This post is brought to you by Shannon Olson, LSCW.

Relationships are vital to our existence and when they aren’t going well our joy can be difficult to find. Two things that seem to impact our relationships deeply are communication and listening. I liken communication to basic tennis play (no drop shots!). Serving the ball over the net would be like one person asking another person a question. Then the ball must land on the court, at this time the person who was asked the question answers the question. Finally, after one bounce we return the ball by hitting it back over the net. In communication, this would mean that the person who answered the question now asks a question to keep the conversation going. If this is the process of communicating then the devil is in the details, isn’t it?
In continuing the tennis metaphor, I could serve an Ace, which in relationships could be an angry accusation or frustrated dig. In this instance play ends. In tennis having a winner is a good thing. In relationships, if one person “wins” the relationship loses, not just the other person. Relationships are not based on opponents but on teammates. The tone of my approach can open communication or shut it down. When communication dies, so will the relationship.
The other big piece in all this is listening, not simply hearing words, but truly listening. Listening is an art form that requires practice and vigilance. It’s about the ability to focus solely on the message being sent by the other person, instead of how thinking about how we are going to respond. It’s taking in their words, their tone and the body language. It’s also about focusing on the other person and what we already know of them. NO assumptions, NO interpretations. Breathe and take in the message. Respond by letting them know what in the message you understood, then ask any questions (because you’re not assuming or interpreting). Get clarification until the message is fully understood.
A part of having a life worth living, is having relationships that bring us joy!