Just Listen Summary (Review & Book Notes)

Updated on April 15, 2024

Listening is one of the most important qualities anyone can have. However, most people (including myself) don’t know how to do it. That’s why if you have problems listening to other people (like I have), this is the book you want to read.

Author: Mark Goulston

Originally published: 2009

Pages: 256

Genre: Business

Goodreads rating: ⭐️ 4.04/5

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The Persuasion Cycle

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.

The Amygdala Hijack

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. 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.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.

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.

The Mirror Neurons

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.

Scientists initially nicknamed these cells “monkey see, monkey do” neurons. Later they changed the name to mirror neurons, because these cells allow monkeys to mirror another being’s actions in their own minds.

In short, these cells may prove to be one way nature causes us to care about other people.

My theory, which my clinical findings support, is that we constantly mirror the world, conforming to its needs, trying to win its love and approval. And each time we mirror the world, it creates alittle reciprocal hunger to be mirrored back. If that hunger isn’t filled, we develop what I refer to as “mirror neuron receptor deficit.”

The Most Important Rule for Taking Control In A Stressful Situation

The first and most important rule for taking control in a stressful situation is this: get yourself under control first.

In a stressful encounter, to keep from blowing a chance to reach another person, you need to get your thoughts and emotions under control in minutes—not hours. In short, you need to move almost instantly from your reptile to your mammal to your human brain. That sounds impossible, but it’s not. In fact, with practice, you can do it in about two minutes. And when you do you’ll have the advantage over everyone else in the room, because you’ll be the only person who’s actually thinking straight.

The “Oh F#@& to OK Process”

“Oh F#@&” (The Reaction Phase):

This is a disaster, I’m screwed, what the hell just happened, I can’t fix this, it’s all over.

“Oh God” (The Release Phase):

Oh my God, this is a huge mess and I’m going to get stuck with cleaning it up. Sh#%—this stuff always happens to me.

“Oh Jeez” (The Recenter Phase):

Alright, I can fix this. But it’s not going to be fun.

“Oh Well” (The Refocus Stage):

I’m not going to let this ruin my life/my career/my day/this relationship, and here is what I need to do right now to make it better.

“OK” (The Reengage Phase):

I’m ready to fix this.

The Power of “Oh F#@&”

One absolutely crucial element in moving your brain from panic to logic is to put words to what you’re feeling at each stage. You can do this silently if you’re in public or out loud if you’re alone, but either way it’s a critical part of putting yourself in control fast.

Why? Research by Matthew Lieberman at UCLA shows that when people put words to their emotions—“afraid,” “angry”—the amygdala, that little biological threat sensor that can throw the brain into animal mode, cools down almost instantly. At the same time, another part of the brain—part of the prefrontal cortex, which is the “smart” area of the brain—goes to work. This part of the brain appears to inhibit emotional responses so a person can think coolly about what’s happening. And that’s just what you want to do.

So surprisingly, now is not the time to lie to yourself and say, “I’m cool, I’m calm, it’s fine.” It’s actually the time to say to yourself(at least at first): “Oh f#@&” or “I’m scared as hell.”

The “Oh F#@& to OK” Speed Drill

“Oh F#@&” (The Reaction Phase):

Do NOT deny that you’re upset and afraid. Instead, identify your feelings and acknowledge them, silently using words to describe your feelings. (“I’m really scared. I’m so afraid I could lose my job over this.”) Say this out loud if you’re alone, because the physical act of exhaling as you speak will help to calm you.

If you’re in a position where you can get away for a minute or two, do so. If not, do not talk to anyone else during these first few seconds. You need to focus entirely on acknowledging and working up from your anger or panic. If you’re in a position to keep your eyes closed for a minute or so, do so.

“Oh God” (The Release Phase):

After you admit the powerful emotion you’re feeling, breathe deeply and slowly through your nose with your eyes closed and let it go. Keep doing this as long as it takes to let it go. After you’ve released your emotions, keep breathing and r-e-l-a-x. This will allow you to begin to regain your inner balance.

“Oh Jeez” (The Recenter Phase):

Keep breathing and, with each breath, let yourself go from Defcon 1 back down to Defcon 2, 3, 4, and 5. It may help to say these words as you go through this transition: “Oh f#@&!” “Oh God.” “Oh jeez.” “Oh well. . . .”

“Oh Well” (The Refocusing Phase):

Start to think of what you can do to control the damage and make the best of the situation.

“OK” (The Re-engaging Phase)

If you’ve had your eyes closed up to now, open them. Then do what you need to do.

Forming Opinions

Think about what you’re thinking. When you consciously analyze the ideas you’ve formed about a person and weigh these perceptions against reality, you can rewire your brain and build new, more accurate perceptions. Then you’ll be communicating with the person who’s really in front of you—not the fictitious character conjured up by your false perceptions.

Opening the Lines of Communication Action Steps

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 posttraumatic 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’re 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.

The Steps to Making Another Person Feel “Felt”

  1. Attach an emotion to what you think the other person is feeling, such as “frustrated,” “angry,” or “afraid.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Next, say, “And the reason you’re so frustrated (angry, upset, etc.) is because. . . ?” Again, let the person vent.
  5. Then say, “Tell me—what needs to happen for that feeling to feel better?”
  6. Next, say, “What part can I play in making that happen? What part can you play in making that happen?”

Making People Felt Action Steps

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.

The Way to Truly Win Friends and Influence the Best People

The more interested you are in another person, the more you narrow the person’s mirror neuron receptor deficit—that 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.

Being Interested

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.

The second key to being interested is to ask questions that demonstrate that you want to know more. It’s not always easy, of course, to get another person to open up so that you can be interested in what he or she is saying.

Questions to Being Interested

In a business setting, the best way I’ve discovered is to ask questions like these:

  • “How’d you get into what you do?” (I credit Los Angeles super mediator Jeff Kichaven with this; he says it never fails to start and keep people talking.)
  • “What do you like best about it?”
  • “What are you trying to accomplish that’s important to you in your career (business, life, etc.)?”
  • “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 a first date—questions like these can often trigger a heartfelt response:

  • “What’s the best (or worst) 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?” (If the person asks, “Why are you asking these questions?”, you can say: “I find giving people the chance to talk about who they’re grateful to brings out the best in them.”)
  • “I’d like you to imagine that life is perfect . . . Okay, tell me—what do you see?” (I credit Los Angeles-based human resource specialist Monica Urquidi with this tip. If the person asks why you’re asking this, say: “I find that learning about people’s hopes and dreams tells me what’s important to them—that’s a good thing to know, don’t you think?”)

When I meet new people, I try to engage in conversations in which I ask questions that will cause them to say: “I feel x, I think y, I did or would do z” (what I call FTD Delivery).

Eventually, one of your questions will click and you’ll see the person lean forward eagerly to tell you something with enthusiasm or intensity. When that happens, do the right thing: Shut up. Listen. Listen some more. And then, once the person reaches a stopping point, ask another question that proves that you heard (and care about) what the person said.

Ways to Show You’re Interested

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 an opportunity, is to ask for advice: “That’s amazing—you grow all of 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.)

Being Interested Action Steps

First, select two or three people you consider deadly dull and make it your mission to discover something fascinating about them. Now, do the opposite. Select a person you find interesting . . . someone you wish liked and respected you more. When an opportunity arises as a party or meeting, ask questions designed to show the person that you’re interested rather than interesting. Bonus round: Are you married, or living with someone? If so, the next time you’re home together in the evening, ask, “How did that (work project, cooking experiment, etc.) that you were going to do turn out?” This will show that you don’t just care about the person but also take the extra care to know what’s going on in his or her life—and be interested in it. And after you ask this question, stun your partner by actually paying attention to the answer.

Making People Feel Valuable Action Steps

Identify a person at work or in your personal life who constantly creates problems where none exist. The next time the person complains about a problem, say, “What you’re saying to me is so important that I’d like you to take responsibility for coming up with a solution. When you have some ideas, call me, and we’ll get together and go over your solutions. I really appreciate your help.” Next, identify several people you value who might be feeling neglected. Call or write them and let them know how they’ve made an important difference in your life—or give them a “Power Thank You”.

How to Help People to Exhale Emotionally and Mentally

Let’s say, for instance, that you’re confronting Dean, your boss, who’s glaring at you across his desk with crossed arms and a thunderous brow. One of the best ways to get Dean to exhale is to get him to uncross his arms—both the real ones and the ones in his mind. Keep this in mind: just as the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the crossed arms in a person’s mind are connected to physically crossed arms. Get a person to uncross his arms physically, and you can get him to uncross his arms mentally.

To do this, ask Dean a question that creates tremendous emotion or passion in him. (That’s why I goaded Mr. Williams, which seems counterintuitive with a very sick patient.) Words won’t be sufficient to communicate what he feels, and he’ll need to use his arms to emphasize what he says. That’s why you often see people using their arms and hands to make a point even when they’re talking on the phone.

When Dean uncrosses his arms and uses them to communicate, it will open a door in his mind. The problem is that when that door first opens, there’s no room (yet) for you to get through it, because of the barrage that’s coming out of the door at you. So here’s what you do:

  1. Give Dean plenty of time to express whatever he’s saying. When people vent, whine, or complain, they’re trying to prevent an amygdala hijack that could make them act out in some fight-orflight way that could be far more destructive. Once they pick up speed, they don’t want to be interrupted. (It’s like finally having the opportunity to use the rest room after you’ve been stuck on the highway and not wanting to have to stop before you’ve relieved yourself!) The best thing to do when someone is venting, whining, or complaining is to avoid interrupting.
  2. Don’t take issue with anything Dean says, become defensive, or get into a debate.
  3. After he vents, you’ll both be exhausted. This is not to be confused with a relaxed state. The difference between exhausted and relaxed is that when you’re exhausted, you feel empty and tired and you’re not open to input. At this point, it may appear that it’s your turn to talk—but it’s not. Talking right now is the rookie mistake that most people make. If you start to talk now, Dean will close down because he’s too exhausted to listen.

Instead, pause after he’s unloaded on you, and then simply say, “Tell me more”.


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 as passionate, but other people think you’re “over the top.” When that happens, the result is buy-out.

Dissonance makes a person stop thinking “What can this 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 grievances for hysteria—the results can be fatal to a relationship.

The greatest single cause of dissonance is the fact that people behave their worst when they feel most powerless.

The 10 Most Common Misperceptions that Cause Dissonance

In my experience, the ten most common misperceptions that cause dissonance are the following.

Believing You Are:

  • Shrewd
  • Confident
  • Humorous
  • Energetic
  • A Person with Strong Opinions
  • Passionate
  • Strong
  • Detail oriented
  • Quiet
  • Sensitive

When Others Perceive You As:

  • Sly
  • Arrogant
  • Inappropriate
  • Hyper
  • Opinionated
  • Impulsive
  • Rigid
  • Nitpicking
  • Passive or Indecisive
  • Needy

One Good Way to Overcome Dissonance

One good way to overcome the dissonance-creating traits you identify is to use what renowned leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith calls “feedforward.” Here’s how it works.

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 hostile.”) 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. As Goldsmith says, “It works because we can change the future but not the past.”

How to Erase Dissonance Before It Happens

Being able to articulate awkwardness while being polite and respectful plays well in any culture, so here’s all you need to do: simply admit up front that you’re likely to screw up. For instance, say, “I’ve read up on your culture and the differences between both of our cultures, and yet I am certain I will say and do things that may not fit. I’m not planning to, but it may happen—and the last thing I would want to do is embarrass you in front of your peers by making you have to explain my offensive behavior. If you tell me the most common things my culture does or doesn’t do that offend your culture, I will try my very best to not act in those ways.”

This type of humility totally disarms most people. It also erases dissonance even before it happens, because your advance apology will cancel out just about any mistake, from using the wrong fork to accidentally calling your host’s wife a cow. So if you travel, and particularly if you participate in crucial cross-cultural business meetings, remember the art of “preemptive dissonance defusing”— and never leave home without it.

Overcoming Dissonance Action Steps

The next time you start sliding into an argument (especially if it’s one of those chronic, simmering arguments that crops up constantly), stop and say to the other person, “Right now I feel like you’re attacking me, and I’m guessing you feel like I’m attacking you. But in reality I think we’re both defending ourselves. So I want you to know that I don’t want to hurt you—and I know you don’t want to hurt me. If we can start fresh with that agreement in place, I bet we can solve this problem together.” When you do this, you’ll replace your mutual dissonance (“this person is being a jerk”) with mutual respect (“this person truly wants to solve our problem”).

How to Cover Your Mistakes

I learned that it’s much better to reach out for help before you mess up. When you wait until you mess up and then ask for help, others may see it as a way to get out of being punished. Even so, it’s better to reach out after a screw-up than to avoid reaching out at all.

When you bare your neck, however—when you find the courage to say “I’m afraid” or “I’m lonely” or “I don’t know how to get through this”—the other person will immediately mirror your true feelings. It’s biology; he or she can’t help it. The person will know how bad you feel, and even feel the same pain. As a result the individual will want your pain (which is now, to some degree, his or her own pain) to stop. That leads to a desire to help . . . and a desire to help leads to a solution.

Overcoming Failure Action Steps

The next time you’re afraid or in distress, don’t pretend that you’re not. Instead, identify the people you’re trying to hide your emotions from—and then tell them the truth. The next time you suspect that someone else is afraid or in distress, encourage the person to tell you about it. Then let the person know you respect him or her for having the guts to say “I’m scared” or “I made a mistake.”

How to Deal with Toxic People

There are three ways to do this. The first is to confront these people directly. The second is to neutralize them. The third is to walk away and make sure they don’t follow you.

How to Deal with Needy People

Needy people refuse to make decisions or handle issues on their own. They want you to spend hours holding their hand and helping them sort through their life problems. You’ll handle one crisis only to find them weeping inconsolably over the next one. And you’ll sink deeper and deeper in the quicksand each time you try to pull them out.

You’ll also feel depressed and incompetent if you spend too much time with a needy person.

If you’re in a relationship with a pathologically needy person, the obvious answer is to get out. But if the relationship matters to you and you still want to save it, one option is to give the person the chance to reform.

How to Stand Up To a Bully

Bullies come after you because they think you’re easy prey. Refuse to follow their script, and they’ll usually give up and seek an easier target.

When a bully tries to intimidate you by verbally attacking you, do this. Make eye contact. Act perfectly polite but ever-so-slightly bored, as if your mind is elsewhere. Let your body language transmit the same message: Stand up straight, be relaxed, and cock your head as if you’re listening but not very hard. Let your arms hang casually, instead of folding them defensively across your chest. Often, this response makes bullies feel uncomfortable or even foolish and causes them to back down.

How to Deal with Takers

They’re the ones who hit you up every day for a favor (“Could you cover the phones for me?” “Take my kids to soccer practice?” “Pick up the lunch tab?”). Strangely, however, they never seem to have time or energy to help you in return.

Avoid takers when you can, but if that’s not possible, neutralize them. How? It’s the easiest trick in the book. The next time a taker asks you for a favor, follow this scenario.

Taker: Hey, could you do the graphs for my PowerPoint presentation? I know I should do them, but I’m swamped.

You: Sure. No problem! And you can help me out by taking over the intern orientation on Thursday.

Taker: Uhhhh. . . .

You: I assume you don’t mind doing a favor for me in return, right?

Taker: Uhhh. . . .

How to Deal with a Psychopath

Odds are, you’ll run into one of these people at some point in your life. If so, follow this rule: get away. Go. Run. Chew off your leg to escape the trap, if you have to. Because these people will ruin you financially, crush you emotionally, and destroy your life if it helps them—and they’ll never look back. Do not make the mistake of thinking that you can “handle” these people. I make a living getting through to people, and I’m extremely good at it—but none of the approaches I teach in this book will work with a psychopath. Quite simply, these people lack the neural mechanisms to respond to you in a reciprocal moral or ethical way.

Dealing with Toxic People Action Steps

Make a list of the people who play a key role in your life. Beside each name, answer these questions: Can I count on this person to provide me with practical assistance? Emotional support? Financial support? Prompt and willing help when I’m in trouble? Wherever you see lots of “no” answers, think about expecting more from that person—or about easing the person out of your life.

Now, for the hard part: Make a list of the people who count on you and answer these same questions: Do you provide these people with practical assistance? Emotional support? Financial support? Prompt and willing help when they’re in trouble? If you’re honest, you’ll probably spot some answers that make you cringe. If so, take the steps you need to take to be a positive person—not a toxic one.

The Question to Move a Person from a Defensive Position to a Open Attitude (The Impossibility Question)

The Impossibility Question works with a person who’s somewhere between resisting and listening, but not ready to move to considering. Typically, the person is wavering between fear (“this is a threatening idea, and it will fail and ruin me”) and apathy (“this may be a good idea, but it sounds like too much effort on my part”).Here’s how it works.

You: What’s something that would be impossible to do, but if you could do it, would dramatically increase your success?

Other person: If I could just do ____ , but that’s impossible.

You: Okay. What would make it possible?

That’s it, just two quick questions: “What’s something that would be impossible?” and, “What would make it possible?”.

The Paradox to Help People Cooperate with You (The Magic Paradox)

For example, say: “I’ll bet you feel that nobody knows what it’s like to be scared that you can’t pull this project off. And I’ll bet that you’re upset because you think we’re all feeling let down by you. What’s more, I’ll bet you feel that nobody can possibly understand how hard it is to deal with all the stuff that’s happening in your life.”

The first paradox: by saying explicitly that you know he feels that nobody understands, you’ll make him realize that you do understand.

Here’s the second paradox: When you spell out all of Art’s reasons for being negative, you’ll shift him into a more positive attitude.

The Magic Paradox Action Steps

Select someone at work who’s resistant to cooperating with you and either makes excuses for not doing something or responds with a “Yes, but.” (Be sure the person is actually capable of doing the job and has enough time and resources to accomplish it.)

  1. Say to the person: “I’ll bet you feel that there is no way you’re going to be able to do what it is that I’m asking you to do, isn’t that true?” If you’re on track the person will nod, and be puzzled and slightly disarmed by your understanding.
  2. Follow that with: “And I’ll bet you’re hesitant to tell me straight out that you can’t get it done, isn’t that also true?” The person will probably nod in agreement or even say, “Yes” in response.
  3. Finally say, “In fact you may be thinking that the only way to get that done would be to do ______.” (Let the person fill in the blank.)
  4. Then work with the person to make that solution a reality.

How to Use the Empathy Jolt

When you use the Empathy Jolt, avoid the mistake of interjecting your own opinions during the process—even if they’re positive ones (“I certainly agree about what you’re saying about Simon’s talents”). Your goal is to get two people to mirror each other, and they can’t do that if you’re standing between them. So facilitate, but don’t butt in.

Also, understand that you’re not trying to solve the problem that’s on the table right now (a kid who’s violating curfew, a coworker who’s missing deadlines, etc.). Instead, you’re shifting people to a place where they can solve the problem—and the next one that comes up, and the one after that.

Often you can use the Empathy Jolt to get another person to understand your own feelings.

Using the Empathy Jolt Action Steps

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 brusquer 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.

Dealing with Someone Who’s Not Giving Their 100% (The Reverse Play)

1. First, tell the person that you’d like to get together for ten minutes. Set a time when you can have the person’s undivided attention; if the person wants to meet with you immediately, respectfully say, “No, you’re in the middle of something and it isn’t a life-or-death matter. It’ll wait until you’re not distracted by anything else.”

2. Prepare yourself for the meeting by thinking of three specific, legitimate ways in which the other person may be disappointed or frustrated with you. For instance: Tina thinks I always give her the least interesting projects. She’s probably frustrated because I didn’t give her a big enough budget to get the equipment she’d like. And she’s probably mad because she inherited lots of problems created by the last person in her job, and sometimes I blame her for them. It doesn’t matter how frustrated or disappointed you are; set all of your own issues to one side, and think like the other person.

3. When the time for your meeting arrives, the other person will be expecting you to criticize or be confrontational. Instead, say, “You’re probably waiting for me to lay out a list of complaints, like I usually do. However, I was thinking about the reasons why you might be disappointed in me. You’re probably afraid to tell me about these things, because you figure I’ll get defensive. I think these things are. . . .” Then lay out the three things that you suspect disappoint the person most about you.

4. End with, “Is that true? If not, what are the things that most frustrate you about me?”. Then listen to whatever the person says, pause, and say, “And how much do those things bother you?”

5. After the person replies (probably rather timidly), respond sincerely with, “Really . . . I didn’t know and I guess I didn’t want to know. I’m sorry and I’ll try to do better in the future.”

6. Then stop. If the person asks, “Is there anything else?”, say sincerely, “No, that’s all I wanted to say—I really appreciate what you’ve told me.” If the person persists and asks why you’ve initiated this conversation, respond with something like this: “I know I make mistakes, and I know that people may be hesitant to point them out to me. And I know I can do a better job myself, and create a better work environment, if I’m aware of what I’m doing wrong.”

Using the Reverse Play

The Reverse Play can move a person from defiance to cooperation in a heartbeat, but make sure you choose the right targets when you employ this approach. The approach works best with people who are “trainable”—those who just need a little incentive to shape up.

However, if you’re not sure whether to continue a relationship or abandon it, you can try using the Reverse Play as a diagnostic test. People who respond to it by boosting their performance and working to earn your respect are keepers. As for those who continue to disappoint you instead of reciprocating your humility, don’t go ballistic and strike back as you’ll be tempted to do. Instead, just say “goodbye”.

Using the “Do You Really Believe That?” Action Steps

Think of someone you deal with who often uses hyperbole to make a point, exhausts you with his or her histrionics, and makes you want to run in the other direction each time the two of you meet. The next time this person starts in on an overheated rant, simply let it slide off your back. Then pause for a count of five and say, “Do you really believe that?” Watch the person backpedal, and then pin the person down about the details of the actual problem (if one really exists).

How to Confront an Angry Person

Instead of shutting you down, I encouraged you to go deeper by using words like “Hmmm,” “Really,” and “And so.” Each time I did that, you calmed down a little more. As a result, by the end of our talk, you weren’t trying to tell me why you’d fail. In fact, you were working hard to convince me that you’d succeed.

“Hmmm . . .” is a tool to use when you’re facing a person who’s angry, defensive, and sure you’re the bad guy. It works in a wide range of settings—everything from a hostage crisis to an angry customer scenario—because it rapidly turns a potential brawl into a cooperative dialogue.

“Hmmm?” is just one of many phrases that can rapidly defuse a conversation that’s escalating. Others include: “Really?,” “And so . . . ,” “Tell me more,” “Then what happened?,” and “What else can you tell me?” Of all these, “Hmmm . . .” is my favorite opening line because it catches people off guard—and catching people off guard is a good way to stop a meltdown. Move a person from hostility to mild confusion and already you’ve moved one step in the right direction.

However, it doesn’t matter which exact words or phrases you pick. The key is how you use them: not to argue, defend, or make excuses, but to say: “You’re important. Your problem is important. And I’m listening.” Get that message across, and your problem—no matter what it is—is already more than halfway to a solution.

How to Confront a Problem

If there’s a big, glaring problem standing between you and reaching another person, stipulate to it. Stipulation helps you neutralize other types of problems as well. As a psychiatrist in the business field I often fight an uphill battle as soon as business audiences find out what my profession is. When they hear what I do for a living, I can see the eye rolls and feel the skepticism from many of them.

Here are the three keys: get in (quickly and efficiently describe the issue), neutralize the problem (by explaining how to handle it or why it isn’t really a problem), and get out (move on to the next topic —do not linger or go into excess detail).

When you stipulate to a potential problem or flaw, do it in a confident and unselfconscious way. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed the person you’re communicating with will be—and the easier it will be for both of you to focus on your message.

Transforming a Relationship from Impersonal to Personal

Transacting is fine if your goal is to exchange information or negotiate contracts, but it has a fatal flaw: it doesn’t open the mind or the heart. A transactional communication is like an encounter with your ATM. Money comes out of your bank account, money goes into your hand, and everything’s utterly fair—but you don’t feel like saying “Gosh, thanks!” when it’s over. Transactional communications don’t create traction in a relationship because they’re impersonal and shallow.

To create such a life-changing event, you need to move beyond transacting to relating. How? By asking questions that let the other person tell you: “This is what I think”, “This is who I am”, “This is what I want to achieve”, or “This is how you can play a part in making my life better”.

The Key to Crafting a Transformational Question

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, interests, future success, or life?” Then ask 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?”

The “Eyes-to-the-sky” Technique

One great thing about the “eyes-to-the-sky” technique is that you can use it to reach even the most difficult person you communicate with: yourself.

The next time you catch yourself running on that transactional hamster wheel, try something different. Stop what you’re doing, and sit down. Take a breath. And say to yourself: “What would I like to be doing with my life this time next year?” or “What do I need more or less of in my life right now?” or “If my kids looked at me twenty years from now, what would make them proud of me?”.

Ask the right question of yourself, and you’ll find your eyes moving up—a clear sign that your mind is opening up to new possibilities. Answer your own question (“I’d like to be spending more time with my family”, “I need to spend less time in pointless meetings”, “I want my kids to be proud that I took chances instead of always playing it safe”) and you’ll deepen your relationship with the most important person in your life: the person in the mirror.

The Side-by-Side Approach

The Side-by-Side approach is simple: join the other person in an activity (preferably one in which you can be helpful—but even eating lunch together is good), and then ask questions designed to gain insight into what the person is doing, thinking, and feeling.

The side-by-side technique is easy to use, but it comes with three cautions. The biggest one is: When you get people to lower their guard, don’t violate their trust. Do not use this technique to troll for negative information, or people will feel like you’re trying to spy on them or trap them rather than trying to learn from them. Accept negative information with grace, but don’t seek it out.

Also, don’t argue with the person you’re talking with. If he or she says something you disagree with, resist the urge to explain why you’re right. Instead, deepen the conversation by asking another question.

The Fill-in-the-Blanks Approach

When you and a prospective customer or client first meet, the playing field is level. As soon as you sell or try to convince the other person of anything, the power shifts to the client. The key is to keep clients pursuing you right out of the gate.

The secret to this is to invite these people into a conversation rather than asking questions that put them on the defensive—and that’s where the fill-in-the-blanks approach comes in.

When you ask direct questions, you’re hoping to communicate a sincere interest. The people on the receiving end of your questions, however, can feel challenged, like a schoolchild being put on the spot by a teacher or coach.

The fill-in-the-blanks approach has the opposite effect: it draws a person toward you. You don’t come off as a demanding teacher or coach; instead, you sound like a trusted uncle, aunt, grandfather, or grandmother who’s saying: “C’mon. Let’s talk this out and find a solution.”

Try this yourself, and see if you sense the difference between the two techniques. First, picture me sitting across from you and saying, “So, what do you expect to get from this book?” A little intimidating, isn’t it? Now picture me saying in an encouraging way, “You’re reading this book because you want to learn how to __________ . And the reason it’s important for you to learn how to do that now is __________. And if you could learn that and put it into action now, it would benefit you by __________”. If you’re like most people, you’ll feel willing and in fact a little eager to open up and share your thoughts with me.

The Never Again Tool

Take out an index card, write down the following words, and fill in the blanks with your answers:

  1. If I had that to do over again, what I would do differently is:


  1. I would do things differently because:


  1. My commitment to do this (the new action) the next time is_______. (1 = won’t do it; 5 = maybe; 10 = will do it).
  2. A good person to hold me accountable for doing this would be:


The No Approach

Let’s say you’re trying to get a client (we’ll call him Ned) to buy a product, hire you as a consultant, or retain your firm for a project. But after you lay out the deal you’re hoping for, Ned says no.

When Ned does this, he’s feeling a little edgy and defensive because he expects you to be frustrated or angry or upset—or to start in with a hard sell, making his life hell for the next 15 minutes. 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 this: “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 selfawareness 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 knowingit, 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 build on the moment by saying, “And the point where I went too far and the deal points I failed to address were —————————”.

If Ned’s like most people, he’ll respond honestly to these questions. As he elaborates on his points, he’ll do two things: he’ll get his frustration at you off his chest, and he’ll tell you what he needs from you. Both of these will give you the power to go from “No” to “Yes.”

The Power Thank You

Part 1: Thank the person for something specific that he or she did for you. (It can also be something the person refrained from doing that would have hurt you.)

Part 2: Acknowledge the effort it took for the person to help you by saying something like: “I know you didn’t have to do ” or “I know you went out of your way to do.”

Part 3: Tell the person the difference that his or her act personally made to you.

The Power Analogy

A Power Apology consists of what I call the “4 Rs.” They are:

Remorse: Demonstrate to the other person that you know you caused harm and you are truly sorry. For example: “I know I made you look bad in front of the boss by failing to bring the documentation you needed to make your case for the new computers. It was my fault he turned down your request and everyone has to use the old computers for another year”.

Restitution: Find some way to make amends, at least partially. For example: “I know the whole team is pissed off about not getting the computers, and they blame you. I’m going to go to each team member and explain that it’s my fault. I can’t undo the damage, but at least I can take the blame off your shoulders.”

Rehabilitation: Demonstrate through your actions that you’ve learned your lesson. If a mistake occurred because you didn’t do your job right or you shot off your mouth without thinking, do whatever it takes to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Requesting forgiveness: Don’t do this immediately, because actions speak louder than words. To truly earn forgiveness, you need to sustain your corrective actions until they become part of who you are. At this point—and not before—go back to the person you’ve hurt and say, “Are you able to forgive me for hurting you?”.

Breaking Up Silos

The first thing you need to do is to break down the thick walls between these silos. To do that, build on the things all silos have in common: the sky above (a shared vision) and the ground below (shared values).

Step 1 in this process is to hold a meeting with your team. Your goal at this meeting is to increase your team members’ sense of passion, enthusiasm, and pride in your project, so use a variant of the PEP Challenge.

In the discussion that follows, zero in on the key elements of the PEP Challenge. Let people talk about what vision they’re passionate about and how this project is part of achieving it. Let them talk about what they’re enthusiastic about when their team is buzzing and productive, and what they’re proud of (or not proud of) about the company. Draw out comments about the changes they want to see to feel more passionate, enthusiastic, and proud about what they’re doing. As you do this, you’ll feel your team’s initial apathy or hostility gradually morph into excitement and energy.

Climbing the Ladder

“What are the three things I should always do and the three things I should never do to do well in this job?”. Immediately, you’ll stand out from the crowd. Next, realize that your success depends on getting the people under you to perform—and that’s going to happen only if you communicate successfully with them. Since these people are strangers to you, use the Side-to-Side technique liberally in your first few months.

When opportunities arise, ask transformational questions that will deepen your relationship with your boss.

Also, look for occasions to make your boss “feel felt.” The higher up managers are, the more stressed and less “felt” they feel.

If you’re really serious about getting ahead, here’s another tip: look beyond your immediate boss. Are there other people, either inside or outside the company, who could help you climb the corporate ladder? If so, take my advice: kiss up to them.

Early in your career, find out who are the most powerful, respected, successful, and emotionally guarded people in the industry or field you are most passionate about. Find a way to develop a relationship by saying to them, “I want to learn everything you know. What’s the best way to do that?” Then do whatever they ask or tell you, learn everything they know, and learn how to be trusted and indispensable to them. Because the old saying is true: It’s good to have friends in high places.

The VCP Process

Misner, who’s studied networking for more than 20 years, says that effective networkers either consciously or intuitively apply what he calls the VCP Process®. Here’s how it works.

Visibility, Misner says, is the first phase of growing a relationship. Visibility is where you and another individual become aware of each other, perhaps because of your PR and advertising efforts or perhaps through someone you both know. You may become personally acquainted and work on a first-name basis, but you know little about each other.

Credibility is the quality of being reliable and worthy of confidence. Once you and your new acquaintance begin to form expectations of each other, and the expectations are fulfilled, your relationshipcan enter the credibility stage. If each person is confident of gaining satisfaction from the relationship, then it will continue to strengthen. Credibility grows when appointments are kept, promises are acted upon, facts are verified, and services are rendered.

Profitability is the phase of the relationship when it becomes mutually rewarding. Do both partners gain satisfaction from it? Does it maintain itself by providing benefits to both? If it doesn’t profit both partners, it probably won’t endure.

The Visibility Stage

At this point, don’t simply tell people who you are—tell them why they’ll like you and why they’ll want to be your friends or clients.

At those Chamber of Commerce meetings, for instance, remember the most important rule of all: be interested rather than interesting.

Talk about other people’s businesses more than yours. Ask smart questions about what people do, how they do it, and what marketing strategies work for them. Never, ever cut them short when they’re talking; instead, ask questions that will motivate them to say more.

Next, make other people feel felt. If they bring up problems (“the city is killing our business with that street repair project”), show that you care—even if the problems don’t affect you at all. Go out of your way to understand other people’s issues and help solve them, and you’ll impress them with your generosity.

You can also jump-start new relationships by asking transformational questions that show others that you value their intelligence.

Last but not least, use the Power Thank You to create good will. If another business owner has a great idea that contributes to the success of your business or your networking organization, point it out publicly in a meeting.

The Credibility Stage

At this stage, it’s absolutely crucial to avoid creating dissonance in your new relationship. You’re still getting to know each other, and each fact the other person learns about you assumes great importance.

So present yourself honestly and accurately, don’t make false assumptions about what the other person wants or needs and don’t make any promises you can’t keep.

Also, make the other person feel valued. Go out of your way to perform acts that aid the other person, and to acknowledge any help you receive (using a Power Thank You when it’s appropriate).

If you can, be the first person in the relationship to offer a referral . . . and if the person refers someone to you, go to extra lengths to satisfy that client.

In short, don’t focus on what’s in it for you. Instead, focus on what’s in it for your new friend. And work very hard not to screw things up—but if you do, use the Power Apology to make amends for your mistake.

How to Get an Out-of-Control Person to Act Sanely (Stage 1)

At this point, your goal is to move the person up from the primitive reptile brain to the emotional mammal brain. To do that, follow these steps:

1. Say, “Tell me what happened.”

Venting allows the person to begin moving from blindly striking out (the most primitive response) to feeling emotional (a higher response). The person’s screaming or yelling will upset you, but it’s far less dangerous than the threat of physical violence— so let it happen.

2. Say, “I need to make sure that I heard exactly what you said, so I don’t go off in some wrong direction. If I heard you right, what you said is. . . .”

Then repeat exactly what the person said, calmly and with no angry or sarcastic inflection in your voice, and say, “Is that correct?” When you do this, you mirror the person—that powerful connecting technique I talk about in Chapter 2. You also cause the person to move from venting to listening, which slows the brain down so the person can think more intelligently.

3. Wait until the person says “Yes”.

The simple act of saying “Yes” causes the person to move in the direction of agreement rather than hostility. “Yes” also indicates a willingness to pull away from acting out. If the person corrects what you’ve said in any way, repeat the information you’re given.

4. Now say, “And that makes you feel angry/frustrated/disappointed/upset or what exactly. . . .”.

Pick the word you think best describes what the person feels. If the person corrects you, ask the person to say what the actual feeling is and repeat it back and get another “Yes.” Remember that when someone attaches a word to a feeling, it lowers agitation. That’s critical.

How to Get An Out-of-Control Person to Act Sanely (Stage 2)

At this point, you’re dealing with someone who’s no longer striking out wildly but is still venting—better, but still a problem. So your next goal is to move the person from the emotional middle (mammal) brain up into the rational upper (human) brain. Here’s how you do it.

1. Say to the person, “And the reason it’s so important to fix this or make this better now is ______________.”

This fill-in-the-blanks technique requires the person to think of an answer, which opens the door to the reasoning (human) parts of the brain. One important tip: When you make this statement, emphasize the word now to show that you understand the urgency of the person’s need.

2. Illuminate the path out.

If the person fills in the blank by saying, “Because if things don’t change, I’m going to explode, hurt myself, punch someone”, etc., follow with, “Really. . . . Please keep talking so I make certain I really understand this.” (said without question or sarcasm, but in a way to emphasize that you are really listening).

Then say, “If that’s the case, let’s figure out how to get through this so you don’t do something that will make a really bad situation worse. I know we can, because you’ve been here before and you got through it. In fact, while we’re at it, let’s figure out a solution so you never have to get to this place again.”

This shows that you’ve heard the person, you take the problem seriously, you recognize how bad the person feels, and you’re committing to help solve the current crisis and prevent similar problems in the future. All of this makes the person feel less alone—what I call a “The Lord is my shepherd” experience.

How to Get Through Yourself

Next time you have a quiet moment, ask yourself this question: “What’s holding you back from accomplishing your goals, and how frustrating is that for you?”.

When you do this mental exercise, it’ll open your eyes to the fact that you’re not a failure. Instead, you’re human. You’re juggling dozens of responsibilities, you’re suffering from a serious mirror neuron receptor deficit thanks to your kids (especially if they’re teens!), and you’re making compromises because you’re a caring and giving person. So give yourself a break. In fact, give yourself credit for the three thousand things you’re doing right.

Your quick but powerful Empathy Jolt will clear away the guilt that’s keeping you from taking a clear look at your goals.

As you analyze your goals, avoid falling into the expectation trap—that is, the idea that “This has to happen (or not happen) for me to be happy or successful.” And don’t confuse “reasonable” with “realistic.” Reasonable means “makes sense.” Realistic, on the other hand, means “likely to happen.”

When you have a goal in mind, use this approach to achieving it:

  • Set specific targets. I tell clients to write a step-by-step plan. Like plotting waypoints on a GPS before a trip, this helps you visualize the road you need to follow.
  • Put your goal in writing. Describe exactly what you need to start doing and what you need to stop doing in order to succeed. Putting your words on paper strengthens your commitment to achieve your goal.
  • Tell someone about your goal. Call a person you respect, explain the change you want to make in your life and ask the person to either call or e-mail you every two weeks to see how you’re doing. Your desire to keep this person’s respect will be a powerful motivator to keep your commitments. If you do this, remember to give your helper a Power Thank You for assisting you, and also find a way to return the favor.
  • Keep toxic people from stopping your progress. Review Chapter 11 and identify any problem people who lower your resolve or weaken your confidence. If possible, avoid them as you work toward your goal.
  • Give it time. If you’re breaking unproductive habits or creating good ones, keep this rule in mind: It takes between three and four weeks for a new behavior to become a habit, and it takes about six months for that habit to become second nature. Be patient with yourself.

The Six-Step Pause

Here’s a little trick—a close relative of the “Oh F@#$ to OK” drill in Chapter 2—that can help you avoid making a misstep that could keep you from reaching your personal or career goals. I call it the Six- Step Pause, and it walks you up from your snake and rat brain to your human brain. Here’s how it works.

When you feel yourself starting to go astray—for instance, if you’re ready to explode at a colleague whose support you’re trying to win, or you’re on the sixth day of quitting smoking and you’re thinking of running to the store for cigarettes—follow these six steps:

  1. Practice physical awareness. Identify sensations like tension, a pounding heart, a craving, or lightheadedness. Pinpoint them and give them a name. This will help you control them.
  2. Practice emotional awareness. Attach an emotion to the sensations you’re feeling. For instance, say to yourself, “I’m very angry” or “I’m desperate.” Naming your feeling will help prevent the amygdala hijack I talk about in Chapter 2.
  3. Practice impulse awareness. Say to yourself, “This feeling makes me want to _____________.” Being aware of your impulse will help you resist it.
  4. Practice consequence awareness. Answer this question: “If I follow through with this urge, what is likely to happen?”.
  5. Practice solution awareness. Complete this sentence: “A better thing to do would be. . . .”.
  6. Practice benefit awareness. Say to yourself, “If I do that better thing the benefits will be. . . .”.

How to Reach the Gatekeepers

If you’re cold calling, of course, you won’t reach a VIP easily because you’ll run into the gatekeeper blockade. That’s why it’s crucial to establish a relationship with the person whose job it is to block your path. Make that person your ally rather than your enemy, and you can reach the VIP just about any time you want. To do that, recognize that:

  • The gatekeeper is crucially important to the VIP’s success and deserves recognition.
  • The gatekeeper is probably just as interesting as the VIP, and will appreciate you recognizing that.
  • The gatekeeper is probably suffering from severe mirror neuron receptor deficit, because all day long he or she gets flak from disgruntled people simply for correctly doing the job of protecting the boss (who probably isn’t very grateful).

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Tomas Laurinavicius

Hi! I'm Tomas. I'm a founder, marketer, designer, and blogger from Lithuania, now happily living in Alicante, Spain. I'm a marketing advisor at Devsolutely and a partner at Craftled, building Best Writing and Marketful.