The following is Part 2 of an interview with Mark Goulston, author of Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, discussing his techniques for productive communication.
Read Part 1.
Isn’t getting through to “unreachable” and “impossible” people extremely challenging?
As I often say, when it comes to reaching the people who don’t want to listen to you, you’ll find you have a lot in common with hostage negotiators. 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 just need to impress them that you’re the right person for a job or a relationship. But here’s the challenge: People have their own needs, desires, and agendas. 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 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. The good news is that you can get through, simply by changing your approach. The techniques in Just Listen 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.
Would you give us an example of one of your breakthrough techniques in action?
One of the most potent communication techniques is what I sum up as: Make the other person feel ‘felt.’ It’s easy to focus so intently on getting something from someone else—more work from a coworker, more respect from a boss, a sale from a client—that you lose sight of the fact that inside every person is a real person who’s just as afraid or nervous or in need of empathy as anyone else. If you ignore that person’s feelings, you’ll keep hitting the same brick wall of anger, antagonism, or apathy. Make the person ‘feel felt,’ on the other hand, and you’re likely to transform yourself from a stranger into an ally. You’ll get less attitude, less obstruction, and more support—and you’ll get your message through. Sound too simple to be true? Try it, and you’ll be surprised. For example: 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?’ Then approach the person and say, ‘I was so busy feeling upset with you 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—fill in the blank). Is that true?’ When the person tells you what he or she feels, find out what is causing that feeling and what needs to be different for the person to feel better and achieve more.
Is there anything else you’d like to emphasize to the readers out there?
Here’s one fact everyone should take to heart: You’re not just held hostage by the people who resist, bully, annoy, or get upset with you. You’re also held hostage by your own mistakes when you fail to break through to people who either don’t know you or don’t act like they care to know you. The biggest mistake people make is thinking, in frustration: ‘I could get somewhere if only I could get this person interested in me.’ The way to truly win friends and influence the best people is to focus more on listening to them than impressing them. The more interested you are in another person, the more you satisfy that person’s biological hunger to have his or her feelings mirrored 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.
Mark Goulston is a business advisor, consultant, coach, speaker, and psychiatrist. The author of Get Out of Your Own Way and other popular books, he blogs for Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Business Insider, Huffington Post, and Psychology Today; cohosts a weekly radio show; and is featured frequently in major media, including The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Newsweek, Time, CNN, Fox News, and the TODAY show.
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