How to listen so people will talk-a book review

I’m afraid Becky’s plan will not be popular with those who focus on personal rights and free unfiltered speech, without regard for how it affects other people. But for those who want to create a new standard of listening everywhere to understand, affirm, and build relationships, this book will be a valuable resource.

How to Listen So People Will Talk: Build Stronger Communication and Deeper Connections
By Becky Harling

Published in 2017 by Bethany House Publishers

I’m embarrassed to admit when I searched for this book online I typed into my browser, How to Talk so People will Listen. And it turns out, there is a book by that title.

But my faux pa illustrates why this book needed to be written:most of us would rather talk than listen. Or in the case of social media, post instead of read.

Let the wise listen

Proverbs 1:5
Becky Harling-speaker, coach, trainer

Becky Harling is a certified John Maxwell speaker, coach, and trainer; I don’t know what that means, but after reading this book, I am convinced she knows more about communication than most of us. She and her husband Steve pastored churches for many years. Now they travel internationally speaking on spiritual growth, leadership, communication, and world missions.

She quotes Maxwell in the book, along with several people I do recognize-Maya Angelou, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dale Carnegie, and Dee Brestin; the Mayo Clinic and Psychology Today; and Jesus. I appreciate authors who realize they don’t have the definitive word on anything and seek out others’ viewpoints. Literally the first words in the book are from the Bible, Proverbs 1:5

Let the wise listen and add to their learning.

Proverbs 1:5
two males talking, books on a table beside them
Keep your mouth shut.

Becky’s advice can be summarized in four words-keep your mouth shut. Fortunately for readers, she says it in a much nicer way. Most of us listen to others so they will listen to us. She wants us to listen to people say things we may not want to hear or may not like or that makes us feel uncomfortable. She gives some fairly simple suggestions for how to listen effectively-

  • Don’t be a fixer.
  • Ask great questions.(She points out that in the Bible, Jesus was a master at doing this.)
  • Show empathy (which doesn’t mean sharing what happened to you.)
  • Validate feelings.
  • Use body language to show interest.
  • Don’t be distracted.

Sounds easy, right? If you think you’re doing well at listening, test yourself with the exercises she includes at the end of each chapter. First,read one or two suggested scriptures, then ask yourself some pertinent questions, and then do real life practice. She calls these “biblically based, practical listening skills.” I think you will find them not so easy.

“Listening is like a muscle. The more we develop and train, the stronger our skills will become and the more effective we’ll become.”

two women, talking, sitting across a table, with coffee and open Bibles
Listening in conflict

I think the most helpful chapter was the one titled Practical Principles for Listening in Conflict. One tip-listen to agree. She also discusses how to avoid conflict and three rules for dealing with a toxic person. She warns-don’t stay in a physically abusive relationship.

I expected Becky’s book to be “10 quick and easy steps to perfect communication”. It was not. Becky addresses interpersonal communication between family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, since those are the people we have the most difficulty listening to, but most need to listen to.

“We are never able to go back and retrieve lost moments, so be attentive. Eliminate distractions that are robbing your ability to listen. Offer your full presence to those you love. “

Speaking of social media…

Although Becky does not address it, I think for virtual communication-email, text, social media- these principles could change the often impersonal and contentious discourse that has almost become the norm. Especially since these communication methods may lack visual clues, using listening techniques such as questions, validation, and empathy can be transformational.

man looking at a phone screen
Final thoughts

I’m afraid Becky’s plan will not be popular with those who focus on personal rights and free unfiltered speech, without regard for how it affects other people. But for those who want to create a new standard of listening everywhere to understand, affirm, and build relationships, this book will be a valuable resource.

Beckly includes a Notes section at the end which lists references for each chapter, both print and online sources.


The book links are affiliate links , as are the photo links-their use helps fund this blog and sharing the HEART of health around the world.

I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review. Find my other NetGalley reviews on the website.


exploring the HEART of listening

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How to talk to your doctor to improve your medical care

Talking to your doctor should be comfortable and therapeutic. #communication

For you to receive correct and effective medical treatment , your doctors need the right medical information.

I’ve written about doctor-patient communication before, because  it’s the most important part of the encounter. No amount of lab tests, scans,or  invasive procedures substitutes for the information we get from patients.

You may think doctors make a diagnosis based on lab tests or xrays. But much of the time, those tests only confirm what we already suspect  based on your symptoms. If we misunderstand what you describe, or fail to get complete information we may  start testing for something far removed from what is wrong with you.


Wrong information > wrong working diagnosis>wrong testing>wrong final diagnosis  

taking blood pressure




Doctors are learning how to communicate better with patients. One key is using “plain language” rather than medical jargon. However, even plain language can be misunderstood. And with a plethora of medical information online patients know and use medical terms too. Communication between doctors and patients may never be perfect, but we can do better.


2 medical people talking to a patient
a patient encounter in a rural clinic in Panama




Here are some tips on talking to your doctor .

There are always exceptions. Doctors have different communication styles, and may interact differently than what I’m suggesting here. These are general guidelines.




Be clear and specific about why you are there; don’t expect your doctor to uncover a hidden objective.

Sometimes we can read between the lines and suspect you didn’t come because of a mole that hasn’t changed in 10 years. So if you’re there because you’ve been having chest pain and you’re worried it’s your heart, say so . Then we have time to give your concern the time it deserves .


All coughs are not created equal. Knowing  your  cough started yesterday  rather than  6 months  ago helps me determine the more likely cause.

 Tell your doctor how long, how often, how severe, what helps, what worsens, your symptoms; that helps to narrow the possible causes. 

This post will explain

How to tell your doctor what’s wrong with you. 



Finish talking about your cough before starting to talk about the pain in your back.

A string of symptoms without detail is confusing and doesn’t give me enough information  to evaluate any of them.


Sometimes patients leave out important information due to forgetting, thinking it’s not important, embarrassment, or fear. But that may be the very piece of data I need to pinpoint what’s wrong.

So tell the doctor

  • If you can’t do something you’re asked  to do,
  • if you can’t afford the medication,
  • if your insurance doesn’t cover something,
  • if you are afraid to go for the test 
  • if you are seeing other doctors for anything,
  • how much you smoke,drink, or other habits



Ask questions if you don’t understand something.

If you don’t, I may assume you do understand. Ask me to review what I  told you. Put it in your own words and ask me if that’s what I meant.


Patients may use words or terms they assume I understand, but may mean something different to us.

“Heart attack” often means something different to patients than to doctors.

( Patients may use it to refer to any sudden heart problem, while doctors understand it to mean a specific event called a myocardial infarction.)

diagram of the human heart



In general, avoid using diagnostic terms. Instead of saying, “I have a sinus infection.”, we need to hear “My nose is stuffed up, I’m sneezing, and my throat is scratchy.”


Some words your doctor may ask you to clarify-


  • Dizzy- do you mean off balance or spinning?
  • Tired- do you mean fatigued or sleepy?
  • Difficulty focusing – do you mean vision focus or mental focus?
  • Weak- do you lack  energy or lack strength?
  • “I’ve tried everything.”- Tell me what “everything” is.


If you have  received a specific diagnosis from a doctor, it’s helpful for us to know that; we may want to confirm it with appropriate questions, exam, review of your records, and possibly additional testing.


Read about Understanding medical terms and asking questions 


And I share medical terms and their meanings at  Watercress Words on Facebook




I know this one is tricky; you don’t want to offend me, maybe you’re afraid you won’t get good care if you complain. But I can’t fix problems if I don’t know about them.

If my care or care from my staff is unsatisfactory, please tell me. If you offer constructive criticism about specific problems, we can work together to solve them. And if it’s not something I can or will change, I will explain. 


Learn to handle conflict here Why patients sue their doctors 



doctor holding a patient's hand
Courtesy and kindness should be part of every medical encounter.



Talking to your doctor should be comfortable and therapeutic. Remember

It’s confidential,

It’s all about you,

It’s not a surprise to your doctor- we’ve heard just about everything before



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