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  • Writer's pictureLars Christensen

Just Listen by Mark Goulston


I finished this book in September 2023. I recommend this book 9/10.

No manager can go wrong by reading this book. Most people need an exercise program for their listening muscle. The book felt like the 2.0 version of "How to Make Friends and Influence People." (It's a horrible title for a book, but you would thank me if you read it.)

Get your copy here.

My notes and thoughts:

-P28. “When bad things happen, if you resist the temptation to do anything that will make matters worse, you will discover valuable things about your company and yourself that you would never have learned had you not taken the hit.”

-P39. The problem is that while we think our first impressions of people are grounded solely in logic, they’re not. In reality, they’re a jumbled mix of conscious and unconscious truth, fiction, and prejudice. Thus, from the very start, we’re dealing with a fictional creation—not a real person. Yet, that first impression will color our feelings about another person for months or years to come. It’ll also affect how we listen to that person because we’ll distort everything the person says to fit our preconceived notions.

-P43. If you want to open the lines of communication, open your own mind first. Think of a “problem person” you don’t know very well—someone who misses deadlines, blows up for no apparent reason, acts hostile, is oversensitive to criticism, or otherwise drives you nuts. Make a mental list of the words you’d use to describe the person: lazy, slacker, rude, jerk, etc. Now think of five secrets that could underlie the person’s behavior (for example, “he’s scared about a medical condition,” “she’s afraid that we don’t respect her because of her age,” “he’s a recovering alcoholic and has some bad days,” “ she has post-traumatic stress disorder,” “he got burned by a previous business partner and now he doesn’t trust people”). Picture how your feelings about the person would change in each scenario you imagine. Once you’ve used this exercise to open your mind, schedule a meeting or a lunch with the person—and see if you can find out the real reason for the problem behaviors you see.

-P48. One explanation for the effectiveness of making a person “feel felt” lies in the mirror neurons I talked about earlier. When you mirror what another person feels, the person is wired to mirror you in return. Say, “I understand what you’re feeling,” and the other person will feel grateful and spontaneously express that gratitude with a desire to understand you in return. It’s an irresistible biological urge and one that pulls the person toward you.

-P51. The steps to making another person feel “felt”:

-Attach an emotion to what you think the other person is feeling, such as “frustrated,” “angry,” or “afraid.”

-Say, “I’m trying to get a sense of what you’re feeling, and I think it’s…….” And fill in an emotion. “Is that correct? If it’s not, then what are you feeling?” Wait for the person to agree or correct you.

-Then say, “How frustrated (angry, upset, etc.) are you?” Give the person time to respond/ Be prepared, at least initially, for a torrent of emotions—especially if the person you’re talking with is holding years of pent-up frustration, anger, or fear inside. This is not the time to fight back or air your own grievances.

-Next, say, “And the reason you’re so frustrated (angry, upset, etc.) is because….?” Again, let the person vent.

-Then say, “Tell me—what needs to happen for that feeling to feel better?”

-Next, say, “What part can I play in making that happen? What part can you play in making that happen?”

-P53. Inside every person—no matter how important or famous—is a real person who needs to “feel felt.” Satisfy that need, and you’ll transform yourself from a face in the crowd to a friend or an ally. Think of someone you’re trying to reach who either makes excuses or pushes back in some manner. Put yourself in the person’s shoes and ask yourself, “What would I feel in this person’s position? Frustrated? Scared? Angry?” Approach the person and say, “I need to talk to you about something. I was so busy feeling upset with you and then acting impatient and irritated that I stepped on your toes instead of walking in your shoes. When I stopped to do that, I thought if I were you, I’d feel frustrated (scared, angry, etc.) Is that true?” When the person tells you what he or she feels, find out what’s causing the feeling and what needs to be different for the person to feel better and achieve more.

-P57. From a brain science standpoint, here’s why: The more interested you are in another person, the more you narrow the person’s mirror neuron gap—that biological hunger to have his or her feelings mired by the outside world. The more you do that, the more intrigued the person is with you in return and the more empathy the person feels toward you. So, to be interesting, forget about being interesting; instead, be interested.

-P59. So, How do you master the skill of being interested—and be sincere when you do it? The first key is to stop thinking of conversation as a tennis match. (He scored a point. Now I need to score a point.) Instead, think of it as a detective game in which 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. When you do this, your expectations will show in your eyes and body language. You’ll instinctively ask questions that let the other person fully develop an interesting story rather than trying to trump that story. And you’ll listen to what the person is saying rather than thinking solely about what you’re going to say next.

-P60. In a business setting, the best way I’ve discovered to ask questions like:

-“How’d you get into what you do?”

-“What do you like best about it?”

-“What are you trying to accomplish that’s important to you in your career?”

-“Why is that important to you?”

-If you were to accomplish that, what would it mean to you, and what would it enable you to do?”

In personal relationships—for instance, at a party or on the first date—questions like these can often trigger a heartfelt response:

-“What’s the best part of (coaching your kid’s soccer team, being away from home, etc.?”

-“What person has had the biggest influence on your life?”

-“Is that the person you’re most grateful to? If not, who is?”

-“Did you ever get a chance to thank that individual?”

-P61. And then, once the person reaches a stopping point, ask another question that proves that you heard (and care about) what the person said. For example, if the person tells you that her college math professor had a huge influence on her life and explains why, don’t reply by launching into a speech about your own professors. Instead, follow up with a question like: “I’m curious—why did you decide to go to that particular school?” Or, “Whatever happened to that professor? Do you still keep in touch?” Another way to show you’re interested is to summarize what the person is saying. For instance, is the person regaling you with the story of a nightmare vacation trip? If so, repeat back some of the money points of the story: “Holy cow! You broke your leg, and you still made the flight. Unbelievable.” Another good move if the conversation offers the opportunity is to ask for advice: “That’s amazing—you grow all your own herbs? Tell me: How do you keep your cilantro from bolting?” People love offering advice because it makes them feel both interesting and wise.

-P63. The measure of self-assurance is how deeply and sincerely interested you are in others; the measure of insecurity is how much you try to impress them with you.

-P78. Dissonance occurs when you think you’re coming across in one way, but people see you in a totally different way. Jack, for example, thought he came off as quietly competent, but in fact, he came off as timid until he made people see him in a different light. Dissonance also happens when you think you’re coming off as wise, but people see you as being sly—or when you think you’re coming off passionate, but other people think you’re “over the top.” When that happens, the result is a buy-out. Dissonance works the other way around, too: it occurs when you think you perceive someone else accurately, but the other person doesn’t agree. There’s hardly anything more annoying to another person than hearing you say, “I know where you’re coming from,” when you don’t really have a clue. Often, this happens when you aren’t listening deeply enough to know what the other person is trying to communicate. Dissonance makes a person stop thinking, “What can the person do for me?” And start wondering, “What is this person planning to do to me?” It also keeps you and another person from connecting—or, from a neurological point of view, achieving mirror neuron empathy—because you’re not sending the message you think you’re sending. People can’t reflect your confidence if it looks like arrogance. They can’t mirror your concern if it sounds like hysteria. They can’t mirror your calmness if they interpret it as apathy. And if you’re misperceiving them—for instance, if you mistake their legitimate grievance for hysteria—their result can be fatal to a relationship.

-P82. First, pick the behavior you most need to change (For instance,” I want to be better at accepting criticism so people don’t see me as defensive.”) Now, approach anyone—your spouse, a friend, even a total stranger—and ask that person to suggest two things you can do in the future to change this behavior for the better. Better yet, say to this person that you are looking to improve yourself as a boss, subordinate, friend, or whatever your relationship is with that person. Say that you’d like specific suggestions about something you could do differently going forward to improve the relationship from the other person’s point of view. If the person knows you, ask him or her not to talk about what you’ve done wrong in the past but only about how you can do better from this point on. Listen to what the person says and respond with only two words: “Thank you.” Then, repeat this process with additional people. The great thing about this approach is that while most people are closed off to criticism about a mess-up in the past, nearly everybody is much more open to great ideas for future success.

-P112. Here is how it works. You: What’s something that would be impossible to do, but if you could do it, would dramatically increase your success? Okay. What would make it possible?

-P118. Without even thinking, I blurted out, “I never knew it was so bad. And you can’t help you kill yourself, but if you do, I will still think well of you. I’ll miss you, and maybe I’ll understand why you needed to.” I was horrified as soon as I said it—I’d actually given my patient permission to kill herself! But as my words hung in the air between us, the woman turned to me and, made full eye contact and simply said: “If you can really understand why I might need to kill myself, maybe I won’t have to.”

-P131. To make empathy come more naturally to you, give yourself an Empathy Jolt every day or so. For instance, when a coworker you don’t like much is on the phone with a difficult client, observe the situation and ask yourself, “How would I feel if I were him right now? Would this conversation make me angry, frustrated, or unhappy?” Or if your boss is brusque than usual one day, ask yourself: “ How would I feel if I had all of her responsibilities and worries today?” The more you do this, the less stress and frustration you’ll feel with the people around you—and the better you’ll be at getting through to them.

-P154. “I’d like you to imagine it’s a year from now, and you and your bosses are reviewing the people you’ve hired this year—and when it comes to this position, they say, ‘Get is 10 more like that one. That person was one of the best hires we’ve had in a long time.” Can you tell me what that person did for them and got such a rave review?”

-P158. The key to crafting a transformational question is simple: Ask yourself, “What single question will show this person that I’m interested in his or her ideas, interest, future success, or life?” Then as it. Here are some examples:

-“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?”

-P169. If you’re a manager, use the Side-by-Side technique (Coaching questions) to find out what’s going on with your most productive employee and see if you can uncover ways to make that person even happier about working with you. Then turn around and use it with your least productive employee, and see if you can discover any clues about why the person underperforms.

-P173. Dana does two other smart things in her opening move that you should emulate. The first is to say, “You’re thinking of buying…” because that’s more positive than “you’re trying to find,” which sounds like hard work, or “You need,” which implies a subservient position. “Thinking of buying” reinforces people’s belief that they’re in control and have positive options and choices. Dana also talks about “our software or a product like it,” rather than just saying “our product.” (As a consultant, I use the words “me or someone like me.”) Acknowledging that a person can choose someone else or a different product makes a potential client feel less hit upon or cornered. But the real force of the Fill-in-the-Blanks technique lies in the simple fact that you don’t tell people what they want or even ask them what they want. Instead, you get them to tell you what they want. This immediately makes people think, “Yes, yes—that’s why I’m here meeting with you.” As a result, you don’t need to put your foot in the door. Instead, the client or customer will open it for you and invite you in.

-P177. If you do any of these things, you’re not going to win Ned over. Instead, take a breath and then, as earnestly as possible, say something like: “I either pushed too hard or failed to address something that was important to you, didn’t I?” After Ned recovers from his momentary shock at your self-awareness and humility, he’ll nod in agreement or even say, with an awkward smile, “You sure did.” At that moment, the advantage shifts to you. Why? Because Ned’s mentally agreeing and aligning himself psychologically with you. In other words, without knowing it, he’s actually beginning to say “yes.” Once you score this agreement (“Yes, I agree that you blew it!”), it’s time to use the Fill in the Blanks approach to building on the moment by saying, “And the point where I went too far and the deal points I failed to address were….”

-P195. Good chapter on how to climb the ladder.

-P198. The next time you meet your client, wait for him to make another demand with his, “Now, everyone, stop what you’re doing and listen to me!” Style of interruption. Quietly allow him to lay his new demand on the table. At this point, say very calmly and in a positive way, “Excuse me, but before we continue, you do know that if we listen to you and drop whatever we’re doing now, we won’t be able to finish that task—which was critically important to you last week. So I need to clarify which tasks you’d like us to do now: the task you thought was a top priority last week or the task you think is a top priority this week.” This approach will bring your narcissist to a halt because it’s no longer you versus him. Instead, it’s his former self versus his current self. When he can’t create a win-lose situation in which you lose and he wins. He’ll need to come up with a workable situation in which you lose and he wins; he’ll need to come up with a workable demand instead.

-P210. Would you say any of these things to someone you love? Of course not. When it comes to talking to yourself, however, there’s no limit to how brutal you can be. Just look at the self-criticism contained in your comments: You’ve told me you’re disgusted with yourself, you’re a shrew, and you’re sure you’ll fail. Keep talking to yourself that way, and guess what? You probably will fail. Want to succeed instead? Then, try something different. Next time you have a quiet moment, ask yourself this question: “What’s holding you back from accomplishing your gold, and how frustrating is that for you?”

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