Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone

Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone

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by Mark Goulston

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You’ve got a business colleague who’s hostile...a client who’s furious…a staffer who’s deeply cynical—how do you get people to do what you want in tough situations like these? In Just Listen, veteran psychiatrist and business coach Mark Goulston reveals the secret to how to get through to anyone, even when productive


You’ve got a business colleague who’s hostile...a client who’s furious…a staffer who’s deeply cynical—how do you get people to do what you want in tough situations like these? In Just Listen, veteran psychiatrist and business coach Mark Goulston reveals the secret to how to get through to anyone, even when productive communication seems impossible.

“Here's the challenge,” Mark says. “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, they throw up barricades that make it difficult to reach them even when your goals are in sync with their own.”

But the good news is that there are simple strategies that can make you compelling, and break down the walls that keep you from getting through to the people you need to buy into your ideas and goals. Just Listen presents remarkably effective tools and techniques you can use whenever a job, a sale, or a relationship hangs in the balance.

How effective are Mark’s techniques? One of his areas of expertise is training FBI and police hostage negotiators to handle life-or-death situations. “The same tips I teach these professionals for building empathy, deescalating conflict, and gaining buy-in will work in any situation,” Mark says. “Whether you’re a new employee fresh out of school, a salesperson, or a CEO, once you master these skills you can take them wherever you go in your career.” And Mark has proven these strategies in his own 30-year career as a business coach at companies such as GE, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Kodak, Federal Express, Hyatt, and Disney.

With this powerful yet engaging book, you’ll learn how to:

• Get the attention of a total stranger who you need to know—like that potential client you absolutely must land.

• Talk an angry person up from an instinctual (irrational) state to receptivity, and finally to rationality—a skill that can save a job, a marriage, or even a life.

• Use the “Magic Paradox”—a technique the author developed for hostage negotiators—to turn a negative person into an asset.

• Master the critical art of buy-in (the foreplay of negotiation, persuasion, and selling) by moving anyone through the “Persuasion Cycle.”

Barricades between people become barriers to success, progress, and happiness; so getting through is not just a fine art, but a crucial skill. Just Listen gives you the techniques and confidence to approach the unreachable people in your life, and turn frustrating situations into productive outcomes and rewarding relationships.

Mark Goulston, M.D., is a psychiatrist, consultant, business coach, and is the author of Get Out of Your Own Way and Get Out of Your Own Way at Work. He writes a leadership column for Fast Company and the “Solve Anything with Dr. Mark” career advice column for Tribune Media Services. Named one of America’s Top Psychiatrists by the Consumers’ Research Council of America (2009, 2005, 2004), he is frequently quoted or featured in The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Newsweek and others, and on CNN, NPR, Fox News, and BBC-TV. He lives in Los Angeles.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Goulston (Get Out of Your Own Way at Work) returns with a primer on dealing with hard-to-reach people in virtually every scenario—defiant executives, angry employees, families in turmoil, warring couples—through use of well-honed psychological techniques. Negotiating intractable situations is like driving up a steep hill, he posits, but most of us make the mistake of creating more resistance by shifting up; “downshift, and you get control,” he writes. His “Persuasion Cycle” filters illustrative snippets from counseling sessions during which he digs into an impressive bag of tricks—“Magic Paradox,” “Impossibility Question,” “Empathy Jolt”—techniques “like martial arts moves: potent on their own, but even more powerful when you combine them.” His successful persuasion case studies include negotiating a police standoff and assisting a married couple's conflict resolution. Chapter summaries feature action steps preparing readers to encounter similar scenarios, yielding a guide that is as entertaining as it is useful. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Drawing on his experience as a psychiatrist, business consultant, and FBI hostage-negotiation trainer, Goulston provides brilliant yet doable techniques for getting through to others. His approach boils down to a modernized version of eminent therapist Carl Rogers's client-centered therapy owing to its point that people need to be "felt"; clarifying questions and statements faciliate achieving just that. His advice on recognizing and steering clear of toxic people is on target. This book transcends the self-help category by promoting real communication.
From the Publisher

"It's a measure of how contentious work relationships can get that the author, a psychiatrist, draws on hostage-negotiation techniques to instruct readers on how to deal with 'defiant executives, angry employees or self-destructing management teams'.... Mission accomplished." --Time Magazine

"useful and applicable techniques and strategies for everything from getting teams to work together, to handling narcissistic clients (or is that a redundancy?), and getting your message across to even the most impenetrable people" --Accounting Today

"Just Listen is a banquet of approaches and ideas that's easy to devour the first time around, and a flavorful feast whenever you use portions as a reference book. It's certainly one of the best how-to books of the year." --Inland Empire Business Journal

"A primer on dealing with hard-to-reach people in virtually every scenario -- definat executives, angry employees, families in turmoil, warring couples -- through use of well-honed psychological techniques. Illustrative snippets from counseling session reveal martial-arts like techniques: potent on their own, but even more powerful when you combine them. Chapter summaries feature action steps preparing readers to encounter similar scenarios, yielding a guide that is as entertaining as it is useful." --CareerBuilder.com

"Just Listen is not only helpful for any kind of business, it teaches a skill that will aid you outside of the office too." --Niche Magazine

"Just Listen is an excellent guide for learning how to break down barriers." --Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Read an Excerpt

Just Listen

Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone

By Mark Goulston


Copyright © 2010 Mark Goulston
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8144-3648-6


Who's Holding You Hostage?

Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them. —PAUL HAWKEN, AUTHOR, NATURAL CAPITALISM

Right now, there's someone in your life you need to reach. But you can't, and it's driving you crazy. Maybe it's somebody at work: a subordinate, a team member, a client, your boss. Or maybe it's somebody at home: a partner, a parent, a defiant teen, an angry "ex."

You've tried everything—logic, persuasion, forcefulness, pleading, anger—but you've hit a wall every time. You're mad, scared, or frustrated. And you're thinking, "What now?"

Here's what I want you to do: Think of this as a hostage situation. Why? Because you can't get free. You're trapped by another person's resistance, fear, hostility, apathy, stubbornness, self-centeredness, or neediness—and by your own inability to take effective action.

And that's where I come in.

I'm just an average guy—husband, father, doctor—but a long time ago, I discovered that I had a special talent. You could drop me into just about any situation, and I could reach people. I could persuade defiant executives, angry employees, or self-destructing management teams to work cooperatively toward solutions. I could get through to families in turmoil and to married couples who hated each other's guts. I could even change the minds of hostage takers and desperate people contemplating suicide.

I wasn't sure what I was doing differently from everybody else, but I could tell it worked. I knew I wasn't smarter than everybody else, and I knew my success wasn't just luck because what I did worked consistently, and it worked with all kinds of people in every type of situation. But why did it work?

In analyzing my methods, I found the answer. It turned out I'd happened on a simple, quick set of techniques—some I'd discovered on my own, and others I'd learned from mentors and colleagues—that create traction. That is, they pull people toward me, even if those people are trying to pull away.

To understand this, picture yourself driving up a steep hill. Your tires slip and slide and can't grab hold. But downshift, and you get control. It's like pulling the road to meet you.

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. When you use the techniques I offer, you'll do exactly the opposite—you'll listen, ask, mirror, and reflect back to people what you've heard. When you do, they will feel seen, understood, and felt—and that unexpected downshift will draw them to you.

The powerful techniques you'll learn in this book can move people rapidly and easily, often within minutes, from "no" to "yes." I employ them every day to fix broken families and help warring couples fall in love again. I use them to save companies on the brink of meltdown, get feuding managers to work together effectively, and empower salespeople to make "impossible" sales. And I use them to help FBI agents and hostage negotiators succeed in the toughest situations possible, when life and death are on the line.

In fact, as you'll find out, you have a lot in common with hostage negotiators when it comes to reaching the people who don't want to listen to you. That's why this book starts with Frank's story.

* The Persuasion Cycle

You probably don't find yourself in the types of situations that hostage negotiators handle. But on any given day, who are you trying to persuade to do something?

The answer is: nearly everybody you meet. Almost all communication is an effort to get through to people and cause them to do something different than they were doing before. Maybe you're trying to sell them something. Maybe you're trying to talk sense into them. Or maybe you need to impress them that you're the right person for a job, a promotion, or a relationship.

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.

Approach these people armed solely with reason and facts, or resort to arguing or encouraging or pleading, and you'll expect to get through—but often you won't. Instead, you'll get smacked down, and you'll never have a clue why. (How often have you walked away from a sales pitch, an office meeting, or an argument with your partner or child, shaking your head and saying, "What the heck just happened?")

The good news is that you can get through, simply by changing your approach. The techniques I describe in this book work for hostage negotiators in the most desperate situations, and they're equally potent if you're trying to reach a boss, a coworker, a client, a lover, or even an angry teenager. They're easy, they're fast, and you can hit the ground running with them.

These techniques are powerful because they address the core of successful communication: what I call the "Persuasion Cycle" (see Figure 1-1). In developing the Persuasion Cycle, I was inspired by the ground-breaking work and ideas of James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente in their Transtheoretical Model of Change and by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick in their creation of Motivational Interviewing.

All persuasion moves through the steps of this cycle. To take people from the beginning to the end of the Persuasion Cycle, you need to speak with them in a manner that moves them:

* From resisting to listening

* From listening to considering

* From considering to willing to do

* From willing to do to doing

* From doing to glad they did and continuing to do

The focus, central tenet, and promise of this book, "the secret of getting through to absolutely anyone," is that you get through to people by having them "buy in." "Buy-in" occurs when people move from "resisting" to "listening" to "considering" what you're saying.

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

In the following chapters, I'll lay out nine basic rules and twelve quick techniques you can use to move people through different points on the Persuasion Cycle. Master these rules and techniques, and you can put them to work wherever you go in your career or personal life. They're the same concepts I teach FBI agents and hostage negotiators for building empathy, de-escalating conflict, and gaining buy-in to a desired solution—and when you know them, you won't need to be held hostage by another person's anger, fear, lack of interest, or hidden agenda. That's because you'll have the tools you need to turn the situation to your advantage.

* The Secret: Getting Through Is Simple

There's nothing magic about the approaches you'll learn in these pages. In fact, one secret you'll discover is that reaching people is easier than it looks. To illustrate that point, I'll share the story of David, a CEO who used my techniques to turn his career around —and to save his family at the same time.

What's the moral of this story? That the right words have tremendous power to heal. In David's case, a few hundred words saved his job, his company, and his relationship with his son.

But there's a second lesson here. Look at the two stories in this chapter, and you'll see that Detective Kramer and David used some of the same approaches to achieve very different goals. Detective Kramer kept a troubled man from killing himself, while David kept his company from firing him and mended the fractures in his family. The power of these techniques, and the others you'll learn, lies in the fact that they apply to nearly any person and any situation.

Why does a single set of communication tools have such universal power? Because while our lives and our problems are very different, our brains work in similar ways. In the next chapter, we'll take a very quick look at why our minds "buy in" or "buy out"—and why reaching an unreachable person depends on talking to the brain.


A Little Science

How the Brain Goes from "No" to "Yes"

What happens when two people talk? That is really the basic question here, because that's the basic context in which all persuasion takes place. —MALCOLM GLADWELL, AUTHOR, THE TIPPING POINT

I think like a doctor, so I loaded an earlier draft of this chapter with drawings of brain parts and discussions of how the brain works. When I finished, I showed it to Ellen, my editor, thinking she'd say, "Wow. That's great."

Ellen quickly glanced over all the brain stuff. And then she said, pointedly: "Ick."

I got her point. Most people reading this book don't care about neurons and neurotransmitters and gray matter and white matter. If you're one of them, you just want to learn how to reach people. You don't care what happens inside their brains when you do.

But here's the thing: When you understand something about how the brain moves from resistance to buy-in, you'll have a huge edge—because no matter what your message is, you need to talk to the brain. That's why I teach a little brain science to hostage negotiators, CEOs, managers, parents, and anyone else who needs to reach difficult people.

However, I heeded Ellen's wise advice and took an axe to my first draft. Gone are the brain drawings and dry anatomy lectures. What's left? Three crucial concepts that will empower you to see what's happening behind another person's eyes when you're trying to get buy-in. Understand all three—the three-part brain, amygdala hijack, and mirror neurons—and you'll know all you need to know about the brain science behind reaching anyone.

* The Three-Part Brain

How many brains do you have? It's a trick question, because the answer (as you probably know, if you took college biology) isn't one but three.

Your brain has three layers that evolved over millions of years: a primitive reptile layer, a more evolved mammal layer, and a final primate layer. They all interconnect, but in effect they often act like three different brains—and they're often at war with each other. Here's how each of your three brains behaves:

* The lower reptilian brain is the "fight-or-flight" part of your brain. This region of your brain is all about acting and reacting, without a lot of thinking going on. It can also leave you frozen in a perceived crisis—the "deer-in-the-headlights" response.

* The middle mammal brain is the seat of your emotions. (Call it your inner drama queen.) It's where powerful feelings—love, joy, sadness, anger, grief, jealousy, pleasure—arise.

* The upper or primate brain is like Star Trek's Mr. Spock: It's the part that weighs a situation logically and rationally and generates a conscious plan of action. This brain collects data from the reptile and mammal brains, sifts it, analyzes it, and makes practical, smart, and ethical decisions.

As we evolved, the newer regions of our brains didn't vanquish the older parts. Instead, like the rings on a tree, each new region overlays the more primitive ones. The middle brain overlays the lower brain; the upper brain overlays the middle brain. And all three have power over how you think and act every day.

To a small extent, these three brains work together. To a greater extent, however, they tend to pull apart and function independently—especially when we're under stress. When that happens and the reptile or mammal brain takes control, the human thinking brain is eclipsed, and we shift into primal brain functions. What does all of this have to do with getting through to people? Simple: To reach someone, you need to talk to the human upper brain—not the snake brain or the rat brain. You're in trouble if you're trying to gain buy-in from someone who's feeling angry, defiant, upset, or threatened because, in these situations, the person's higher brain isn't calling the shots. If you're talking to a boss, a customer, a spouse, or a child whose lower brain or midbrain is in control, you're talking to a cornered snake or, at best, a hysterical rabbit.

In this situation, your success hinges entirely on talking the person up from reptile to mammal to human brain—a technique I'll teach you later. For now, however, let's look at why the primitive brain can take over, canceling out all those centuries of evolution. The key: a region of the brain called the amygdala.

* Amygdala Hijack and the Death of Rational Thought

Your amygdala, a small area deep in your brain, flies into action if it senses a threat to you—for instance, if a stranger approaches you in a dark parking lot. This threat doesn't always need to be physical; "fighting words," a financial scare, or even a challenge to your ego can light it off as well.

Your frontal cortex, the logical part of your brain, also goes on alert in situations where you sense a threat. However, this higher brain region wants to analyze the threat, and you don't always have time for that. That's why your body gives the amygdala the power to throw a switch, either directing impulses to or diverting impulses from the frontal cortex.

Sometimes when you're really scared, your amygdala instantly shuts out your higher brain, causing you to act on primitive instinct. Most of the time, however, the amygdala sizes up a situation before making its move. To understand this process, picture the amygdala as a full-to-the-brim pan of water on a stove. Heat this pan of water gently, and it can simmer gently for hours. Crank the heat up to high, however, and eventually the water will boil over catastrophically. Similarly, as long as your amygdala stays on "simmer" and isn't pushed into boiling over, you can continue to access your upper brain, which empowers you to pause, reflect, consider options, and make smart choices. When your amygdala hits the boiling point, however, it's all over.

We call this boiling-over point amygdala hijack—a term first coined by psychologist Daniel Goleman, the originator of the concept of emotional intelligence. The term "hijack" is appropriate because at that point (if you'll forgive me for detouring momentarily into another metaphor), your brain's intelligent and sensible pilot—the frontal cortex—is no longer in control. Instead, the snake is flying the plane. Your ability to reason drops drastically, your working memory falters, and stress hormones flood your system. Your adrenaline rush will keep you from thinking clearly in the next minutes, and it may take hours for the full effects to fade. Goleman no doubt was keen on this concept because when you undergo an amygdala hijack, your emotional intelligence goes out the window.

If you're trying to talk facts and reason with a person who's in full amygdala hijack, you're wasting your time. But intervene before the amygdala hits the boiling point, and the person's higher brain can stay in control. (Think of this as adding salt to water as you heat it. When you do that, you raise the water's boiling point, and it can take more heat while staying at a simmer.)

Many of the techniques I'll teach you for dealing with angry, fearful, or resistant people do just that: prevent an amygdala hijack. When you do that, you'll be talking to the human brain, and your words will get through.

* Mirror Neurons

You cringe when a coworker gets a paper cut and cheer when a movie hero gets the girl. That's because for an instant, it's just as if these events are happening to you—and, in a way, they are.

Years ago, scientists studying specific nerve cells in macaque monkeys' prefrontal cortices found that the cells fired when the monkeys threw a ball or ate a banana. But here's the surprise: These same cells fired when the monkeys watched another monkey performing these acts. In other words, when Monkey #1 watched Monkey #2 toss a ball, the brain of the first monkey reacted just as if it had tossed the ball itself.


Excerpted from Just Listen by Mark Goulston. Copyright © 2010 Mark Goulston. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

"'Just Listen' could be the definitive book on communication--today's generation's How to Win Friends and Influence People."
-Marty Nemko, Contributing Editor, U.S. News & World Report

Meet the Author

MARK GOULSTON is a psychiatrist, business consultant, executive coach, and FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer. A bestselling author whose books include Get Out of Your Own Way and Get Out of Your Own Way at Work, he writes a column on leadership for Fast Company and “Solve Anything with Dr. Mark” for Tribune Media Services, and is frequently called upon to share his expertise by the media including the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Newsweek, Time, Reuters, NPR, CNN, Fox News, and the Oprah and TODAY shows.

Author of "Never Eat Alone"

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Just Listen 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Retired_Chief More than 1 year ago
Mark Goulston has done a great job of explaining how the communication cycle works. He uses relevant examples to illustrate his ideas to help you not only listen but how to be heard. His information can be used in the workplace if you are employee having trouble getting through to people or as a supervisor who has to lead up or down ladder. He also uses examples that offer solutions to communication problems at home with your kids or spouse. The end of chapter includes a practical application tool for you to use to practice or use the concept you've just read about. If you ever thought "why don't people listen me" this book is for you!
alevy More than 1 year ago
Put simply, "Just Listen" is fabulous! It is a "must-read" for anyone who wants to enhance their relationships with others and with themselves. It contains practical and pragmatic approaches to many of the uncomfortable and difficult situations most of us encounter in both our professional and personal lives. Dr. Goulston provides the reader with real, usable language and strategies that are clearly designed to ensure successful outcomes. "Just Listen" is an invaluable tool for everyone! Dr. Goulston has truly hit a home-run with this gem of a book!
markwarner268 More than 1 year ago
Mark Goulston has hit another home run. Just Listen provides excellent advice for how to improve your relationships with even the most difficult people. The book provides just enough detail on how the brain works to make understanding the concepts easier without needing a medical degree to understand it. The nine rules for getting through to anyone are all the practices the popular and effective people use to get their point across. Mark details these practices in a way everyone can understand and put to use. The 12 ways to achieve buy-in are simple, actionable methods that will dramatically improve your ability to communicate and connect. If you only read one book this year, make it Just Listen - it is a life changer!
CoachEd More than 1 year ago
Mark has done a fine job in helping others to become better listeners. His techniques really work. I use the book in my college sales classes. Highly recommend it. You won't be disappointed.
DianaG More than 1 year ago
You'll see yourself just in the first page, tolerating someone difficult you gives you gray hair. This is more than a game of words, it is a real way to reach beyond another person's attitude by reaching into yourself first. A very healthy and productive approach that will help a lot of people personally and professionally.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best communication book I've ever read. (And one of the most helpful of all books, period.) If you've got someone that you want to get through to, this is the book for you. I love that it's based on science, so it all makes perfect sense; but it's easy to read and engaging, and full of practical examples. So many valuable tools and techniques in one book! This is a must-read for anyone--and works in both professional or personal life. Congratulations to Mark Goulston on a remarkable book.
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RolfDobelli More than 1 year ago
Being the life of the party won't help you make a sale. In fact, letting other people take the spotlight will actually garner more admiration and eventual "buy-in," explains psychiatrist Mark Goulston. This advice follows his axiom, "be more interested than interesting," which is one of his nine principles for connecting with others. Goulston, who has trained police officers and U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation hostage negotiators, devotes a chapter each to 12 powerful techniques you can use to be more persuasive. His systems and strategies will help you cross the natural barriers people erect to protect themselves, so you can communicate your ideas and goals. He fleshes out each lesson with real-life examples and engaging stories. getAbstract thinks you'll find this book quite helpful in refining ways to "get through" to others. If Goulston can negotiate with a desperate gunman, he surely can help you sway a customer - or even your teenager. To learn more about this book, check out the following Web page: http://www.getabstract.com/summary/13016/just-listen.html
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