Monday, July 28, 2014

Learn to talk with people instead of over, at or even to them

Mark Goulston  Harvard Business Review, Life Adjustment Team, Heartfelt LeadershipTraining and influences

I originally trained as a clinical psychiatrist, where my first mentor was Dr. Edwin Shneidman. He was one of the pioneers in the study, intervention and treatment of suicidal patients. Because of him my early career was focused on suicide and death and dying and I learned most by making house calls to dying patients and their families. 

I developed an ability to resolve many conflicts in those families that had been going on for decades in a matter of hours and the surviving next generation then asked me to come in to work to resolve conflicts in their companies. 

Then because of my work intervening with suicidal and violent people I met FBI and police hostage negotiators who asked me to provide training at some of their larger events and then I worked with some individual law enforcement to help them. 

Dr. Shneidman and subsequent mentors including psychiatrist Dr. Robert Stoller and recently leadership guru Warren Bennis have all been great influences on me and by example have taught me to be a better listener. Much of that came together in my book, "Just Listen" Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone which has been an international best seller reaching #1 in Shanghai and Munich and six Kindle business categories at Amazon and has been translated into 15 languages. I have spoke around the world on listening.

My greatest influence was Dr. William McNary, Dean of Students at Boston University School of Medicine who during one of the darkest times in my life stood up for me (to people that wanted to kick me out of school) when I couldn't, stood by me in a crisis and wouldn't let me fail, stood up to me to show me a life and future I didn't think I had and to stop me from doing some foolish things I would have deeply regretted.

Guiding principles

Learn to be a receptive listen which causes the other person to lean into the safety of someone trying to understand them and help them to feel felt. That is listening that connects to and with people as opposed to responsible listening which solved their problems without connecting to them as people, reactive listening which is being on the defensive, and removed listening which almost ignoring others, but being being able to parrot back what they said and causes them to feel ridicules. Next it is important to learn to talk with people instead of over, at or even to them. Receptive listening and then talking with people are the ultimate ways to connect to other people such that they feel connected to you. 


There is a story of highly suicidal woman, who had made several attempts and had been hospitalized before I started seeing her. 

After seeing her for six months where I didn't think I was helping her except it was the longest she had gone without a suicide attempt or being hospitalized. 

Then one day after a day and a half of my being sleep deprived, she came into my office and I disconnected from myself and went into the utter despair that she was feeling. It was awful beyond words and the color left the room and all I could see was a dark gray mush. 

But then I guess I found some words. I went so deeply into it what I was seeing and feeling I blurted out: "Nancy, I never knew it was so bad and I can't help you kill yourself, but if you do, I will still think well of you, I will miss you and maybe I'll understand why you needed to." 

I was shocked that I had said those thought aloud, but after I did, Nancy directly into my eyes for the first time and said, "If you can really understand why I might need to kill myself (to get out of her despair), maybe I won't need to." 

And after that the room came back and Nancy came back and went on to get a PhD and have children.

How measure success in work 

When it came to working with dying patients and their families, that they had buried their conflicts before they buried their terminally ill parent. When if came to suicidal patients that they reach a place where they wanted to live. When it comes to companies and organizations I work with, that they become companies that people want to get into and that their peers look at them with admiration and respect. 

My partner, Deb Boelkes, and I started a global community called Heartfelt Leadership ( with a Mission of Daring to Care. We do that by identifying, celebrating, developing, empowering, impassioning and emboldening heartfelt leaders to support each other and then go out and change the world for the better.