Most of us would agree that nothing is more important to us than the quality of our lives. What we may not remember are the following two points:

1. The quality of our lives depends largely on the quality of our relationships. When relationships with spouses, children, employers, and friends are satisfying, we’re more likely to be happy. When we’re angry or unhappy, something in our relationships has usually gone wrong.

2. To a large extent, the quality of our relationships depends on the quality of our communication. We are more likely to be in a satisfying relationship with others when our communication is complete, honest, and skillful.

So, the quality of our lives depends on the quality of our relationships. And in turn, the quality of our relationships depends on the quality of our communication. If this is true, we’d be wise to invest serious time and effort into improving our communication skills. But what are those skills?

Communication is often used in a vague, confusing way. Put simply, communication refers to the practices of speaking and listening. It’s through speaking and listening that we can dramatically affect the quality of our relationships and therefore, our lives. But we are getting less practice in doing both. Texting, messaging, posting, tweeting, etc. do not involve either. And yet this is how we do some, or most , of our communication.  No wonder we feel that are lives are hectic, sometimes unsatisfying, sometimes empty.

Being a good listener is critically important to our lives. There are so many payoffs in listening well. It is one of the best ways to get what we want. Listening effectively requires energy. Focusing our attention and being committed to understanding are not always easy. But, any time relationships are important, listening makes a difference. Effective listening is a valuable business skill. Listening can also enhance our social lives. Good listeners are valued social companions. Others feel acknowledged and appreciated when we understand them. Through listening, we learn. Listening carefully can help us discover options and solve a wide variety of problems.

So practice listening, because it is one of the keys to a better quality of life. Do this simple exercise. Find a partner who is willing to participate in this exercise with you. Get two 3×5 cards; label one card “sender” and the other “receiver.” Ask your partner to take one card while you take the other. The person with the “sender” card gets to speak first. Trade cards only after the sender agrees that the listener has fully understood the message. Trade cards again only after the new sender feels understood.

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