Smart Lemming Review: Mark Goulston’s Just Listen – Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone

just-listen-mark-goulstonWhat it is: Just Listen – Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone

What it’s about: This book shares communication techniques and methods on how to turn the impossible and unreachable people in your life into allies, customers, and friends. ”

Rating: 5 stars

The Good: Learning how to use nine basic rules to get through to anyone, twelve ways to achieve buy-in, and seven ways to put it all together for success in work and life.

The Bad: Nothing, except the consequences of not reading this book.

Action Item: Worker, managers, and leaders should buy this book to understand the fundamentals of communications in numerous scenarios, ranging from dealing with difficult people in personal and work relationships to climbing the career ladder. Key takeaways include: (1) understanding the persuasion cycle; (2) how the brain really works; (3) the rules for getting through to anyone; and (4) how to achieve buy-in from resistors.

Persuasion is a Cycle

Most of us will never be a FBI hostage negotiator, although there will be times when we feel like a hostage negotiator in our communications with our friends or family. Goulston’s book Just Listen teaches you the fundamentals of communication, focusing on his Persuasion Cycle.

At work or in our personal lives, we’re trying to get buy-in from others. Goulston recommends that we work through five stages to persuade others to our point of view.


The goal of this cycle is to move from resistance to continuation to do what we’d like them to do:

  1. From resisting to listening
  2. From listening to considering
  3. From considering to willing to do
  4. From willing to do to doing
  5. From doing to glad they did and continuing to do

By explaining the Persuasion Cycle, the reader immediately starts comparing or contrasting on what he or she does compared to Goulston’s model. For example, I immediately started thinking, “I see why I sometimes fail at persuading others. I speed from Step 2  to Step 4, completely bypassing Step 3.'”

We have Three Brains?

After learning how to improve my persuasion skills, I learned that I have three brains. I didn’t know I had three brains. Did you? I knew there were moments that I felt a little too “primal” when I had a strong, negative reaction to something or felt “evolved” when I tapped into my inner Spock analytical thinking. I didn’t know that over millions of years, the human brain evolve to having a primitive reptile layer, a more evolved mammal layer, and a final primate layer. This was shocking to me. Not because of reading the word “reptile” in the same sentence with human brain, which granted, felt weird, but because it all made sense to me:

  • The lower reptilian brain is the “fight-or-flight” part of your brain. This region of your brain is all about acting and reacting, without a lot of thinking going on. It can also leave you frozen in a perceived crisis-the “deer-in-the-headlights” response.
  • The middle mammal brain is the seat of your emotions. (Call it your inner drama queen.) It’s where powerful feelings-love, joy, sadness, anger, grief, jealousy, pleasure-arise.
  • The upper or primate brain is like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock: It’s the part that weighs a situation logically and rationally and generates a conscious plan of action. This brain collects data from the reptile and mammal brains, sifts it, analyzes it, and makes practical, smart, and ethical decisions.

Finally, an explanation that summed up my human experience into one concept.

My Tricky Amygdala!

Goulston continues on this path by teaching us how the amygdala in our brain hijacks rational thought by flying into action if it senses a threat to us. I knew something had to be hijacking my thinking. I didn’t know how to control it until reading this book. It turns out, if we intervene before our “amygdala hits the boiling point, our higher brain can stay in control.” Clever, a key to success: short-circuit the amygdala to stay in control. Excellent. I can see how this tactic can be used for everything, ranging from managing bullies at work or dealing with a cranky flight attendant.

Now I also know how to let my amygdala trigger proper responses. The “flight” part of “flight or fight” is a good thing since it keeps me from being a C.S.I. victim. With practice, I can control my amygdala to keep me rational like Gil Grissom at work.


The Nine Core Rules for Getting Through to Anyone

If I had stopped on page 17 of Just Listen, I would have been content and felt prepared for all business and personal scenarios. Goulston didn’t stop there; it’s just the beginning. He keeps adding value by sharing his nine rules for getting through to even the most challenging people in our lives:

  1. Move Yourself from “Oh F#@& to OK” in a five step process
  2. Rewire Yourself to Listen
  3. Make the Other Person Feel “Felt”
  4. Be More Interested Than Interesting
  5. Make People Feel Valuable
  6. Help People to Exhale Emotionally and Mentally
  7. Check Your Dissonance at the Door
  8. When All Seems Lost-Bare Your Neck
  9. Steer Clear of Toxic People

As Goulston explains each rule, he also provides the reader with “Usable Insights” and “Action Steps” at the end of each chapter, providing you learning tools to practice each rule. My favorite rules? I have two:

  • Rule number 3 – Make the Other Person Feel “Felt”: inside every person-no matter how important or famous-is a real person who needs to “feel felt.” If we satisfy that need, and we’ll transform ourselves from a face in the crowd to a friend or an ally.
  • Rule number 6 – Help People to Exhale Emotionally and Mentally: help people to exhale emotionally and mentally by getting them to exhale by not interrupting the person or getting defensive. Let the person vent and exhale. At that point, positive emotions will fill the hole left behind by the negative ones.

After learning Goulston’s nine rules, I also know how to deal with toxic people in a more effective manner. Watch out bullies, needy people, takers, narcissists, and psychopaths, I’m onto to you. I now have Goulston strategies and tactics ready to launch whenever I have to communicate or not communicate with you.

The Twelve Ways to Achieve Buy-In

As if his nine rules weren’t enough, Goulston also gives his readers powerful tools for moving people through the Persuasion Cycle. These tools can “change the course of a business project, a sale, a relationship, or even a life.” Below are the benefits of his twelve ways to achieve buy-in:

  1. Move a person from listening to considering-and from “Yes . . . but” to “Yes!”
  2. Shift another person from resistance to listening-from “nobody understands” to “you understand.”
  3. Transition a person from resisting to “willing to do” in a single step, by changing the dynamics of a relationship.
  4. Move a resistant underachiever all the way to the “willing to do” stage by creating empathy.
  5. Move a person who’s “over the top” from resistance to listening by lowering the person’s anger or fear.
  6. Calm a person who’s upset or angry, moving the person from resisting to listening and then from listening to considering.
  7. Move a person from considering to “willing to do” by neutralizing your weak points.
  8. Move a person from considering to “willing to do” by transforming a relationship from impersonal to personal.
  9. Lower another person’s guard and move the person from resistance to listening.
  10. Move a person to the “willing to do” stage by making the person feel felt and understood.
  11. Move a person rapidly through every phase of the Persuasion Cycle from resistance to “doing,” by creating agreement where none exists.
  12. Move a person from “doing” to “glad they did” and “continuing to do” by using the Power Thank You, or from resistance to listening with the Power Apology.

Add these twelve tools to your communication arsenal and you’ll get through to people you never thought you could reach.

Fast Fixes for Seven Challenging Situations

Goulston keeps on giving by providing you with seven applications for common, but hard-to-handle situations, using a mix of the skills you’ve learned in previous chapters.

  1. The Team from Hell
  2. Climbing the Ladder
  3. The Narcissist at the Table
  4. You’re a Stranger in Town
  5. “Disgruntled Employee goes Berserk” Scenario
  6. Getting Through to Yourself
  7. Six Degrees of Separation in Networking

After learning about 1 persuasion cycle, 3 brains, 9 rules, and 12 tools, and 7 applications, I’m ready to start persuading people (for good, not evil, of course).


Mark Goulston’s book Just Listen is a must-read for anyone who must interact with people, even anti-social hermits should read the book, so they can learn how to persuade others to stop bothering them. This book is a natural fit for managers and leaders, but it’s also invaluable for those working up the corporate ladder. More importantly, it’s a must-read to learn why you have three brains and why your body knows how to avoid being a C.S.I. victim.

mark-goulston-headshotAbout Mark Goulston, M.D.

Mark Goulston is a psychiatrist, business consultant, executive coach, and a hostage-negotiation trainer for the FBI. A bestselling author whose books include Get Out of Your Own Way and Get Out of Your Own Way at Work, he writes a column on leadership for Fast Company as well as a syndicated column, “Solve Anything with Dr. Mark, for Tribune Media Services.

Frequently called upon to share his expertise with the media, he has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Newsweek, Time, and Reuters; has offered commentary on NPR, CNN, and Fox News; and has appeared on the Oprah and Today shows. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

Additional Just Listen Resources


  1. I feel like Sally Field from many years ago when she said: “You like me, you really like me.”

    Honestly I was blown away by your wonderful review of my book, “Just Listen” and more importantly that you found it so helpful and useful…as well as “Usable” to quote the insights I add at the end of each chapter.

    I continue to be interested in the importance of listening and recently discovered that it also offered the best way to calm anxiety in people, both others and your own. That is because when you: a) feel listened to and are able to get things off your chest and exhale it reduces anxiety; and b) when you concentrate and focus on what’s on other people’s mind, that get your mind off your anxiety.

    Thanks again for your support for my ideas and work and my new book.

    Dr. G

    • Thank you for stopping by to comment Dr. G! When I first started reading your book, I expected the usual self-help fluff, but did not expect to be blown away by the compelling information about the three brains, your Persuasion Cycle, the 9 rules, 12 tools, and 7 applications of your work. Amazing stuff. I recommend only about 30 business books that are required reading for career management to develop and improve their core competencies. I’m adding your book to this list. It was information, practical, and written in a way to give the reader the greatest chance of success if they follow your framework.

      Thank you for writing this book!

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