“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”

—David Augsburger [1]

When Janet and I went through the greatest marriage crisis of our life, my counselor would often quote to me the lyrics of a famous Don McClean song.

“They would not listen. They did not know how.
Perhaps they’ll listen now.” —Don McClean, Vincent [2]

Dr. Michael Semon of Relationships, Incorporated would then look at me and say, “Chris, you don’t listen. In fact, you don’t even know how to listen. But we’re going to work on that…”

Over the course of several weeks that’s exactly what we did. Miraculously, God resurrected, healed and restored our marriage. Today, good listening is something that marks our conversations and communication.

There are eight principles we’ve learned when it comes to listening that will revolutionize your relationships. We’ll cover the first four in the post, and the next four in a later post.

“You must all be quick to LISTEN, slow to SPEAK, and slow to get ANGRY.”
—James 1:19 NLT

8 Simple Ways to Improve Listening

1. Eliminate distractions.

Put away your smart phone. Silence notifications. Set down your laptop. Turn off the television. Put down the book. Turn down the music. Be fully present and emotionally available.

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”
—M. Scott Peck

2. Activate your focus.

Focus on the person speaking. Listen with your eyes, not just ears. Make and capture eye contact. Give the person your full, undivided attention.

Get Level and Congruent

One of the most helpful skills Janet and I have learned is for us to make certain we get “level and congruent” before we attempt to communicate. That means that we’re both sitting down — knee to knee, face to face, hopefully holding hands and looking one another in the eye before we begin. This demonstrates that we value one another. It slows down the conversation. It prevents distractions. It also helps us remain calm, gentle, kind, strong and sensitive when discussing emotionally charged issues.

Getting level and congruent also helps us to place ourself in someone’s shoes. It allows us the opportunity to notice things like emotions, tone of voice, inflections, tension, stress, sadness, joy and facial expressions, so that we can respond appropriately.

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” —Karl A. Menninger

3. Subordinate your opinion.

Resist the urge to react. Don’t interrupt the person who is speaking.

We often fail when it comes to listening because instead of actually listening, we’re forming our opinion and thinking about what we want to say when the person finally stops talking. Confront your compulsion to share a clever comeback.

“Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.” —Proverbs 18:13 MSG

Several years ago I read about a sign that was in President Lyndon Johnson’s Office. It contains great insight about listening and communication. It read like this.

“You ain’t learnin’ nothing’ when you’re doin’ all the talkin’.
—Sign In Lyndon Johnson’s Office

As the kids say these days, “That’s based!”

Instead of thinking of yourself as a hammer trying to nail down your point, begin seeing yourself as a sponge wanting to soak up the insights and information the person is sharing.

Listening is more than hearing. Listening is wanting to hear.

Paul the Apostle gave us great principle for connecting in relationships in Philippians 2.

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” —Philippians 2:3-4 NLT

Sometimes a great question to ask at the beginning of a conversation to help you subordinate your opinion, especially in conversations with your spouse is:

“Do you want me to help solve the problem, or do you just need me to listen?”

4. Regulate your emotions and assumptions.

“Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear.” —James 1:19 MSG

“You can recognize fools by the way they give full vent to their rage and let their words fly! But the wise bite their tongue and hold back all they could say.” —Proverbs 29:11 TPT

I read some time ago, “A wife stops talking to her husband when she’s given up hope that he will be a safe place for her to share her heart.” [3]

That’s exactly what happened in our marriage. By putting these principles into practice, I’ve become a safe, secure and strong place where Janet can share her heart.

If you want to give those you love the gift of listening well this Christmas and beyond, put these first 4 principles into practice.

  • Eliminate distractions.
  • Activate your focus.
  • Subordinate your opinion.
  • Regulate your emotions and assumptions.

If you’re interested in learning more about the importance of listening, check out ISOW’s Connecting the Church to the Community Bundle. If you’re married, make plans to join us on evening Friday, February 2 and Saturday, February 3, 2024 as ISOW presents, “Marriage BLDR: Building marriages, teams, people and dreams” at Omega Center International in Cleveland, TN. Details coming in early January 2024. To view courses in Spanish, click here.


[1] David Augsburger, Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard: How to Hear and How to Be Heard in Equal Communication

[2] https://americansongwriter.com/the-deeper-meaning-behind-don-mcleans-american-pie-hit-vincent/

[3] Patrick, Darrin; Patrick, Amie. The Dude’s Guide to Marriage: Ten Skills Every Husband Must Develop to Love His Wife Well (p. 6). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

[4] Brene Brown, The Power of Vulnerability, https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability?language=en

[5] John and Julie Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, p 170, Kindle Edition.

[6] David Augsburger quoted by H. Norman Wright, Quiet Times for Couples