3 Ways to Listen So People Will Talk

“Whenever you dive in with your own story, you are stealing the microphone from the person who is telling their story.”

Do you know how to listen so people will talk?

Don’t confuse it with this:

How to talk so people will listen.

Those are two different things. Too often we’re fixated on the latter—trying to gain an audience for our words.

But the former is a better (and harder) thing to do—training ourselves to quiet down so we can hear the hearts of others.

“People feel more loved and valued if we are actively and attentively listening to them. So why don’t we take listening more seriously?”
– Becky Harling

I’m not normally brave. But I got brave and asked my husband Jeff about my listening skills. I asked him to rate me based on a quiz, “How Would You Rank Me as a Listener?”.

The quiz was from Becky Harling’s new book, How to Listen So People Will Talk: Build Stronger Communication and Deeper Connections. Here are a few of the questions. Ask someone else how you rate from Rarely, Sometimes, or Often.

  1. I am guilty of interrupting.
  2. I am present when you talk—not texting, checking email, or looking at social media.
  3. I dive in with my own story or experience.
  4. When you communicate with me you feel hurried.
  5. When we disagree I offer understanding.

I didn’t like all Jeff’s answers about me. Because I knew they were true.

I’m not always present when he talks. My body language doesn’t always invite someone to tell me more. I can get defensive when my opinions are challenged.

Poor Listening

Do people ever tell you that you seem distracted, too? Do you ever feel you don’t listen to others because you don’t want to put down the thing you’re currently doing? Do you think you can successfully multitask when someone is trying to tell you something important?

Too often our poor listening skills hinder our relationships. And for valid reasons.

  • We care more about our stories than theirs.
  • We want to be understood more than we want to understand.
  • We don’t want to stop what we’re doing to pay full attention.

But that’s not love. If we want to improve our ability to love, one way is to improve our ability to listen.

“One of the most profound ways we demonstrate the love of Christ is by our availability to listen.”

3 Ways to Listen Better

If you need to work on your listening skills, too, here are 3 tips from Harling’s book. (Get the book to see many more tips.)

  1. Silence Your Inner Fixer (chapter 4)

Harling suggests considering these five reasons to slow down and listen before you dive in to fix the person talking.

(1) You have enough to worry about in your own life.

(2) Your information might be incomplete.

(3) You’ll come across as judgmental or condescending.

(4) You’ll be guilty of demeaning the person receiving your advice. Most problems are complicated.

(5) You’re not God.

Once you hear the person, Harling offers these three questions to shift the focus:

  • Where do you see God in this problem?
  • Is God speaking anything to you?
  • What do you think you might do?
  1. Ask Great Questions (chapter 5)

Harling says 80% of a successful conversation involves listening. Jesus was the master of great questions.

“What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41), “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28), “Why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26), “Do you love me?” (John 21:17), “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29), “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6).

When we ask great questions, people don’t feel attacked. They feel safe to answer.

Choose from these suggestions.

  • Then what happened?
  • How did you feel when he or she said that?
  • How did others in the room react when that happened?
  • What do you think you should do next?
  • What does your spouse think?
  • Is there anything I can do to help you?
  • What do you need from me?
  1. Seek to Understand (chapter 8)

Harling says that confrontation is inevitable. It is uncomfortable. But it also can be transformational. When Jesus was confronted by his friends:

“He didn’t get defensive or frazzled. He didn’t overexplain or try to convince His friends that He had chosen what was most important. He simply said, ‘We’re going to the next town.’ He valued His friends’ opinions but didn’t feel pressured by them.”

Some practical principles for listening in conflict:

  • Pause, pray, and praise God that you don’t have to feel panic.
  • Don’t say anything for a few minutes.
  • Don’t interrupt—let the other person finish dumping.
  • Listen for something to agree with.
  • Stay curious.
  • Affirm how much you value the relationship, even if you can’t reach a compromise.

Now Practice Listening

Which skill can you work on this week? Maybe one at a time would be easier than all at once.

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

Harling says there are at least seventy verses in the Bible that talk about listening in some form. It’s a holy activity. Jesus listenened to people. And if we want to be more like Jesus, we need to listen better, too.

Because when we listen better, our friends and family will talk to us more. Everyone desires to be heard. Everyone deserves to be heard.

I haven’t been brave enough yet to retake the quiz with Jeff. I don’t know if my listening skills have improved enough to improve my score. I still have more work to do.

I’ll keep listening.


Here are a few more select quotes from Becky Harling in How to Listen So People Will Talk. I’m challenged by them. You, too?

“In order to humbly listen to others, we need to increase our self-awareness and then surrender our right to be the expert.”

~ * ~

“Whenever you grow defensive in a conversation, it’s driven by fear. It could be the fear of losing control, fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of not having a voice, or fear of not being respected. . . . But the instant you become defensive, you’re unable to listen effectively. Instead, you’re defending your heart.”

~ * ~

“Jesus’ opinions were right about everything because He was God. He is the only One with the absolute correct view of everything. But even Jesus didn’t push His opinions on others. Instead, He listened and only spoke truth in response.”

~ * ~

“Let someone be the star of their own show. Keep the focus on the person talking.”

~ * ~

“Don’t tell people what to do; ask them questions.”

~ * ~

“The principle of ‘tell me more’ is to invite the other person to keep going with their story. You might say, ‘Tell me more,’ or ask, ‘And then what happened?’ or ‘How did that make you feel?’”

~ * ~

“Try to figure out what the other person is feeling by asking questions rather than trying to change the other person’s thinking.”

~ * ~

“Let your friends tell their stories. It’s okay if they get a few details wrong. They don’t need you to be the fact police. Instead, let it go.”

* * *

Which listening skill do you need to improve most? (1) Silence your inner fixer, (2) Ask great questions, (3) Seek to understand.

Please share in the comments.


Read more from Becky Harling at her blog:

My thanks to Bethany House Blogger Review
Program for the review copy of this book

47 thoughts on “3 Ways to Listen So People Will Talk

  1. Joanne Viola

    Lisa, wonderful review. Listening truly is a skill we develop and in my opinion, it is birthed in being “other-minded”. Praying that I will seek to listen more rather than desire to be heard.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Excellent point, Joanne. Listening is definitely directly linked to being “other-minded.” Therein lies the root of my problem. 🙁 I still have work to do in that area.

  2. Jennifer

    This is a great post, listening truly is a learned skill and if more people would learn to listen and apply it maybe things wouldn’t be so messed up in our world. I am your neighbor at Good Morning Mondays link up.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I totally agree with you, Jennifer. If we could all try to understand each other first, instead of trying to convince everyone we are “right,” the world would look very different. May I put it more into practice myself.

  3. Pam

    Really really good stuff here, Lisa! I think we ALL need to improve and grow in the areas mentioned. I spent my life asking questions as a teacher and then as a clinical counselor, questions that I hoped would help them open up and discover things they had missed or forgotten. Asking good questions is such a gift to someone else and there are very few who do it very well if they ask any questions at all. Your words also reminded me of Stephen Covey’s training which says we are to seek to understand before seeking to be understood…so true and right on!! Thanks for this excellent comprehensive review and reminder.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m sure you have helped so many with your thoughtful questions, Pam! I love being around people who ask good questions. It makes us feel valuable, as well as helping us learn more about ourselves and the situation at hand. Thanks for your contributions throughout the years and in the present. You’re a gift to the Kingdom.

  4. Barbara H.

    Good thoughts. One of the hardest things for me is not resenting being interrupted. When I’ve asked God to guide my day, and I’m doing this particular thing now, then that’s what I am supposed to do, right? And not to get it finished because someone wants to talk about something seemingly trivial grates (dropping everything for something urgent is a little different, but I still wrestle even then ) But maybe (probably) the interruption is part of God’s plan as well. Jesus was interrupted from what He was doing pretty frequently yet responded with grace.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ouch—I’m guilty of that same resentment, Barbara. I too often think when I’m interrupted, “Can’t they see I’m busy?” 🙁 Jesus is definitely the perfect example at handling “disruptions” with grace. I want to get better at this myself.

  5. Lesley

    This sounds like a fantastic book. It’s such an important subject. When we really listen to others it is powerful, and it’s something we can all learn to do. My biggest challenge is staying present and not allowing my mind to wander.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That’s my biggest challenge to listen as well, Lesley. It’s so easy to start thinking of other things, of what I want to say, of what’s for dinner. 🙂 But staying present is a true gift to give those we love.

  6. Laura Thomas

    Oh my goodness, Lisa, this is so challenging! I’m cringing right now. Interesting that there are over 70 Bible verses about listening… that tells me it’s rather important, to say the least. Not interrupting and giving my full attention are 2 aspects I have to work on A LOT. Thanks for sharing— I always learn from your posts 🙂 Stopping by from #MomentsofHope

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      This is challenging to me, too, Laura. 🙁 There are times I think I do okay, then I’ll be totally distracted and zoned on out when someone is talking to me. It’s a process!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      The book is a good one. There were a few things I didn’t like about it, but the points she makes are so good, that I could overlook the things I didn’t like. 🙂

  7. Ceil

    Hi Lisa! “Let someone be the star of their own show. Keep the focus on the person talking.” I often fall down on that point. I think that offering my own experiences with the subject will be helpful, but really, am I just trying change the focus of the conversation to myself? Such a good question to think about.

    I am also guilty of jumping in and cutting people off. I do it all the time, completely by reflex. I am trying mightily to stop doing that. Bad habits. Very hard to change, but very necessary too.

    Thank you for sharing this book. I think it was written for me!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think many of us fall down on that point, Ceil. “Stealing the microphone” was such a clear metaphor for me to picture that happening. Hopefully I’ll remember it at the time that I need it most! 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ooh, I love that picture, Andrew. A still pond reflecting the sky…I hope I’ll remember that and put it into practice. Thanks for using your energy to share here. It’s valuable to me.

  8. Sherry Stahl

    Ohhhh this sounds like a great book. I read John Maxwell’s “Everyone Communicates and Few Connect”. It’s all about asking great questions. Since I read it, I’ve been more aware of how I am in conversation with others. I think this book could help me more. Talking comes naturally for me. I want to make sure I’m just as good at listening 🙂 Glad to be your #RaRaLinkup neighbor this week.
    Thanks for sharing. Praying your week is filled with joy and peace.
    ~Sherry Stahl

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That John Maxwell book sounds like one I need to read. I love his writings. They’re always so succinct and so encouraging! I’m going to look it up right now…. Thanks, Sherry!

  9. Mary Geisen

    Sounds like a great book. I love the quotes you included-let someone be the star of their show! Wow!

    My sons have accused me of not always being present when they are talking to me. They have a name for what I am doing but I don’t remember it right now-(maybe I wasn’t listening ;))

    I have been working on being present in all conversations. My life is certainly not more important and it is such a gift to give to others.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      If you think of the name your boys use, do share, Mary. 🙂 I actually caught Jeff scrolling through his twitter feed last night when I was relaying a story to him, and I saw how sad it made me feel to not have his full attention. Yet that’s what I do too much myself. We sometimes learn our lessons the hard way from those we love the most!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I like that tip, too, Loretta. I hope I’ll remember to do it—listen for something to agree with—the next time I’m talking with someone that seems so far away ideologically.

  10. Michele Morin

    You’re right, Lisa. When I read the heading, I thought it said, “How to talk so people will listen.” As “word people” we want to be heard, but it’s so much more important to listen. It was courageous of you to take the quiz with your husband, and it makes me wonder what my kids would say if they had to answer those questions. Thanks for this invitation to a mid-course correction.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Now I need to be brave again to retake the quiz with Jeff. But not yet. ha. I do think those who live with us can probably answer the questions about our listening skills most accurately but it can be painful to hear. 🙂

  11. Trudy

    This book sounds like it’s jam-packed with great insight and advice, Lisa. And I love how she uses Jesus as the best example of being a better listener. Jesus never put the spotlight on Himself, but He always had time for everyone and listened with infinite compassion and understanding. I love, too, how much He used questions. Thank you for sharing all this valuable insight. I need to remember it more often. Love and hugs!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      These were all good reminders for me, too, Trudy. I definitely need them! Yes, I loved all her examples about Jesus paying such close attention to those around him, both in asking good questions and in just being quiet when words weren’t needed.

  12. Betsy de Cruz

    Lisa, every once in awhile I read a post here that I need to bookmark to read again and again. This is one of them! Thanks for the review of this important book, and for sharing your takeaways. These ideas really help me as a parent, wife, and church leader.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad this resonated with you as well, Betsy. It’s such an everyday subject that affects all of us. I want to listen better, and even though it sounds so easy, it’s not.

  13. Sarah Geringer

    Hi Lisa. I’ve been told I’m a good listener, but your review leaves me much room for improvement. Thank you for helping me see some blind spots today. Sharing this on Facebook and Twitter, friend.

  14. floyd

    Great post. I’ve been instinctively working on this very thing for some time. It goes back to that good ole humility thing that we’ve been taking about for a long time now.

    I noticed that in all of her quotes. Humility rings clearly through.

    Thanks for the reminder. I think I’ll hold off on asking for a rating just yet…

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re so right, Floyd. I went back and looked at the individual quotes and clearly saw the theme of humility in them. Our “listening” problem is more of a self-centered problem, yes? Thanks for sharing your insight, brother.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I agree, Lori—listening to each other is definitely a valuable gift and something we should prioritize. It’s not always easy to do, but it is worth our best efforts.

  15. Char

    Hi Lisa,
    I need to ask better questions to let the person know I’m interested in their story. This is something I usually think of after the conversation is long over… 🙁

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I relate to that, Char. I tend to think of the best questions AFTER the conversation is over, too. 🙁 So I love when God sends us a second opportunity with the same person! Or a fresh opportunity with a new person to make up for our messes.

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