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The Sykes Group
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Virginia Beach, VA 23456
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Bite Your Tongue! 10 Ways to Be a Better Communicator and an Effective Listener

By Joy Fisher-Sykes © 2005 All Rights Reserved

Have you ever spoken to someone and then felt the need to say, “Did you hear what I just said?”  Why did you feel the need to ask?  Probably because the listener didn’t provide you with the feedback you needed to know you were heard. 

Listening is the most important, yet often most neglected, communication skill.  In fact, the ability to listen is often rated one of the top five abilities employers seek in their staff.  It’s also certainly highly sought after in the people nearest and dearest to our hearts.   

Here are 10 ways to be an effective listener:

  1. Recognize the difference between hearing and listening
    There is a very distinct difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is to merely perceive sound. Listening is the mindful, conscious act and desire to hear, comprehend, and response to others.
  1. Be willing to listen
    Begin with a commitment to listen - be open minded and consider other points of view. Listen regardless of whether you agree or disagree with what's said. Resist the urge to jump to conclusions; be defensive or be argumentative with the speaker.
  1. Be attentive
    Stop what you're doing and give the speaker your undivided attention. If it's not a good time for you, defer the conversation. Ignore the desire to multi-task and selectively listen (only listening to bits and pieces of information). Remain in the moment for the duration of the conversation - don't tune in and out or pretend to be listening when you're really thinking about where to go on your next vacation.
  1. Show respect
    Acknowledge others with your body language - face the speaker, look interested, and make eye contact. Avoid ending the conversation abruptly.
  1. Empathize
    Be sensitive, compassionate, and understanding - realize it may be difficult for the speaker to talk about this matter. Empathy doesn't mean you have to agree with the speaker. Avoid thinking about how to "one up" the speaker with your own tale of woe.
  1. Be patient
    We often interrupt because we are afraid we will forget our point(s). Don't interrupt - allow the speaker to finish what she/he has to say. Don't finish the speaker's sentences because you think they're taking too long to get to the point. Focus on what is being said instead of what you think is going to be said.
  1. Eliminate interruptions and distractions
    When possible, speak in a neutral location to avoid interruptions and distractions. Be aware of and avoid interruptions - phones or pagers (use voice mail), visitors (close the door) and distractions (voice mail light, overflowing in box, incoming mail).
  1. Seek Understanding
    Focus on main points. Paraphrase and seek clarification of points that are unclear or that you don't understand.
  1. Show you're actively listening
    Listen with more than just your ears. Acknowledge and respond to the speaker with facial expressions (smile, nod/shake your head, eye contact) and verbal comments ("I see," "I understand," "okay," "yes") to aid the conversation.
  1. Simply Listen
    Sometimes our idea of listening is to jump in and give unwanted advice. Listening is not an open invitation to resolve a dilemma. Just listen because often the speaker simply seeks a sympathetic ear.

Whether you are a manager or employee, husband or wife, parent or child, pastor or parishioner, friend or foe, listening is critical to the success of your relationships. Take the time to truly listen to others and discover you'll not only improve your relationships, you will achieve a new level of overall success in your life. Apply these techniques today so you can enjoy a better tomorrow!

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Suggested communication reading:

Presentation Skills: Seven Presentation Secrets Learned from the Academy Awards

May I Have Your Attention, Please?  Five Ways to Retain Focus and Stay in the Moment

Outstanding Presentations Start in the Mind: Five Secrets for Overcoming Public Speaking Anxiety

Explain Yourself! The Reason Why Excuses Sabotage Your Success

E-mail Protocol – 12 Simple Rules to Stay Connected

Common Courtesy Isn’t So Common – 10 Telephone Blunders in Everyday Business

Verbal Faux Pas – The Words You Use Can Empower or Confuse

Bite Your Tongue! 10 Ways to Be an Effective Listener

Five Secrets to “Thinking on Your Feet”

Ten Quick Tips for Outstanding Presentations

Dr. Seuss's "The Cat in the Hat" Will Help You Get Your Point Across! (Yes you can, here's the plan!)

How to Set Boundaries and Say No 

Want to learn how enhance your listening skills to motivate others to perform better in their jobs and life? Our Listening, Team Building, Leadership, Change Management, or Assertive Communication workshops can help you achieve more.  Also read our articles on listening, feedback, and coaching skills, etc. Call us at 757-427-7032 or e-mail us at


Suggested Success Resources

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Joy Fisher-Sykes is a professional speaker published in the areas of communication, time  management, and teamwork. She works with business and government organizations who want to reach the next level of success and individuals who want to perform at their best. You can email her at, call him at (757) 427-7032 or visit her Web site at or blog by clicking here.

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