When Was the Last Time You Took Time to “Just Listen?”


What do you get when you mix a Huffington Post writer with a psychiatrist, FBI hostage negotiator trainer and an executive coach? Mark Goulston, MD. Mark has made a 30 year career out of dealing with people, ranging from scared children to people in crisis. Fortunately, Mark made time for a call with me to discuss some tips from his new book, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.

In all your years of listening to people, what are the top three tips to being a better listener?

“First, realize nobody listens with an open mind, including you. You think you are being open minded, but you’re not. One of my favorite quotes is from Wilfred Bion, who says to listen with an open mind requires that we “listen without memory or desire.” When you listen with memory, you have an old agenda you are trying to plug someone into; when you listen with desire, you have a new agenda that you are trying to plug them into, but in neither case is it their agenda. Second, if you listen with an open mind and drill down deeper, people will open their minds, hearts and wallets, because no one feels listened to. Third, the best way to listen with an open mind is to focus on what’s really important and urgent to the other person, then use all your resources to help them achieve that, even if it it requires The Miracle on 34th Street pitch. It’s important to know that this may or may not get you hired, it may allow you to refer someone else to the person to whom you’re speaking. It causes 3 amazing benefits. 1. You can relax on having to sell people, because there’s no anxiety to maneuver someone  2. It deepens the trust with the person you’re speaking to. I did this once when I drove an hour to see a person.  After listening to him, I told him he could hire me but I suggested he hire another person first to take care of a more pressing need.  It built massive trust. 3. When you make a referral to good people, say another service professional, you’ll realize that referrals are the coin of the realm in the networking world. When you make a referral, they’ll likely refer back to you.”

Mark, that’s excellent advice.  So we should listen with an open mind and really listen to the needs of people and make referrals when they’re appropriate.  What’s the impact of not listening well to a client or a colleague or a boss?

“All you have to do is ask yourself, “What’s the impact on me?,” especially if you have something important to communicate. When you get blown off or they interrupt you or they bring it back to what they need, it frustrates you. If you’re frustrated or worse, what does it do to your motivation to cooperate?”

Keeping the level of frustration down is certainly important when you’re trying to get things done.  How does being a great listener strengthen your ability to lead, manage or sell?

“The first step to being a great listener is to use the “I” word, important. The first thing to say to someone is “What you’re saying to me is too important for me to misunderstand. I’d like to repeat back what you said to me, would that be alright?” After you say that, wait for them to say “yes.” That begins the “cascading yes.”  When people do the “cascading yes” and you become clearer with their thinking, their gratitude increases toward you. If you come from a place of integrity, a true desire to help the other person, as opposed to maneuvering them, this will cause people to beat a path to your door and have them tell other people to do the same. If you disagree with something, it’s best to say “tell me how you came to that?” Before you come to a conclusion about the other person, get evidence by asking more about what they’re saying. Use conversation deepeners such as “tell me more” or “hmmm.” Use the right tone for “hmmm” like you’re saying “yum yum, what you’re saying is so good I can’t wait to hear more.

Mark, how can becoming a better listener be a competitive advantage in general?

“If you are in the position of not being listened to and it makes you angry, when someone really listens to you and helps you become clearer in your thinking, you’ll standout in their mind.”

Mark, can you give me an example of how being a better listener can benefit someone’s personal life?

“One of the key motivators for me to write this book and realize how important listening is, occurred when my now 27 year old daughter was 8 years old. She now had to share mommy with our third child. She was having trouble doing that and was throwing tantrums and requiring timeouts. I came home one day when I had to “handle” my daughter. She was having a primal deprivation. She wanted mommy and “hated” her life. Instead of sending her to her room for a time out, I asked “What is it Lauren?” in an inviting but firm way. When it was clear that I wasn’t going to punish her or go away, she responded “I was the first to be born, I will be the first to die.” My oldest daughter is the only first born in the house. We had been punishing her for being terrified. At that point, she ran and jump into my arms and said “daddy, keep talking.” At that point, we both cried. I could feel that helping her to not feel alone and not be punished could have prevented a disaster later. You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to be a good listener. If you believe that most people are decent people and when they act up, it may be something is going on inside, not that they’re bad people. Persevere with them when asking questions, “That’s not it. What’s really going on?” They’ll finally crack and say something like “I’m scared because we don’t communicate and I don’t want a divorce.” This enables people to exhale. Venting is where the other person is running you over and it feels exhausting. You feel like getting defensive and neither of you are calm, you’re both exhausted. If you don’t take the venting personally, when people go from venting to exhaling, they go from showing their teeth to showing their neck. In trusting you with your bared neck, you will typically do the same and bare your neck, too.”

Can you tell me the one thing that I should start doing today to become a better listener?

“Think of everyone that you’re trying to get through to today, personally and professionally. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, as them, how well they feel listened to and cared about by you? Be honest with yourself. If, when you do this, your answer is that they don’t [feel listened to], then ask yourself how motivated you would be to want to extend the conversation. The likelihood is, not very motivated. Now that you know this, you can say to these people “I’ve been thinking about our relationship or business together and I realize that there’s a good chance that I don’t really get where you’re coming from. I’d really like to know that. If you’re willing, please tell me what’s important to you and what you accomplish from our dealings with each other.

As I wrapped up my call with Mark, he provided me one more piece of information that can earn you more money, become better respected and develop peace in your life and the lives of those with whom you come into contact.  You’ll have to come back soon to find out that secret.

Follow Mark on twitter at @markgoulston

Crowdsourced Questions for Mark Goulston, M.D.

Mark Goulston, M.D. is a psychiatrist, business consultant, and FBI hostage-negotiation trainer. He His expertise has been tapped for in The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Newsweek, Time, Los Angeles Times, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN, BBC News, Oprah, and The Today Show. He recently wrote Just Listen, Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone. Since I’ll be interviewing Mark soon, I’d like get some questions answered for you.

Do you have a person professionally or personally that you’re having trouble getting through to? Do you struggle in times of conflict or crisis? Submit your question in the form, use a fake name if you’d like, and I’ll ask Mark. Then, stay tuned for the answers in the next few weeks!

You can follow Mark on Twitter at @markgoulston