Book Review: Listening Well

I love this topic and I’m really excited to share this month’s book review, also our March selection for our monthly book club: Listening Well – The Art of Empathic Understanding by William R. Miller, a book review.

Intro to Listening Well

Here’s an excerpt from the book cover – “Listening well is a short, easy-to-read book that provides a brief course in human relationships. With many useful explanations, examples, and exercises, the author demonstrated the what, why, and how of empathy in human interaction. The book is eminently useful for those who want to or need to improve their listening and relationship skills at work or in personal settings.”

Small but mighty is a perfect way to describe this powerhouse book on one of the hardest skills to develop — listening. The author breaks down the process of listening in to what it is (accurate empathy), the roadblocks, and techniques for becoming a better listener.

4 chapters devoted to empathy

These chapters explore what empathy is and is not. “Empathic understanding is not merely something that you have, but something that you do and experience,” says Miller

Empathy is not pity or sympathy, nor is it apathy or identifying with people. It’s a learnable skill that involves a mindset along with a willingness to not be the center of attention in the conversation. It’s realizing that others have things to teach us when we approach them with compassion, curiosity, and a commitment to their wellbeing.

Image to show the book cover of Listening Well - The Art of Empathetic Understanding

Kendy Anderson’s book review of Listening Well

12 roadblocks covered in chapter 5

In chapter five, William R. Miller identifies twelve roadblocks to listening well: directing, warning, advising, persuading, moralizing, judging, agreeing, shaming, analyzing, probing, reassuring and distracting. What’s the problem with these roadblocks? They infer or outright state that you are the authority on the other person’s dilemma. And when we become the expert on someone else, they tend to shut down the lines of communication. The author goes into details of what each roadblock is, and provides examples so the reader can recognize them.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter where the author explains and gives examples of each of these 12 roadblocks:

    1. Directing is telling someone what to do as if giving an order or a command.
    2. Warning involves pointing out the risks of what a person is doing. It can also be a threat.
    3. Advising includes making suggestions and providing solutions, usually with the intention of being helpful.
    4. Persuading can be lecturing, arguing, giving reasons, or trying to convince with logic.
    5. Moralizing is telling people what they should do.
    6. Judging can take the form of blaming, criticizing, or simply disagreeing.
    7. Agreeing usually sounds like taking sides with the person, perhaps approving or praising.
    8. Shaming or ridiculing can include attaching a name or stereotype to what the person is saying or doing.
    9. Analyzing offers a reinterpretation or explanation of what the person is saying or doing.
    10. Probing asks questions to gather facts or press for more information.
    11. Reassuring can sound like sympathizing or consoling.
    12. Distracting tries to draw people away from what they are experiencing by humoring, changing the subject, or withdrawing.

Things to consider to improve your listening

The book also covers body language and how we can improve our listening skills by the way we are listening. Things like eye contact, removing distractions, facial expression, vocal sounds, and not interrupting!

The remainder of the book dives into techniques to practice and involve the art of using reflections, both simple and deeper (complex), open-ended questions, analogies, and affirmations. The author also covers relational tips, listening for values, and listening well in conflict.

This method of listening is a game-changer and William Miller lays it out in specific steps to ensure your skill success with plenty of examples and exercises to try for yourself. I highly recommend this book not only to health and wellness coaches but to anyone (and everyone) looking to improve your listening skills, relationships within your family, marriage, or workplace.

Thank you for reading this book review: Listening Well – The Art of Empathetic Understanding. Want to explore other books to improve your listening skills? Take a look at my book review on Motivational Interviewing (MI). It is the foundation of our health and wellness coach training program.

For more information on active listening, check out this article: Active Listening: The Art of Empathetic Conversation from our friends at

Grab your own copy of Listening Well by William R. Miller here.

About the Author: Kendy Anderson

Kendy lives in northern California with her husband and daughters. The mother of six children—some grown, twin daughters still at home—and a grandmother to five, she raises poultry, enjoys scrapbooking, sewing and gardening, and loves to read. She lives with several pain-producing conditions but hates to miss out because of pain, so she loves coping strategies—choices she makes daily that have her back to “doing life,” rather than being a spectator or withdrawing completely. After being coached for her own pain, she made the decision to take coach training. As a TCC®U- and Nationally-certified coach, she helps clients learn pain management skills and return to happy and productive lives. She wholeheartedly believes it is possible to change your perception about pain.

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