There's an old chassidic saying which posits that there are three types of conversations. The first type is where everyone talks and nobody listens. The second is where one person talks and others listen. The third — and highest — form of conversation is when no one talks and everyone listens.

Quality listening occurs when participants silently listen not only to what is being said but also to what is not being said. Making eye contact and reading each other's facial expressions are a help in understanding what the other person is experiencing and feeling.

Productive communication is a very rare commodity in this day and age. I once heard a teenager say, "I haven't spoken to my mother for five years — I didn't want to interrupt her!" In some relationships, everyone is doing plenty of talking but very little listening and then they wonder why their relationship has gone sour.

There is nothing more beautiful than to see a parent and a child, or a married couple, who are able to express in a calm way those ideas and feelings that are important to them. They talk to each other, rather than at each other. On the other hand, I constantly see parents and children and husbands and wives who tend to express their feelings by screaming and shouting. They think that the more you scream and shout in a conversation, the more you are able to get your point across. But though you may think the other person is listening, the fact is that the more you scream the less they listen. The other person may be silent, but this is not necessarily an indication that they are listening; it may simply mean that they are busy preparing the counter attack. And at the end of such a session, either party (or both!) is likely to say something like, "You see, he/she isn't listening. This is what the problem is all about."

My first advice to them is to stop screaming at each other and to start listening. I point out, "How can you know what another person is thinking and feeling, if you haven't really listened?" I then suggest the following exercise. One of them should explain to the other exactly how s/he feels, while the second person should do nothing but listen attentively, make eye contact and attempt to understand where the first person is coming from. If necessary, the listener may ask questions for clarification, but must make sure that no judgments are made.

When the one has finished talking, the other person must wait to ensure that the speaker has actually finished and is not just pausing to take a breath. The listener should then feed back to the speaker what the listener has understood the speaker to have said. Only after the speaker acknowledges that the listener has understood, does the second party get a turn to voice his or her opinion and expect the other to reciprocate with the same quality of listening he or she have been accorded.

This exercise does not require either party to agree with what the other is saying. All that the listener is required to do is to understand the speaker's point of view. Only after each has understood the other can an attempt be made to find a way that will meet the needs of both. Often, the good will that is created by the respect of good listening and understanding will itself result in the rebuilding and rekindling of the relationship.

Try to listen more than you speak. It helps to bear in mind that G‑d gave us one mouth and two ears so we that can listen twice as much as we speak.

Try it — it works!