Thursday, May 22, 2014

Communications training from an FBI investigator

Today I attended a live webinar delivered by Mark Goulston, a psychiatrist, former FBI negotiator, and author of Just Listen.  The essence of the webinar and his book is that we don't really listen to others.  Especially in this era of multitasking and smart phones, we may or may not actually even comprehend what someone is saying to us.

People are like computer modems

In the webinar Dr. Goulston used the example of the modem, which used to be the piece of computer hardware that connect a computer to the Internet or some other network of computers.  The memory capacity of modems would eventually fill to capacity, at which point the modem needed to be disconnected to dump the memory.  Dr. Goulston's analogy was that we typically focus on ourselves to the exclusion of others.

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People recognized this over 100 years ago when he recommended that we "become genuinely interested in other people" and "encourage others to talk about themselves."

Mirror neurons

A mirror neuron is a neuron that is triggered to repeat the same behavior that is observed.  This phenomenon was first observed in the 1980s in macaque monkeys.  The researchers found that the same neurons fired when a monkey picked up a piece of food as when the monkey observed a researcher picking up a piece of food. 

This is significant for people because a large component of learning is based on observation.  Additionally, mirror neurons allow us to be empathetic and feel what others are feeling in a given situation.  Curiously, according to Dr. Goulston, this ability to related to others is frequently absent in autistic children, suggesting that mirror neuron dysfunction may contribute to autism.

The mirror neuron gap can be widened when we perceive ourselves differently from how others see us.  For example, we may view ourselves as confident while others see this as arrogance.  You may consider yourself to be sensitive and others perceive you as needy

The mirror neuron gap can be narrowed through effective communication leading ultimately to effective listening and thus connecting at a different level.

4 levels of talking and listening

You have probably been in a situation where you are speaking to someone and that person continues to working on the computer or check the phone.  This can be frustrating!  On the webinar Dr. Goulston discussed four types of talking and corresponding listening modes.
  1. Talking Over - Removed Listening - Perception of being condescending.
  2. Talking At - Reactive Listening - Lecturing.
  3. Talking To - Responsible Listening - Where most business communication occurs.
  4. Talking With - Receptive Listening - The level for deep communication.

Tips for getting through

Dr. Goulston concluded the webinar with these tips for connecting with others.
  1. Talk with to talk to someone, but never talk at or over.
  2. Ask fill in the blank questions, such as "You want to do this because ____?"
  3. Ask the impossibility question - "What is something that is impossible to achieve but would help you achieve your goal faster?" and use the answer to identify underlying opportunities. 
  4. Encourage the others to keep talking by responding with "Say more about ____", "Hmmmm," or "Really?" (not cynically).
  5. Focus on the ICU - topics that are Important, Critical, and Urgent.

 If you would like to learn more, I encourage to purchase the book at or your local bookstore.

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