Just Listen

"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."

- Just Listen, page 4

I have vivid childhood memories of arguments with my parents that inevitably ended with me shouting, “You just don’t understand me!” Occasionally, as an adult, I have those moments at work – it’s that angsty teenager resurfacing. Then again, I think we’ve all had those moments at work – where we come tête-à-tête with a co-worker or boss who is so challenging to even have a conversation with, you just want to throw in the towel.

But don’t despair! Mark Goulston says there’s validity to the way each of us feel when someone doesn’t understand or accept our point of view, and that it is possible to persuade that person to our point of view. In Just Listen, Goulston draws on years of experience as a psychiatrist and business coach to demonstrate how changing your approach to these conversations – by listening a little more strategically – can translate into buy-in with a big payoff.


The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Buy-in is the secret sauce of successful persuasion

"‘Buy-in’ occurs when people move from ‘resisting’ to ‘listening’ to ‘considering’ what you’re saying."
- Just Listen, page 8

When you get someone to agree with you about a decision or idea, you’re basically getting that person to say, “Yes, I agree with what you’re saying.” Nearly all of our communication – business and otherwise – is a process of getting through to people to get them to do something different. But as Goulston points out, nearly everyone is harboring secrets at the root of their resistance. Thus it becomes our job during the conversation to discover these secrets in order to get the other person’s buy-in.

Achieving buy-in means that you must crack the other person’s shell and get them to talk a bit more openly. Based on what they tell you, you’ll be able to better understand their resistance. To a certain extent, this requires a more proactive and strategic approach to communication because you need to move them through “The Persuasion Cycle.” This means going from listening to considering to willing to do to doing to glad they did it.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Talk to their human brain

"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."
- Just Listen, page 14

Although we use usually think of ourselves as having just one brain, Goulston reminds readers that technically we have three brains. They are: the lower reptilian brain, the middle mammal brain and the upper primate brain. These brains overlay each other, but largely function independently. Depending on where someone is in “The Persuasion Cycle,” they’ll be tapped into a different part of their brain.

The primate brain is the part that “weighs a situation logically and rationally and generates a conscious plan of action”. Goulston suggests that the easiest way to connect with the primate brain is to make the other person feel understood. This gives them a sense of relief and they are able to relax, which allows the primate brain to take over. Generally, what someone says and how they are acting will give you clues as to what they need, and in turn you can mirror that back to them.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

9 core rules of getting through to anyone

"So when you encounter problem people, realize that there’s a reason they’re behaving the way they do."
- Just Listen, page 43

Although moving someone through “The Persuasion Cycle” can seem challenging, Goulston outlines the 9 core rules of getting through to anyone, which are easy to implement and demystify the process. Interestingly, several of these strategies are actually about you shifting your perspective.

1. Move yourself from “oh f*@& to ok.” In order to get through to someone else, you have to start with yourself. Learn how to be in control of your own thoughts and emotions, which is especially useful for stressful situations.
2. Rewire yourself to listen. Most of our new knowledge builds on prior knowledge, which means we are frequently making decisions based on assumptions. Opt instead to open your mind and be critical of what you’re thinking.
3. Make the other person feel “felt.” Put yourself in the other person’s shoes in order to understand their perspective and demonstrate compassion for them.
4. Be more interested than interesting. Stop thinking of conversation as a tennis match, and instead enter conversations curious to uncover something interesting about the person.
5. Make people feel valuable. It is an innate human truth that people want to feel valuable, so if someone is challenging make sure they know that you think they’re valuable and important.
6. Help people to exhale emotionally and mentally. When stress becomes distress, the other person can become unreachable. Focus on calming them down and being supportive.
7. Check your dissonance at the door. If you perceive yourself to be different than how others actually perceive you, it can create barriers to communicating with others. Seek to uncover what the perception of you actually is.
8. When all seems lost – bare your neck. Owning your vulnerability is empowering and can make others feel comfortable enough to also be vulnerable.
9. Steer clear of toxic people. Toxic people can strip you of your self-esteem, so it’s best to strip these people of the power to hurt you.

Just Listen is an incredibly useful book for just about anyone. Goulston’s advice is applicable at the office and in personal relationships. I know it will be a well-used reference book in my library whenever I encounter someone who is digging their heels into the ground or if I’m trying to close a sale on a high note.

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Vanessa Chase

ABOUT Vanessa Chase

I am a fundraising strategist and copywriter, and run the non-profit resource website, Philanthropy For All. Through my work, my goal is to help passionate non-profit folks better articulate their non-profit’s impact and work is a way that translates to engaged philanthropic communities...
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