1. Check your assumptions.
If you are already certain that you know what is going on in someone's head, your brain is primed to accept only information that agrees with your preconceived notions. Yet, if you can cultivate a sense of genuine interest about where the other person is coming from and what he or she might say, you create an environment in which whoever you are talking to feels heard and you can actually hear. While we are hardwired to make assumptions, it is possible to check your assumptions out loud with the person you are listening to. Try asking "so you mean..." or "so you're thinking that..." and let the person confirm or correct.
2. Get curious.
The amazing thing about being genuinely curious is that it keeps you from being defensive. A good way to exercise curiosity is to ask open-ended questions such as "Can you say more about how that makes you feel/bothers you/to help me understand?"
3. Suspend judgment.
Sometimes we become so entrenched in our own beliefs and opinions that we close down and don't want to hear anything else, even from those closest to us. But if we close down, we are going to miss important messages. The first thing to do is to suspend your judgment. Try really hard to let the other person talk. Take in the entire message, no interruptions allowed, and just listen. When you do that, you will often find that even if you do disagree there is at least some shared ground or goals, which makes it easier to put yourself in the other person's shoes. This is what empathy is all about.
4. Know when to tap out.
Genuine listening requires humility and curiosity, and neither humility nor curiosity can be faked successfully. If you are not feeling well, if you are hurried, stressed, or overwhelmed, you are not going to be able to be truly present and curious during a conversation, especially a tough or difficult conversation. In those moments, there is nothing wrong with saying, " I can hear that this is really important to you, and I want to give you my full, undivided attention. Can we wait for a bit? I need some time."