If you're anything like the senior executives Helen Wilkie writes about in her book, Message Received and Understood! (MHW Communications, 1999), that's not such a simple task for you. The Toronto-based author's thesis is that effective communication doesn't happen unless you know how to listen.

The higher up you are on the corporate ladder, the more likely you are not to listen correctly, Wilkie suggests. "When I ask senior executives about communication in their companies, they often launch into descriptions of roundtable events," she says. "But further discussion reveals that these meetings are a forum for them to tell people things. If they took the opportunity to listen, they might be surprised at how valuable this process can be."

Here are some of her rules for "lively" listening:

1. Decide to listen. Make the decision to absorb what the person is saying, rather than just letting them talk.

2. Avoid selective listening. Don't discount the opinions of people you dislike.

3. Give acknowledgment and feedback. Let the speaker know you are paying attention, either verbally or nonverbally, and acknowledge feelings as well as words.

4. Ask questions. Questions confirm or clarify meaning, and can move conversations in new directions.

5. Pay attention to nonverbal cues. Body language and tone of voice reveal a lot.

6. Separate fact from opinion and propaganda. "You need to know when someone gives you a commercial disguised as a fact," Wilkie says, "because top-level decisions should be made on the basis of unbiased information."

7. Control your emotional response. Know your hot buttons so you can react appropriately and move on. For more information go to www.mhwcom.com.

Travel Makes Memories Incentive Spending on the Rise Incentive use is on the rise in the American workplace, with an increase in incentive budgets both last year and this year, according to a survey conducted for Fenton, Mo.-based American Express Incentive Services.

Of 860 incentive decision-makers polled last October, 47 percent increased their incentive budgets for that year, while 50 percent anticipated another increase in 2000. Dallas-based Savitz Research Solutions surveyed marketing, sales, operations, and human resources executives in several industries, including insurance and financial services.

Incentive purchasers also ranked different kinds of incentive rewards: Topping the list of most "memorable" reward options was travel (86 percent), followed by retail gifts (67 percent), and cash (58 percent).