Mark Goulston: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

GoulstonIn his career as an organizational consultant, relationship counselor, and hostage-negotiation trainer, Mark Goulston has found what works, consistently, to reach all kinds of people in any type of situation.

In his book Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In, he and co-author John Ullmen share what they learned while interviewing more than 100 influential people and distilled a four-step model that they have in common. As he explains, “We are in a ‘post-selling/post-pushing’ world where most people can’t stand to either of these done to them and don’t enjoy when they have to do it to others.” He says, “There is a way to persuade without pushing and that is by positively influencing people, because influence can last a lifetime, whereas persuasion sometimes doesn’t even last until the end of a conversation.”

In his latest book, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, Goulston introduces a communication process in a book (first published in 2010) that can help almost anyone get to almost anyone else who may otherwise be inaccessible. Dorothy and her friends were advised to follow the yellow brick road. Goulston advises his reader to follow the five-step “persuasion cycle.” There won’t be any flying monkeys to worry about but there may be distractions so focus on the basic nine rules he identifies and master the twelve “quick techniques” he recommends.

Mark blogs or contributes to Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Business Insider, and writes the “Closing Bell” for C-Suite Quarterly magazine and the Tribune syndicated column, “Solve Anything with Dr. Mark.” He lives in Los Angeles, California.

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of Mark.

* * *

Morris: When and why did you decide to write Just Listen?

Goulston: I wrote it when I began to realize that it was less important what I said to patients and later customers, clients, and executives than what I enabled them to talk about and then when they did, to listen deeply into what they said and continue to build on it.

In simple words, I realized more success the less I talked, the more I asked questions and then deeply listened. It also seemed that the more the people I’ve worked with felt not just understood, but “felt felt” (without one scintilla of my being judgmental), the safer they felt to open up even more. And the more they opened up, the more they were invested in our conversations.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Goulston: I am humbled by its worldwide success and especially by the heartfelt reviews people have given it where a significant number have said they have read it multiple times or listened to the audio multiple times. The revelation is an incredibly painful one at how so few people in the world feel deeply listened to. I can’t prove it, but I’m almost certain that there is a direct connection between people not feeling listened to and even worse, dismissed, belittled, and blown off to people becoming violent and blowing up things.

There’s a saying by William Congreve that “music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” I think that is because when we hear the right kind of music, we feel “heard” or even known by it. I think deep caring, unfiltered listening “without memory or desire” can do the same and more.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Goulston: I am a person who has a passion for making complex and confusing things more understandable to me and over time I have become someone more articulate in words and speech. I believe the true power and popularity of the book has come not from the concepts but from the many stories that people see themselves in and the counterintuitive “hidden in plain sight” tips that appear to have helped many people.

Morris: Presumably you have received an abundance of feedback from those who have read the book, first published in 2010. Which (if any) of that feedback surprised you the most? Why?

Goulston: The abundance of people from around the world (it’s been translated into 15 languages) who have been so grateful to the book for what it has helped them with in their relationships. Something that hasn’t surprised me is how I feel bothered by the relatively few negative reviews and take them probably too much to heart. I must say that I do learn a great deal from them. It would be just more helpful if I could not take them so personally.

Morris: Which of the feedback (suggested some new areas for you to explore in your next book? Please explain.

Goulston: Actually the feedback did lead to my co-authoring with Dr. John Ullmen, my next book which was Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In, which is focused on how to influence people by listening and truly getting where they’re coming from and making sure to become aware of your blind spots and take them out of the picture. I’ve very proud of that book and for the chance to work closely with Dr. Ullmen.

Morris: In your opinion, can introverts master the five-stage “persuasion cycle”? Please explain.

Goulston: I am an introvert. In fact I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as a founding member of the “dread going, but glad I went” club. That means that if I can push myself to just get up and go to things that the introverted part of me doesn’t want to go to, it usually works out well. I think introverts can master the “persuasion cycle” and more importantly their introversion if they care enough about it. People don’t do what’s important to them as much as they do what they care enough about.

I cared enough about it because when my now 34 year old daughter was three months old I was holding her in my arms looking into her eyes. And if you’ve looked into such eyes, you’re not just looking into the eyes of utter trust, it’s as if you’re looking in the eyes of God. At any rate what I saw in her eyes was her saying to me, “Daddy, when I grow up, be someone I’m proud of and not embarrassed about.”

At that moment I realized that if I didn’t change, she wouldn’t be proud of me, because I wasn’t. And that was because I gave into my fears. I didn’t fight against my introversion, I gave into it. And at that moment I decided to say, “Yes,” to all the things I’d said, “No,” to for 30 years because of my introversion. I started raising my hand to say things. I started speaking in public at first to non-critical groups and have worked my way up to some crowds that are incredibly challenging, but that help me become even better.

I now consider myself to be a “role specific extrovert.” That means that I will push my introvert self to the side when I’m speaking so that I can deliver my message with confidence or when I am in a host role to make everyone else’s experience better.

* * *

To read all of Part 2, please click here.

To read Part 1, please click here.

Mark cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Mark’s Amazon page link

AMA/Amanet link


Leadership Excellence link


Goulston Group link

Heartfelt Leadership link

Twitter link

Facebook link

LinkedIn link

HBR link

C-Suite Quarterly link

Huffington Post link

Psychology Today link

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