Book Reviews

Why Don’t We Listen Better? Communicating & Connecting in Relationships by James C. Petersen 

Why Don’t We Listen Better? James C. Petersen (2015) is an invaluable resource for every individual. It is written in a conversational form, making it easy to digest the wealth of information provided. Throughout the text, Petersen shares everyday examples making the material relatable, sometimes humorous, and convicting. While many would consider themselves a pretty good listener, the author reminds us that “people who are willing to work at listening better can improve their relationships across the board” (Petersen, 2015, p. 7).  Further, the author uses repetition of concepts throughout the text; some he develops deeper, others remind the reader that changing our thinking and behavior is a difficult task but achievable. 

One of the text highlights is his use of catchy terms for behaviors you may or may not exhibit and tools that are easy to revisit for habit building. One example of a catchy phrase is Chapter 17, entitled Avoiding Ten Communication Traps (p. 149). Petersen coins the behavior of disguising statements or accusations with question marks as Perry Masons (Petersen, 2015, p. 150), challenging the reader to be more direct while communicating. Further, the author says that avoiding the traps will strengthen relationships and avoid unnecessary conflicts (Petersen, 2015).

In addition to the catchy phrases, Petersen provides tools and visuals that are easy to follow and retain. The Talker-Listener Card (TLC) is most notable, which allows individuals to take turns while communicating, creating a better habit of being a good listener (Petersen, 2015). The Talker is the one who is most bothered, with goals to share their feelings and thoughts, without accusing, attacking, labeling, and judging. At the same time, the Listener is the calm one who is willing to hear, provide safety, understand, and clarify without agreeing, disagreeing, advising, and defending (Petersen, 2015). 

Further, he introduces a theory called The Flat-Brain Theory (Petersen, 2015, p. 19) and includes a simple visual depicting how individuals struggle with the difference between feeling and thought. The goal is to help the reader understand how both affect relationships and avoid The Flat-Brain Syndrome (Petersen, 2015, p. 29). When Flat-Brain Syndrome occurs, the individual has difficulty hearing well, seeing is distorted, thinking becomes skewed, and acting sensibly becomes difficult. The theory is broken down into three functions: stomach, heart, and head. He tackles such topics as rationalizing to hide from uncomfortable emotions and our tendency to react based on feelings.  An important point the author makes regarding our feelings is that they can build or destroy (Petersen, 2015, p. 22). With this in mind, every individual should seek to build up those with whom God places around us. 

So What?!

Why does becoming a better listener even matter? Petersen provides thirty-three helpful How to Listen Better Techniques to spur the reader on to personal and relational growth throughout the text. As we move about in our daily lives, being an effective listener and communicator may be the one thing that can make or break a person’s day, including our own. The benefits of being a good listener do not merely make for better personal relationships. Still, they may even affect those with whom we may have brief encounters—such as a stranger contemplating suicide, or in my case, the cashier at the grocery store who is having a bad day.

The world in which we live is filled with negativity and unrest. As Christians, our example is Jesus. Jesus heard many hearts cry to him before responding in wisdom. Proverbs 16:24 shares, “gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (NIV). Petersen provides the tools needed to listen, not to hear, so that responses can be healing to the bones. Lastly, Matthew 5:13-16 calls us to be both salt and light. To be Salt is to enhance the lives of others and continually show the love of Christ. We cannot do this without learning to listen to others truly. Christians should strive to grow closer to God, being refined every moment, so that the world may know Him through us. 

You can find a copy here

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