good follow-up questions.

3. Don’t Interrupt — If you’ve got something brilliant to add to the conversation, wait until the appropriate moment. Don’t simply interject your thoughts whenever the mood strikes. “They’ll usually be more than enough time to discuss your contributions without blurting your thoughts all over the other person,” Mariama-Arthur writes. “If it’s ever happened to you, then you know how disturbing it is—another great reason not to do it!”

4. Give Feedback — In addition to listening for key details and giving your feedback, Mariama-Arthur advises, you should “punctuate” the conversation by making sure you’ve picked up all the information you need to move forward with the next step of the process. If something has been left out, “clear up those details before ending the conversation,” Mariama-Arthur writes.

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