GouJust 10-02-020

Just Listen

Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone


Mark Goulston

AMACOM, 2010, 234 pp.  ISBN 978-0-8144-1403-3



Mark Goulston is a psychiatrist, consultant, business coach and author.  He writes a leadership column for Fast Company.  This book includes many practical tools for winning people over by proactively listening to them.  It would be easy to use these in a manipulative way.  There are lots of great (and perhaps too perfect) stories to demonstrate how these techniques work. 


“Stop hitting your head against the wall and look for the loose brick.” (Foreword)


“Most people upshift when they want to get through to other people.  They persuade.  They encourage.  They argue.  They push.  And in the process, they create resistance.” (4)


Who are you trying to persuade to do something?  Almost everybody you meet.  “But here’s the challenge: People have their own needs, desires, and agendas.  They have secrets they’re hiding from you.  And they’re stressed, busy, and often feeling like they’re in over their heads.  To cope with their stress and insecurity, they throw up mental barricades that make it difficult to reach them even if they share your goals, and nearly impossible if they’re hostile.” (7)


In the Persuasion Cycle, people move from resisting to listening to considering to willing to do to doing to glad they did and continuing to do so. (8)  “Ironically, the key to gaining ‘buy in’ and then moving people through the rest of the cycle is not what you tell them, but what you get them to tell you—and what happens in their minds in the process.” (8-9)


Your brain operates in three parts – flight-or-flight reactions, emotions, and logic.  These tend to pull apart and function independently when you are under stress.  At the boiling-over point memory falters, you reason less well, and hormones take over.  In dealing with angry, fearful, or resistant people you wish to prevent this from happening. (17)


Many people feel they meet daily with apathy, hostility, or no response at all.  This may explain why they feel overwhelmed when someone acknowledges their feelings.  A powerful technique is to mirror (acknowledge and express empathy with) their feelings. (19)  Understanding a person’s hunger and responding to it is a powerful tool. (21)


“In almost every case…the people you’ll meet are willing to be touched if you can just break through the walls they’ve erected to keep from being hurt or controlled.” (23)


“Getting your emotions under control…[is] the most important key to reaching other people….” (28)  Move your brain from panic to control.  You need to move quickly through these steps. 

  • !!Oh No!! This is a disaster.  I’m finished!
  • ! Oh! This is a huge mess.  Why does this always happen to me?
  • Oh this is awful.  I can fix this but it’s not going to be fun.
  • Oh well.  I’m not going to let this ruin my life.  Here’s what I have to do.
  • OK.  I’m ready to fix this.

It helps to say out loud what you are feeling as you go through the steps. 


“Rewire yourself to listen.”  Get rid of the filter, the stuff you think you already know about someone, like “lazy,” “loser,” “whiny,” “hostile,” etc.  These filters block out what you need to know.  (38)  We all have subconscious filters, particularly gender, age, ethnicity, education level, and emotion.  Your brain builds on your past experience and instinct to make quick decisions.  “So being a quick study isn’t a bad thing.  It only becomes bad if your quick study is inaccurate and leads you to the wrong conclusions.  Unfortunately that happens to us every single day, because our brains are far better at leaping to conclusions than at stepping back to analyze them.  The solution?  Think about what you’re thinking.” (40)


We often do not know what make people tick.  We mistake insecurity for arrogance, fear for stubbornness, and anger for ‘he’s just a jerk.’ (41)  You probably know a lot less about the person you want to reach than you think you do.  There is a reason why they behave like they do.  “Open your own mind and look for the reasons behind the behavior, and you’ll take the first step toward breaking down barriers and communicating with an ‘impossible’ person.” (43)


“If you want to open the lines of communication, open your own mind first.” (43)


“Making someone ‘feel felt’ simply means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.  When you succeed, you can change the dynamics of a relationship in a heartbeat.” (48)


“The way to truly win friends and influence the best people is to be more interested in listening to them than you are in impressing them.” (57)  “You can’t fake interest, either, so don’t try.” (59)  [Reminds me of the joke:  Sincerity is everything: when you can fake that, you’ve got it made.]


Your goal is to learn as much about the other person as you can.  Go into the conversation knowing that there is something very interesting about the person, and be determined to discover it.” (59)  Ask questions that demonstrate you want to know more.  [Good sample questions are listed.] Ask questions that will cause them to talk about what they feel, think, or did.  Ask another question that shows you heard and cared about what they said.  Summarize. 


“Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, ‘Make me feel important.’” (64, quoting Mary Kay Ash)


Find ways to show the people you value how much they matter.  Go out of your way to make annoying people feel important too.  They don’t feel important or special.  They’re starving for attention.  They need to matter: satisfy that need.  Give people what they need and they’ll give you what you need.


“If you’re trying to reach people in a state of distress, adding to their stress can be disastrous.” (70)  If they are on the brink help them to exhale.  Help them to relax and open their mind.  This builds a mental bridge to you. “Get a person to uncross his arms physically, and you can get him to uncross his arms mentally.” (73)  Give him plenty of time to vent.  Don’t take issue with anything or become defensive.  When he finishes he’ll be exhausted and then you ask him to tell you more.  This has several positive effects.  He will finally begin to exhale.  You may help him by telling him to close his eyes and just breathe.  Let it happen.  (Getting your teen to exhale can save the sanity of your household.)  Tell them sincerely that you didn’t know it was so bad.


“Dissonance occurs when you think you’re coming across in one way but people see you in a totally different way.” (78)  For example seeing yourself as wise when others see you as sly.  But it also occurs when you see others inaccurately, when you don’t listen deeply enough. 


People behave at their worst when they feel most powerless.  So when people are yelling at you, they often feel they aren’t being heard or considered.  The dissonance keeps you apart.  To know how other people perceive you, ask them.  Give them a list of ways you perhaps rub them the wrong way and ask them to mark the top 3.  Or you can ask them how you can do better in the future. 


“People will forgive you and even try to help you if you’re honest about a mistake.  …it’s not telling the truth that makes people angry or disappointed in you.  It’s all the things you do to avoid telling them the truth.”  “Owning up to your feeling of vulnerability is empowering.” (90)  “…when you find the courage to say ‘I’m afraid’ or ‘I’m lonely’ or ‘I don’t know how to get through this’—the other person will immediately mirror your true feelings.”  “…a desire to help leads to a solution.  Interestingly this is true even if you bare your vulnerability to people who don’t like you very much.” (91) 


There are ‘toxic’ people.  When you find one, perform a “jerkectomy.”  Get them out of your life.  “Needy people demand constant help and attention, use emotional blackmail to get it, and offer gratitude only if it keeps you on the hook.”  “They lean on you until they crush you.  And once they latch on to you, they’ll almost never leave.” (95-6)  “Bullies come after you because they think you’re easy prey.  Refuse to follow their script, and they’ll usually give up and seek an easier target.” (100)  There are also takers, narcissists, and psychopaths.  But if everyone is a problem, better look in the mirror and see if it’s you!


“Ignore a slacker, and the problem will continue and probably escalate.  Confront the person, expecting to receive an apology and a promise to reform, and you’re likely to create an enemy who’ll look for every opportunity to covertly work against you.  But do the unexpected by apologizing yourself, and something very different occurs: you shift a person instantly out of defensive mode and cause the individual to mirror your humility and concern.  Taking responsibility for your actions and committing to correct your faults in the future also demonstrates a tremendous graciousness, generosity and poise, and turns you into a person worthy of respect.  As a result, that same person who’s always circumvented or ignored or sniped at you will dramatically shift course.”  [I can imagine this backfiring pretty easily. Dlm]


Hmmm….  If someone starts out angry or defensive, let them go on.  When they stop, thoughtfully encourage them to go deeper with “Hmmm,” “Really,”  “And so,” “Tell me more,” “Then what happened?”  Each time they will calm down a little more.  It defuses the anger, shows them you care, and puts you both on the same side.  By the end of the talk, instead of them telling you why it won’t work, they are working hard to convince you it will succeed.  Hmmm is a potent deescalaor.  It is a relationship deepener.  And it commits you to nothing.  “Don’t go defensive: go deeper.” (148)


“Frequently we can invest a great deal of energy in hiding weaknesses even when they’re clear to anyone who meets us.  The results: we make people uncomfortable….”  (140)  They are thinking, “Don’t trust this guy.  If he’s hiding one thing he’s probably hiding something else.”  Admit your weakness in a confident and unselfconscious way.  Get in quick, neutralize the problem by explaining how to handle it, and get out – move on to the next topic. 


“These days, we don’t relate—we transact.” “Transactional communications don’t create traction in a relationship because they’re impersonal and shallow.”  Move beyond transacting to relating “by asking questions that let the other person tell you: ‘this is what I think,’ ‘This is who I am,’ ‘This is what I want to achieve,’ or ‘this is how you can play a part in making my life better.” (156)  When I ask people questions that let them open their minds and express their intelligence, they want to spend more time with me.  “I’m truly fascinated by these people as human beings, not just cogs, and I let them know it—often with a single question.” (157)


Here are a couple of those kinds of questions;

  • “If you could change one thing about the direction of your company, what would it be?
  • “If there is one thing I can do to help you move more quickly toward your goals, what would it be?”
  • “What’s the one thing you’re proudest of accomplishing?” (158)


“Sitting people down and lecturing them rarely works, because it makes them defensive—and when they’re defensive, they hide things from you.  Work side by side with them in a cooperative activity, however, and you’ll lower their guard and get them to open up.”  “Questioning works better than telling.”  “When you allow one revelation to lead to another without getting in the way, you learn even more.”  “These elements of the Side-by-Side approach—asking questions during a shared moment, and then deepening the conversation with more questions—are as powerful as communication gets….” (165)  “When you ask people questions, respect their answers.” (167) 


When you get a ‘no,’ ask, “I either pushed too hard or failed to address something that was important to you, didn’t I?”  He’ll nod.  “You sure did.”  At that point he is nodding and beginning to say ‘yes.’  You say, “And the point where I went too far and the deal points I failed to address were ___________________ .”  The client feels in control the entire time.  “Until someone says ‘no’ to you, you’re not asking for enough.” (179) 


The Power Thank you. 

Part 1.  Thank the person for something specific that he or she did for you. 

Part 2.  Acknowledge the effort it took for the person to help you.

Part 3.  Tell the person the difference that his or her act personally made to you.

“If a person performs an extraordinary act of kindness or assistance and all you say is ‘thanks,’ …emotionally you’re not giving back as much as you received.”  The person feels a little bit cheated.  (182) 


A Power Apology consists of remorse, restitution, rehabilitation, and requesting forgiveness.  That is, you really do change your behavior.  (184) 




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