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Everyone communicates. Yet, few people successfully reach the other person. When we can’t get through to others, we tend to respond by pushing harder, only to create even more resistance from the other party. In this book, psychiatrist, coach and consultant Mark Goulston shares the communication rules and techniques that have been proven to work from hostage negotiations to issues with colleagues or loved ones.  In our Just Listen summary, you’ll get an overview of brain science behind communciation, and the 9 rules and 12 techniques to reach anyone.

Do also check out our complete summary bundle in pdf/mp3 infographic, text and audio formats!

Just Listen summary - Book Summary Bundle

Just Listen: Getting Through to Anyone

Goulston developed the Persuasion Cycle to explain the steps in any type of persuasion.  It involves moving people from Resisting => Listening => Considering => Willing to do => Doing => Glad they did => Continuing to do.

Just Listen summary - The Persuasion Cycle

To get through to anyone, you must first get their buy-in by shifting them from resisting to being willing to listen and consider what you’re saying. Only then can you get them to take action and move through the rest of the cycle.

This book presents 9 fundamental rules and 12 techniques that can be used to reach virtually anyone in any situation. The secret doesn’t lie in what you tell people, but what you get them to tell you.

The Brain Science of Getting from “No” to “Yes”

There are 3 main things you must know about the human brain.

• The human brain developed over millions of years in 3 layers. The 3 parts work together but also conflict with one another. Do check out our full 18-page summary for an overview of the lower, middle and upper brain.

• When you’re terrified, the amygdala in your mid-brain can boil over and shut down your upper brain, so you lose your reasoning capabilities. Psychologist Daniel Goleman calls this the amygdala hijack (read the Emotional Intelligence summary for more details).

• Humans have mirror neurons that allow us to put ourselves in others’ shoes. We mirror others’ behaviors and attitudes, and we yearn for understanding and connection. When others don’t mirror how we feel, we suffer from “mirror neuron receptor deficit”. When they understand our pains and triumphs, we feel touched or even overwhelmed.

The 9 Rules to Get Through to Someone

There are 9 rules that build the foundation to effectively connect with others. Here’s a quick visual overview.

Just Listen summary - The 9 Rules to Reach People

Here’s a detailed sample of the first rule, and a quick overview of the remaining rules.

1. Move Yourself Quickly From “Oh F#@&” to “Ok”

When we’re stressed or upset, our emotions can get the better of us, leading to actions that we regret. Before you can reach others, you must first get your own emotions under control.

In times of stress or crisis, we go through a series of mental steps to calm down: Reaction => Release => Recenter =>Refocus => Reengage. Goulston calls this the “Oh F#@& to OK” process.

This rule is about compressing the process into 2 minutes so you can move from the lower to upper brain asap, to think/respond more calmly and logically.

• Become conscious of where you are in the process and name your feelings at each stage. When you put a word to the emotion, it calms the amygdala and activates the prefrontal cortex in the upper brain.

• Then, move through the process quickly with this speed drill:

Just Listen summary - Oh F#@& to OK speed drill
(i) In the Reaction phase, we think “Oh F#@&”, “what a disaster” or “I’m totally screwed.” Don’t avoid or deny your feelings. Identify and describe them mentally with words, e.g. “I’m afraid I’ve screwed up so badly I’ll lose my job.”

(ii) In the Release phase, we think “Oh God, how am I going to sort out the mess?” Breathe slowly and deeply through your nose until you start to relax and release the tension.

(iii) In the Recenter phase, we think “Oh Jeez, maybe I can fix it but it’ll be painful.” Keep breathing. Imagine yourself moving through the stages.

(iv) In the Refocus phase, we think “Oh well, I’m not going to let it ruin my life.” Think of what you can do to make the best of the situation.

(v) In the Reengage phase, we think, “OK, I’m ready to fix this.” Start doing what you need to do.

Exercise: Recall a distressful event and mentally rehearse the steps above. The next time you face a similar situation, apply the same steps.

2. Open Up Your Mind First

We size people up instantly based on first impressions, past encounters or what we’ve heard about them. Then, we use these filters to judge everything they say or do. In reality, you know less about people than you think, and what you “know” is often wrong. To get through to others, you must first be willing to remove your filters and truly understand why people behave the way they do.

In our complete Just Listen summary (get full summary here), we addresses why/how to check your assumptions and rewire yourself to listen.

3. Make Others Feel “Felt”

Often, we’re so focused on getting that we want (e.g. closing a sale, gaining others’ approval/respect) that we forget to consider their emotional needs. Conflicts arise largely because people don’t feel seen, heard or understood.

Once others feel seen, heard or understood, they mirror back empathy and become more willing to communicate and collaborate. Do check out our full Just Listen summary for the steps to help someone feel “felt”.

4. Be Interested, Not Interesting

Don’t try to impress others with your experience or how much you know, since you’ll just appear annoying and self-centered. Instead, be sincerely interested in others. This causes their mirror neurons to reflect back empathy and interest toward you.

5. Make Others Feel Valuable and Valued

All of us want to feel important and to know that we’re valued. This gives us a sense of meaning and belonging. Do this not only for the people you love/appreciate, and also annoying people (e.g. complainers or trouble-makers). Find out why/how from the complete summary!

6. Help People To Exhale Emotionally and Mentally

When people are distressed, they’re incapable of reasoning. They’re also more likely to react recklessly, vent or withdraw (i.e. avoid or suppress the issue). Help the distressed person vent and exhale first to calm down and build a connection. They must release the negative feelings to make space for positive ones, like how an infected wound must be drained before it can heal.

Digest these powerful tips in minutes with our summary & infographic!

7. Remove Dissonance

Dissonance occurs when you see yourself differently from how others see you. For example, you think you’re being confident and passionate, but others find you arrogant and impulsive. In our full version of the Just Listen summary, you’ll learn how dissonance prevents connection, and how to uncover/address dissonance.

8. When All Else Fails, Bare Your Neck (Not your Teeth)

When you admit your fears, flaws or failings (instead of hiding them or getting defensive), people will usually forgive or help you.

9. Stay Away from Toxic People

Distance yourself from toxic people who may cheat, exploit, bully or obstruct you. Recognize the types of toxic people (including pathologically-needy people, bullies, takers, narcissists and psychopaths) and how to deal with them. Also recognize when you may be the toxic one in your relationships.

12 Techniques to Get Buy-in Quickly

Once you’ve grasped the 9 foundational rules above, you can use 12 techniques in the book to move people more effectively at different stages of the Persuasion Cycle. You can mix and adapt the techniques, just like tools in your toolboxes.

The 12 techniques are (paraphrased slightly) are:

  1. The Impossibility Question
  2. The Magic Paradox
  3. The Empathy Jolt
  4. The Reverse Play
  5. “Do you truly believe that?”
  6. “Hmmmm”
  7. The Stipulation Gambit
  8. Transformational questions
  9. Cooperating side by side
  10. Fill in the Blanks
  11. Aim for a “no”
  12. Power Thank You and Apology

Let’s look at an example: the Impossibility Question. Use this approach by Dave Hibbard when people think an idea is good, but resist it because it seems risky or difficult. Open their minds by getting them to name an “impossible” goal then ask what would make it possible. This moves them from “Yes, but…” to “Yes!”

• To shift them to an open, exploratory mindset, ask: “What’s something impossible which, if it can be done, would drastically improve your success?”

• After they reply, focus them on the strategic picture by asking: “What would make it possible?” Give them time to think/reply.


Getting More from “Just Listen”

If you’d like to learn the details of all 9 rules and 12 techniques, do check out our full book summary bundle that includes an infographic, 18-page text summary, and a 32-minute audio summary.

Just Listen summary - Book Summary Bundle

Goulston ends the book with 7 detailed case studies to show how the 12 techniques above can be combined. The book includes many other examples, from hostage negotiations to patients from Goulston’s psychiatry practice and various business/personal scenarios, as well as resources like inventories for identifying toxic people. You can purchase the book here or visit for more details.


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