Just Listen by Mark GoulstonWhen I picked up Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone by Mark Goulston, I was looking for something to help me connect with other people.

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At this time, specifically as a manager, I’ve been looking for ways to improve and connect better, but it’s a theme that comes up for me a lot in both professional and personal relationships.

Just Listen offers a slew of tools for anyone to use to connect better, listen more, and as the title says, get through to absolutely anyone. I’m no expert, but after reading this book, I’m certainly more intentional about how I approach conversations.

There are so many different tools and techniques that Goulston offers in the book, but I’m going to focus on just a few that are easier to illustrate in a summary. Many of them in the book have great backstories and illustrations that would be harder to really grasp without reading it.

I’ll be summarizing:

The Persuasion CycleMirroringBeing VulnerableTransactional vs Tranformational ConversationsThe Power Thank YouThe Persuasion Cycle

The Persuasion Cycle is one of the first things that Goulston writes about in Just Listen. I think of it a bit more linearly, than as a true cycle, but it’s a good concept to start with.

When trying to persuade someone of something (especially when they’re not interested), you have to listen to the person, to effectively take them through these steps:



The book is focused on the first two steps of the cycle: taking someone from resisting to listening, and listening to considering. And that takes us to one of Goulston’s first tools, Mirroring.


This technique is used to disarm someone, and let them know that you’re understanding and listening to them. We’ve all probably heard about forms of mirroring in the past: mirroring the way someone talks, their tone of voice, manerisms, etc. Or mirroring the way someone sits, stands, crosses their legs, etc. These techniques help to subconsciously connect you with the person you’re mirroring.

The form of Mirroring that Goulston discusses in Just Listen feels even stronger than this. He talks about a way to say exactly what’s in the other persons mind out loud, and ask them if that’s what they’re thinking. The goal in the end is to get this person to move through the first step in the persuasion cycle: from resisting to listening.


Goulston’s first example of this is extreme, but it does help to illustrate the point.

He wrote about a situation where a man was in a parking lot with a gun to his head, ready to take his life. The police show up, and the negotiations team, etc., to try and talk him down.

The negotiations officer (might not be his official title), tries for an hour and a half to calm the man in the car down, with no avail. The situation is dire, and nothing is working. Enter a new negotiations officer with some advice. He says to officer #1, tell him this:

“I’ll bet you feel that nobody knows what it’s like to have tried everything else and be stuck with this as your only way out, isn’t that true?”

Take notice of the structure of the sentence. It’s fairly simple: I’ll bet you feel _________ , isn’t that true?

The man in the car confirms, still upset, but confirms that that is how he’s feeling. The officer goes at it again:

“Yeah, and I’ll bet you feel that nobody knows what it’s like to start every day believing that there’s more chance that something will go wrong than go right, isn’t that true too?”

After this, the man in the car starts to relax a little. He’s beginning to feel understood. The officer begins repeating back what the man is saying, to confirm that he’s really listening. After sometime, they got the man out of the car safe and sound.

Although, this was an extreme example, I could think about a few situations right away on how I could apply this type of question to my own life. We often know how other people are feeling, and what they’re thinking, but we don’t often consider putting that out there in the open. This level of honesty can be disarming and very useful.

Can you think of a situation that you could use this in? These techniques can be used in any relationship: at home, work, or with friends and family.

Being Vulnerable

“Show them your neck, and they’ll want to show you theirs.”

This is an easy one, that I think we all understand, but could use a reminder on now and then. Being vulnerable is one way to help other connect with you.

Because of mirror neurons, when you share your vulnerabilities with others, they will feel what you’re feeling, and will want to help you.

This means, that you should be honest about mistakes, be honest about your fears, and reach out for help when you need it.

If you try to cover up your mistakes or your fears, then people will be less likely to help you, and less likely to be understanding when you do screw up. So, be honest.

This honesty can move people from rooting against you, to rooting for you.

Transactional vs Transformational Questions

Listening to people isn’t only about opening your ears. When we want to show people that we’re interested in what they have to say, we also prompt them with questions.

These questions can be transactional: Where did you get those shoes? Do you know where I can find a pen?

Or, these questions can be transformational: Do you find it hard working remotely, in a different time zone from the rest of the team? I know you’re a really awesome cook, what got you started in the first place?

Transformational questions are questions that they need to stop and think to answer. This type of deeper interest in a person, can make relationships more personal, which can help move a person from “considering” to “willing to do.”

Goulston writes:

“Crafting a transformational question is simple. Ask yourself: what single questions will show this person that I’m interested in this persons ideas, interests, future success, or life? Then, ask it.”

Transactional questions and conversations are simply less memorable than transformational ones. They don’t necessarily leave the other person feeling negatively, but they don’t move your relationship forward. Transformational questions will help more your relationship forward, which can help you move through the persuasion cycle.

The Power Thank You

Saying “thank you” is something we learn from a young age. As a kid, my mom always forced me to sit down and write thank you notes for any gifts I received on my birthday or other holidays. Of course, it was a good practice to get in the habit of.

Goulston writes about how to thank someone for something they did for you that really meant a lot. Saying, “thanks” falls into the transactional bucket, but a power thank you can be transformational.

Here are the 3 parts of the power thank you:

Thank the person for something specific that the person did for you.Acknowledge the effort it took for the person to help you, by saying something like, “I know you didn’t have to to ________” or “I know you went out of your way to do________.”Tell the person the difference that their act personally made to you.

Here’s an example:

Imagine a co-worker stays up late to pull together data for a project / presentation you’re working on.

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“I wanted to thank you for staying up to get all of that data together for me. I know that you missed your night class to stay here and get it all done, and I really appreciate it it. The presentation turned out amazing today because of you, and everyone really wants to move forward with the project. There is no way that I could have done this without all of the data you pulled together. Thank you so much.”

If you can, offer your apology in a group setting. The larger the audience, the larger the impact.