Just Listen by Mark Goulston [Book Summary – Review]

Whether it’s relationships or jobs, we usually take on several roles, such as persuading others to do something, behaving according to the situation, telling ourselves to others, and having them listen to us. Unluckily, although we almost always take part in this cycle, we are not considered very successful in shaping the people around us in the way we desire.

It is our main desire to be accepted, that other people trust us, and to rely on every word that comes out of our mouth. However, sometimes our ability to communicate well and effectively with people is dulled because we are selfishly unable to focus on anything other than ourselves and our problems. And that’s why we burn our fingers.

So how can you fulfill your desire to be accepted among people? The way to do this is by listening rather than talking.

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Chapter 1 – The surefire way to eliminate the opposition and pave the way for improvement is to listen.

Do you take a moment to reflect on the conversations you have with someone every day? If so, you may have noticed that all of your conversations seem logical to you, and that could lead you in the wrong direction.

Your efforts to influence other people, persuade them about anything, and be oppressive will come back to you in opposition. You often experience this when people talk to you at a time of trouble: Their purpose is not to seek your advice to find solutions to their problems. They just want to tell what kind of stress they are going through.

Suppose a man named Steve wanted to commit suicide by jumping off a seven-story building. As security personnel surround the building below and prepare for possible death, a mediator, Lieutenant Williams, initiates an attempt to speak to Steve. Williams advises Steve that killing himself is not a solution and explains that he can help him get through the process.

But Steve strongly rejects Williams’ offer of help, as he thinks no one understands why he wanted to do this.

What was the biggest problem with this approach? Williams didn’t listen to Steve. Listening gives people, the opportunity to talk about their emotions and fears so that you determine your course of action and act according to the situation. Being heard without judgment by someone of our fears creates trust between ourselves and the people who listen to us.

Now suppose Lieutenant Brown, another mediator, goes up to the roof to talk to Steve. Listening to what Steve told, Brown responds, “I’m sure you think death is the only solution to your problems right now.”

Steve’s answer to this question is “Yes”.

Brown, who listens to him, shows an empathetic approach to Steve that he understands him.

He listens to Steve as he explains how he got fired from his job, the reason his wife left home, and other problems. As Steve talks about his problems, he begins to become calmer and with each sharing, he begins to accept that there can be solutions for these problems other than death.

Whether people adopt your views depends on how much you listen to them. In future chapters, you will learn that we have biological codes in the direction of the listening inclination.

Chapter 2 – When we see our emotions being received with empathy, we feel good.

Of course, you know the proverb “Monkey see, monkey do”, right? Looks like it’s true!

We always reflect on the emotions of the people we communicate with by identifying, embracing, and acting similarly.

Interestingly, projection is encoded in our brains: we perceive the feelings of others and experience the same emotions as them, thanks to brain cells called mirror neurons. This is why the mirror neurons were once named “monkey look, monkey do”. If one of your friends gets a paper cut of a finger, you will experience almost the same pain with shivering. Or, when you witness someone crying, and your desire to cry is related to the mirror neurons.

According to some scientists, mirror neurons are the source of empathy in humans. Researcher V.S. Ramachandran named mirror neurons “empathy neurons” because of their feature that brings people closer to each other and establishes a connection.

Also, mirror neurons are the underlying cause of our desire to calm people around us, fulfill their desires and expectations, and be validated for any event or situation.

For example, when a narrator realizes that people listening to him do not react to what they say, they start to control time, and they are drifting away, mirror neurons in his brain cause him to respond in the form of “time to take a break”.

However, if what we feel is approached not by empathy but instead by indifference, bitterness, or other antipathetic reactions, it becomes impossible for us to interact closely with such people.

According to research, if we approach other people with empathy and not be treated with empathy, the receptors of our mirror neurons will be a deficiency. Deficiency in these mirror neuron receptors causes us to feel isolated and detached.

Because of the distance communications, we provide via e-mail or mobile phones, or because we do not have the opportunity to meet individually, we can no longer reflect on each other as we once did.

Chapter 3 – The act of listening depends on the logical part of our brain rather than the emotional or instinctive part.

You came across a moment of an argument with yourself, right? You felt your consciousness was split into different “you”.

Well, your brain creates three layers of thinking at such moments, and different approaches emerge because each part has a different perception of the world.

The most primitive reptilian thinking layer is programmed to react only in emergencies. This section is built on fighting or fleeing actions. It does not waste time to deeply consider and examine the situations encountered. It just takes action.

Or: takes no action. The reptilian part of our brain is, in some cases, primarily responsible for our inaction like a rabbit with headlights.

Another part is the mammalian thinking layer, which is slightly more developed than the reptile brain: It feeds on our emotions and is the home of dramatic us inside. The mammalian thinking section is the brain in which strong reactions are felt, where emotions such as rage, envy, passion, sorrow, satisfaction, happiness, and misery are produced.

The last part is the logical common sense layer. In this layer, the brain takes the necessary information from the reptile and mammalian thinking parts and examines it deeply to make the most reasonable possible decisions.

Suppose this layer of logic is Mr. Spock in your brain. Mr.Spock is the Star Trek character who examines the advantages and disadvantages of any event and situation and tells you how to take action by taking them into account.

You have parts of your brain that determine how you react to situations you encounter, and the people you interact with also have these layers. For people to be open to what you are talking about, you must verify that their thinking layers similar to yours are active. The following sections of the summary will tell you how to find a way to have a proper consciousness in healthy interaction with people you are in contact with.

Chapter 4 – Confirm that you are thinking in the same logical brain layer as the person you are talking to.

It is important to be aware of your feelings to be able to listen to what others are saying and be close to them. Because of emotions such as scare, rage, or hysteria, we cannot make logical inferences and improve detailed methods.

For example, former US Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked to speak about his wife’s mental hospitalization in the presence of 8,000 people. In this case, Powell had to direct his feelings professionally.

Instead of feeling anger, Powell, fully conscious of his feelings, said: “Excuse me-if your spouse, who is your most beloved person in this life, is going through his worst periods, wouldn’t you do your best to save her? Do you want to say something about this?”

His ability to master his emotions on such a sensitive subject showed everyone his leadership quality.

It is unfortunately clear that we cannot always be in control.

Fortunately, if we lose our calmness in the face of situations, recognizing the danger and anxiety, we can take the wheel again and reconnect with the logical part of our brain.

When we face a dangerous situation, Mr. Spock in our brain is disabled and the amygdala, which is charged with emotions, takes over.

The feeling of fear renders the logical part of the brain dysfunctional, and actions of struggle or flight occur in the immediate decision-making mechanism.

However, verbalizing feelings of anxiety or anger out loud will restore your composure, leading to finding a logical solution to this situation.

According to research, it has been observed that simply expressing the dangers and concerns you are in helps our reptile brain to give control back to your logical brain by calming the amygdala fed with emotions.

In this case, you can ask people who feel fear and anxiety to explain their situation to you out loud. Thus, people who calm down can understand your views and suggestions more clearly.

Chapter 5 – By expressing your sensitivity, you increase the opportunity for people to share with you.

One of the most challenging stages of effective communication is to be aware that you have a vulnerable structure.

However, you can use your vulnerability as an advantage: when you open up your sensitive emotions, such as desperation or scare, you allow other people to empathize and understand you.

As you can see, projection is a key part of identifying with other people. However, the more you share your feelings with people, the more empathetic they can be with you. So, hiding your emotions from everyone will make you incomprehensible.

You are very stressed before a big presentation, and you are also embarrassed by such stress. Your coworker gives an incomprehensible opinion and you get angry with it. You will also get angry with yourself for exposing your anger.

However, if you had told your friend why you were nervous before getting angry at a situation, he might understand your feelings and bolster your morale up before the presentation.

Moreover, you should give other people a chance to show their sensitivity to you. So you both can understand the underlying reasons for your feelings more easily.

Build a scenario like this: One day, one of the lawyers working at a busy law firm did not control her tears at the Office because his little daughter cried when he was leaving home for work in the morning and said she did not like him at all. When his boss comes to the office, he finds him sad like this. She usually ignored outbursts of emotion but chose to stop by him that day.

She says that she is doing her best to turn the firm into a more family-friendly structure by talking about the challenges of keeping working life and family life in balance.  Lawyers who used to work in the firm worked long hours and hardly ever saw their families. This work routine was very weary for individuals with young children.

Without stopping crying, the sad employee who hears these confesses that he began to smoke again and gained weight. Allowing employees to talk about their vulnerabilities and listening to them without judgment proved that the boss cares about their peace of mind, thus gaining the trust and transparency of her lawyers.

Chapter 6 – Keep yourself and others on the same level so that they feel more comfortable and be more willing to talk.

What many people love most in this world is self-expression. You can take advantage of this feature by enabling people to easily express themselves and communicate with you. Asking questions to get to know the person you chat with equally will provide effective interaction between the two of you.

The most effective way to do this is the Side-by-Side method, where you ask each other questions in the same time frame and then ask more questions to strengthen your bond.

Think about a father and his son traveling together in the same car. While it is always an ordinary journey, this time the situation changes when the father asks his son which of his friends will get him in trouble in the future. The son replies with interest to this question from his father that he thinks his friend Michael probably will.

The father asks “why him? The son responds: Because Michael’s parents are divorced and he already has enough trouble. The father then asks how you would react if he found out that Michael was in trouble, and the chat goes on.

Instead of asking boring questions about his son’s lessons and school, the father allowed him to express his opinion on matters such as friendship and loyalty with questions that reveal his interest.

Proving that you care about people will add value to them and your bond will be stronger.

For example, which of the following questions would be more persuasive for a drug promoter?

“Hi Dr. X. Can I ask you a few questions about the benefits of a new drug that will only take a minute?”


“Excuse me, Dr. X, can I ask you something personal? I just wondered if you thought you were doing something fun as a doctor.”

While the first question is the continuation of an ordinary cycle, the second question is with a different approach that goes out of the loop: The drug promoter expresses his curiosity about the busy profession of the doctor.

In short, if we can get out of the ordinary communication loop, we can strengthen our relationships by allowing people to open themselves up.

Chapter 7 – With empathy, we can easily show that we care about and understand people.

Although there is evidence that empathy is an effective approach, empathy behavior cannot always be achieved through intuition.

Here is the guide to empathy:

First, describe the emotion the person you are talking to is feeling at the moment. Take the emotion of anger as an example.

Then tell him or her that you will make an inference about what she’s or he’s feeling now: “I’m trying to describe what your feelings are right now, and if I’m not mistaken, it’s anger, isn’t it? If it’s not anger, what is it?”

Then, after finding out what the emotion your friend is feeling, ask: “How angry are you?”

You will receive an emotional response, so arrange your time to listen. Keep in mind: This anger has nothing to do with you, so you don’t need to be defensive.

Then, asking them to explain their anger to you by saying that you have such angry in you because?

When you get an answer to this question, ask, “Tell me, what does it take to get a better feeling instead of this anger?

Finally, discover how you both can move together to find solutions; ask: “What can I do to make you feel better? What can you do to make you feel better?”

When you approach with empathy, the people you talk to feel that their feelings are understood, so you can communicate effectively and act together.

Let’s give an example of two agents who negatively affect their companies through ambitious struggles. The younger of these two agents has no trouble finding new customers and is in constant contact with celebrities. The older agent is skilled at dealing with customers and thinks the other agent is arrogant and annoying.

These two colleagues apply to a mediator who can offer them a solution. The mediator explains that no one understands the young agent’s feelings. The main things the young agent wants are approval, support, and some attention.

This deduction is correct. When the young agent begins to cry, the older one expresses his respect for him. He admits that this is why he partnered with him. The two agents promise not to fight again and outplay each other, and they fix the company’s negative reputation.

Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone by Mark Goulston, Keith Ferrazzi Book Review

Although your intuition may say the opposite, you need to be a good listener first to ensure that people listen to you and are open to your arguments. With listening, you can establish a mutual relationship between you and the people you speak to, allowing them to accept your opinions.

Don’t let your vulnerability be a disadvantage.

Don’t try to deny and hide your fear, stress, sadness. When you are open about your feelings, you can interact more effectively with the people you chat with and develop a communication order. This way, you can ensure that what people feel is understood by others. Your courage and honesty will dig your reputation and prove that you are reliable.

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Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/106467014-sava-ate

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