Just Listen

Just Listen

This Q&A is a selection of some of the questions posed to Dr Mark Goulston at a recent seminar he conducted. This seminar was part of the Training & Development Summit 2015 held in Los Angeles, California in February 2015. Check out Mark’s recent article, Want to Get Ahead? Try Listening which was featured in the February 2015 issue of Accelerate Magazine.

How do I deal with an executive who openly demonstrates and even seems to take delight in demeaning me and what I say especially in meetings?

Mark : This sounds like a toxic person, if indeed he/she is. Never expect him to not act that way which will keep you from being caught off guard. Say inside your head, “This is an opportunity for poise,” while imagining that this is said by someone who cares about you. That’s because how you handle their comment is a fantastic chance to demonstrate poise which will greatly elevate everyone’s, including your, respect for you. After they finish, pause for a couple of seconds and then try saying or doing any of the following (choose whichever fits you):

  • “Could you say that again? I think I missed it”;
  • “Really?” said in an unfazed tone, almost as if you are inviting them to hit you with more;
  • “Do you really believe what you just said?” which will bring into the light of the room their self-serving hyperbole;
  • Stop whatever you were saying if they interrupt you. Look down as if you’re letting them finish making a fool of themselves, and once they are finished, you then complete what you were saying even if you were in mid-sentence. That will have the effect of “deleting” what they said from the conversation;

Also, check yourself after the meeting to see whether the way you communicate does need to improve in clarity, brevity and relevance.

How do you get the C-suite to see you as a strategic partner when what they keep asking for is task oriented?

Mark : You start by asking them how each task fits into the overall strategy. For example, “Are we going to do X because it supports our 2015 goal of Y?“ You should share your interest in ensuring that all current projects are part of the strategy. Ask to sit in on strategy setting meetings or offer to be the neutral facilitator running those meetings. When reporting on achievements, show how they support the strategic goals. The bottom line – Talk about strategy and they will start seeing you as someone who is/should be connected to it.

What is your best suggestion for avoiding procrastination? Do the worst thing on the list first. Set a timer and do the hardest task for a set amount of time/day.

My boss has a “maven” who can do no wrong and someone he has stuck his neck out for –no one on the staff can say anything about this person. What should I do?

Mark : Your boss has a blind spot/preference/prejudice. We do not know the reason; however, he could become defensive if you try to discuss this situation. Is it possible to frame a discussion as a hypothetical example? Ask him, “Have you ever done this…?” This will open the door for you to give him some feedback. Also consider who the boss’s mentor is or whether there are other high level stakeholders who may see what is going on – perhaps they can initiate the discussion.

How would you suggest handling a colleague I manage who is not able to manage her time or workspace?

Mark : She may not have the will or she may not have the skill because she never received any training. Let’s start with skill. To determine this, send her to a time/priority workshop. Step up the pre and post workshop expectations and put this in her 2015 development goals. Proceed to reinforce small positive changes.

I work with a senior staff group of seven.  The newest member (one year) is “not a team player” and a “blamer.” She feels everyone is against her and wants some intervention for the group, but she is the problem.

Mark : Who is her mentor? Did she get someone to lead her through the lay of the land when she started in your department? If not, then you have cultural expectations that she was never a part of. We call them “hidden rules”. It would be good to have a team building day and lay out goals, roles, decision making processes as well as inter-personal agreements so that the team has a base level of operation. There should be an agreement of what is “in” and what is “out” in terms of behaviour. Then the team needs to have some way of rewarding what is going well.

You may need a neutral facilitator.

I have an employee who has been in management roles most of her career.  She is now an HB Assistant.  When giving direction she acts like she knows it all.  How do I handle someone who doesn’t want to hear it?

Mark : Flatter first, then confront her on the second attempt, saying, “Do you know how talented and smart you are with regard to X (find something she does very well)?” In all likelihood, she’ll be disarmed and embarrassed and be at a loss for words.

If she is or if she says something, follow up with: “Yes, I mean it, but here’s the rub. You owe it to your talent and smartness to eliminate anything that distracts from it and when you do A, B and C, people are taken aback and don’t get to admire and respect you for your talent and smartness. I’m bringing this up because I hate to see someone not have the impact their abilities deserve.”

Just Listen by Mark Goulston









How do you get through to a senior leader who does not focus on your conversation because she is busy on the computer, checking her phone or answering a call?

Mark : Try any of these. Ask if this is a good time. Tell her that it doesn’t look like it is and that perhaps you should come back. Then don’t say anything until she looks at you. The pause will cause her too look up. Alternatively, you could get a scheduled meeting outside of her office or do a stand up meeting with her. You could also do a walk-n-talk meeting or meet for lunch, breakfast, snack or coffee.

I know a CEO of a privately held company who answers to no one, has no board of directors and no one to address his bad behaviour (which he needs to be accountable for). How do you get through to an owner on his eccentric, egotistical behaviour that is causing a hostile work environment?

Mark : I managed a very similar situation and the HR leader was ready to jump. You may need to have an executive coach come in to work with the executive team. You could also implement an employee satisfaction survey, where the results would probably indicate the hostile environment. Or you could get a company or local attorney to do a lunch & learn session with the executive team to discuss the common recent lawsuits including the issues surrounding hostile environments. The fear of lawsuit can sometimes change behaviour.

How do you focus on listening rather than focusing on your own agenda/preconceived thoughts?

Mark : First of all, you have to start trying to be in the present moment. Secondly, start taking notes while the person talks. This will help your brain stay in a more open mode as you have time to process what the other person is saying.

How can I be more assertive in order to get others above me to listen and use the vision we have for our employees?

Mark : See my answer to the second question above.

How do I stop someone from criticising people in public? How can he find another way to teach? His behaviour has been brought to his attention but he continues to do it.

Mark : Make ground rules for team meetings or the classroom. These ground rules can help make expectation public. People will return to bad habits if they are not reinforced for doing something different or new. Set up a 21 day challenge. See if that person can modify each day for that time period so the new behaviour becomes more engrained.

You cannot control the moods of people. However, you can set behaviour norms and standards for the team.

What is your best suggestion for avoiding procrastination?

Mark : Do the worst thing on the list first. Set a timer and do the hardest task for a set amount of time/day.

How do I deal with someone who is not a difficult person, but one who has to “process” everything to perfection?

Mark : This is a chosen behaviour. Generally, it’s due to fear of failure or criticism of their work. This employee may not realise that they are impeding progress of a team due to their own insecurities. You may need to help them prioritise who is important and the due dates. Have some milestones to reach along the way of any large project. Hold them accountable for the milestone times and have frequent check-in points. If you do let them talk everything to death, they can also kill the spirit of other people. During brainstorming sessions, have a round robin/sticky note session. They will be forced to participate or pass as “the ball” comes to them. Make sure everyone knows that it’s okay not to have an idea. Try a “parking lot” for ideas that are not on track with what needs to be accomplished and have this person take care of the “parking lot” responses.

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I work for a moody Director and I never know if she will be happy or angry.  She is a controlling person. When we give her feedback, she knows what to do but she doesn’t want to listen. Nothing changes. How do I get through to her?

Mark : You cannot control the moods of people. However, you can set behaviour norms and standards for the team. Everyone should participate in this discussion which includes what behaviour is “in” the frame and what behaviour is “out”. Tie the behaviour expectations in with the values of the company.









Dr Mark Goulston

Dr. Mark Goulston is the Founder and CEO of the Goulston Group that works with Fortune 500 multinational companies to increase “buy in” and engagement at all levels. He is the author of six books including the #1 international best selling book, “Just Listen” Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone.” He speaks internationally and writes for Harvard Business Review, Psychology Today, Fast Company, Business Insider and Huffington Post and appears internationally on television, radio, internet and print media as a communication expert .

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