Listen by Kathryn Mannix reviewed

Listen Book Cover Listen
Kathryn Mannix
William Collins
September 16, 2021

From the bestselling author of With the End in Mind, this is a book about the conversations that matter and how to have them better – more honestly, more confidently and without regret.

A child coming out to their parent. A family losing someone to terminal illness. A friend noticing the first signs of someone’s dementia. A careers advisor and a teenager with radically different perspectives.

There are moments when we must talk, listen and be there for one another. Why do we so often come away from those times feeling like we could have done more, or should have been braver in the face of discomfort? Why do we skirt the conversations that might matter most?

By bringing together stories with a lifetime’s experience working in medicine and the newest psychology, Mannix offers lessons for how we can better speak our mind and help when others need to.

Listen by Kathryn Mannix

As someone who had loved Kathryn Mannix’s previous book Listen was a “must read”. The true life story in the first chapter is set in the author’s early days as a doctor and brought tears to my eyes. It is a story about the author, a widow and Dorothy who helped out. It sets a tone for this book about the difficulties of dealing with challenging situations and conversations. Even when these are done “properly” they sometimes don’t work all that well.

Listen is far more of a “how to do it” book than the previous one. It was about the author’s personal experiences dealing with the dying and the bereaved. This one is far wider ranging and covers a variety of topics and situations. There is more about the way to deal with issues – techniques, tips, ideas and the like. It is more of a handbook than a reading book in some senses. Stories from real life either the author’s own, or those which have been passed on to her by other professionals, pepper this and many are extremely powerful. These are used as illustrations of “how to” (or how not to) deal with very challenging situations.

A number of the chapters engaged me fully on a first read and had me highlighting passages to return to. While the word “listen” is fundamental to this book this leads to understanding and empathy. While many stories illustrate that very well reading them can be hard. The story of the carer and the old man in a hospice who made it difficult for anyone to like him or get near him is an example of that – a challenging read but thought provoking too. Kathryn’s own interaction with her great-uncle is frankly a beautiful piece of writing and illustrates listening very well.

One area mentioned was one I had not come across before. This was the use of fairly formalised and trained peer to peer and teacher “listening”. While this wasn’t a difficult read it did leave me with a real hope for the future of listening rather more generally.

Some aspects are just good advice. The section of “deathbeds” is something that many folk would probably find a useful read at some stage of life. There is information on dealing with suicide prevention with some worthwhile thoughts. The book is a up to date and looks at the challenges to having difficult conversations that are posed during COVID as well as those arising from COVID.

I have a little knowledge in this subject area – as we age all of us are probably exposed to at least one of the issues tackled here and maybe more. I have no actual professional interest at this time however I found the book readable and valuable to me. Those with a professional interest should probably have an understanding of the issues and techniques involved. However I do think that many could benefit from stepping away from a fixed idea of role and into a deeper understanding of people and how they feel – we are all different.

Overwhelmingly Kathryn Mannix’s compassion comes over in Listen as it did in the previous one. If I were in a highly challenging situation I know of no one else I would rather have in the room. 4.5/5

“It’s stories, not rules, that change people”

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review