Unlocking Trust Through Listening With Mark Goulston

Hello. Welcome to another episode of Unlocked. I'm Skot, and today we got Mark Goulston on the call. I'm so excited to have Mark on the call. Mark's brain is it just blows up with so much good stuff. He's an FBI hostage negotiator, a former FBI hostage negotiator, Marshall Goldsmith executive coach. He's the author of nine books translated into 42 different languages including Just Listen, which is one of the top books on listening in the world. And we're going to talk about listening a lot on this show, so pay attention to that. He has a podcast called My Wakeup Call and little 90 second nuggets on LinkedIn that he calls the 90 Second Mentor. And he's had people like Daniel Pink on there and some other people that you may recognize. Founder member of Newsweek Executive Forum, and the inventor of what do you call surgical empathy. And we're going to talk about what that means on the show as well.

Please just stay tuned. The stuff that comes out in this interview is gold for you, not only in your professional lives, but in your personal lives and the way you deal with people. That's it. You are going to learn at the end of this interview how to understand people better, how to build influence with them more, and how to build more trust and loving relationships in your lives. And this is again, not just personal, not just professional, it's all wrapped up in everything we do in life. So here we come, Mark.

Mark, it is so, so good to have you. This is going to be quite the interview today, and everybody on the show listening right now is going to get a gift from you. So I appreciate you being on the show and talking me through some of these things. So you call yourself in your bio a business psychiatrist, but on your LinkedIn profile you also call yourself a Free Your Mind coach. So can you tell me what that means? Why brand yourself that way?

Mark Goulston:

Well, I spent 40 plus years as a therapist, a psychiatrist, but I mainly did therapy, and one of my specialty areas was suicide prevention and none of my patients died by suicide. And I developed something that I called surgical empathy, which was a way to just drill down in literally the dark night of the soul because suicidal patients often live too much in the dark night of the soul. And I learned to just drill into what's really going on. Why do you really want to kill yourself? And I had no agenda other than I knew that if I could unlock that... And surgical empathy is draining an abscess and instead of pus, they would start to cry. But the crying was relief because I wasn't trying to put lipstick on a pain.

And so Free Your Mind Coaching is that when I work with my CEOs and executives, what they'll say to me is, "I can't hide from you." And I'll ask them, "Is that good or bad?" And they say, "It's weird, but it's not bad." And then after a few meetings they say, "I hide from everyone including myself. But because I can't hide from you, I just open up. I tell you things I don't tell anyone." And here's an interesting thing, how's this for a challenge? And Skot, you might say, "I want a couple sessions with you." So some of my CEOs will say, "So how do I do this?" I say, "It's really simple. You are not a very trusting person, you're a controlling person and that's fine, but it has its limits. And you're not being trusting is actually hurting you and probably does something to the psychological safety of your organization."

"So here's how we're going to frame it. When we have a session, we can talk about issues from your transactional brain, but you'll get much more out of the session when we talk, you talk about something that's eating away at you so much and you're so embarrassed about it and maybe even ashamed of that you can't look me in the eye when you tell me it. And then when we're finished talking, you're going to leave and think to yourself, 'I can't believe I told another human being what I just said.'" And they say, "Well, why would I do that?" Because it frees you. It frees you from things that down deep are sort of holding you back. And one of the things it does is it teaches you what it's like to totally trust another human being.

And there's a fellow named Eric Erikson. He died many years ago, but he talked about psychosocial development. And at the first stage is basic trust or basic mistrust. And if you go into the world with basic trust, you go where you're looking. The world is your oyster. But if you go into the world with basic mistrust, instead of going where you are looking, you look where you're going, you're cautious, you're a little bit paranoid. And if you can go into the world with basic trust, and we're not asking you to be naive, we're not asking you to trust some person who's going to take advantage of you, but it frees you. So does any of that make sense? Because you gave me a leash and I ran with it.

Skot Waldron:

It does. And I hope a lot of the listeners on here, as we talk about leadership and leading people, and unlocking people, the parallel between what you do and your work ties directly into... I mean, you do leadership, you have worked with leadership for many years, but the suicide prevention side of what you have done is so impactful and so ingrained, and I think in everybody's hearts and souls on the planet that that's a big giant work. And free in your mind. I mean, I love how you said it, right? It's like you said earlier that surgical empathy is diving down into the dark, those dark places. And yes, we all have them, and getting people to bring those out and to build trust with somebody, what does that do? Okay, so in my brain, I've told you this thing, now I trust you. How does that help free me from maybe the potential risk of suicide or anything else that may damage me or others?

MARK GOULSTON:

Well, here's an interesting thing that I've noted with some of the successful CEOs I have, and it's the dark side of them. And what they open up about is they say, "I don't mind having a killer instinct in me because that helps me compete successfully. What I don't like is it drags along with it a murderer. And I can be painfully envious and jealous and wish my best friend to fail. And the dark side eats away at me. So it's great to be this killer, have this killer instinct." And I'll tell you because as I mentioned, I'm involved with a documentary called What I Wish My Parents Knew with a serial entrepreneur. He started 25 businesses, 17 failed, eight of them are real successes. And what he shared with me is I've never been depressed. And his 14-year-old son killed himself four-and-a-half years ago and he missed it.

And so this documentary, What I Wish My Parents Knew, is something that he wished he had known about how to reach his son, but he was too late. And so do you follow what I'm saying? And here's something I'm going to get bashed for this. I wrote an article some years ago called Human Cooling, Global Warming, and Childhood Obesity. Human Cooling, Global Warming, and Childhood Obesity. And what I said is that what's happening with parents, mothers and fathers, is they've lost their patience. And the women CEOs I see, when I say, "What's really going on," when I drill down, "What's really going on? What's really going on?" When I get to the fifth wheel, they say, "I've lost my warmth. I'm not only not patient, I'm not warm. And I see the effects on my kids and I see the effect on my husband."

And so I think what's happened is with the drive and impatience... And let's look at our tech leaders, I probably shouldn't say this, but no, our tech leaders are on the spectrum. They don't connect emotionally. Oh boy, they connect with technology. And so they've driven all of us to connect with technology and we want things sooner. And what happens is as we're impatient, our children need patience and warmth. And when they don't get it from their parents, they eat more. They do video games. And then the corporate world loves this. We've got addicted kids to our games and our junk food, let's just cram them with more. And so what happens is you have global warming because of the conspicuous consumption, and you have childhood obesity. So what do you think of them apples?

SKOT WALDRON:

I haven't heard that spin. So that I hope will wake up a lot of people. I mean, I'm going to be processing that for sure and look up that article. I imagine we can find that online.

MARK GOULSTON:

Yeah, so it's Human Cooling, Global Warming, and Childhood Obesity. I did that with another host. I got to say this because I have a sixth sense of humor. I said, "So what do you think of those apples?" And he said, "Apples are too healthy. I'm going to go out and have some pizza."

SKOT WALDRON:

Yeah, yeah, fair enough. I love it. Sorry, I didn't have as witty of a comeback as that guy. That's awesome. That's really good. So your book, Just Listen, is the top... No, one of the top listening books in the world. And I imagine that goes a lot into your work about how do we listen to kids, our kids, but yet how do we listen to our people that we're interacting with at work or at home in any way, shape, or form? So tell me about the idea of, you talk about the deepest form of listening, what is that?

MARK GOULSTON:

So I'll send you a video clip. I spoke to a thousand Russian businessmen and women leaders, managers. And what I try to teach them is that underneath people listening to you, they're listening for something. And when you can just be curious about it and get it right, especially when they don't tell you, they lean forward. So I'm going to demonstrate that with you. Okay?

SKOT WALDRON:

Okay.

MARK GOULSTON:

Right now, you're listening to me and you're checking boxes and you're saying, "Geez. Gee, Mark, you've done so many things. I can only do the tip of the iceberg. I want to make sure we talk about the tip of the iceberg," and yada, yada, yada. So you're listening to me, but if I was to tune in to what you're listening for, tell me how this lands, I think what you're listening for is that your listeners and viewers trust you and have confidence in you that you will bring them value. And one of the last things you want to do is waste their time. And so you want to bring on guests that don't waste their time, give them value, give them practical things they can either think about or do something about.

You're also listening for possibly guests who might be bestselling authors, but they're awful. I mean they're awful. And then afterwards you have to go back to them and say, "We couldn't use the interview," because you want to protect your listeners from people that will waste their time or insult them or do something unproductive. So is any of that true? Is that what you're listening for?

SKOT WALDRON:

100%. I think that yeah, I am looking for value for my people. I mean, if I don't provide the value, they don't come back. And I think that's what we're all trying to do. And you know what? And I will say while that's on the podcast level, we all do that in everything we do. In our marriages, we do that. I need to provide value to my wife or else she checks out. She's just like, "You don't provide a lot of value for me, so why should I..."

MARK GOULSTON:

Okay, so here's a killer thing if you're listening in. This is a real daunting challenge. If you're a leader, an entrepreneur, and you show caring by giving solutions and advice that in your personal life people don't want. So here's a daunting challenge in your marriage or even with your teenagers. Say to them, say to your spouse or teenager, here are several questions. "Have I ever made you feel that you weren't worth my undivided attention and interest?" And they're going to go, "What?" You say, "Yeah, I'm real busy, too busy, but have I ever made you feel that you weren't worth my undivided attention and interest? When you see me giving my undivided attention and interest to all these things about my business?" And they're going to say, "Yes." And then you say, "At its worst or at my worst, how awful can that be for you?"

Pretty bad. Here's a taste of surgical empathy, pretty bad or awful. And they're going to say, "Okay, awful." And then the third question is, "Take me to the last time I did that." And they're going to go, "What?" You could say, "Take me to the last time when I made you feel that you weren't worth my undivided attention." And they're going to bring it up, and you don't defend yourself. And they're going to look away if it's a spouse because this is too intimate, and you don't have conversations like this. And you say, "Look at me," and they're going to look at you. And then you have to look at them with all the love you felt for them when you first met and say, "I did that? You deserve better. I'm going to fix it. And I'm sorry." Could you track with that?

SKOT WALDRON:

Tell me how does that tie into listen to versus listen for?

MARK GOULSTON:

Okay, so what's happening, and one of the things that destroys marriages is you might be really successful. But if interpersonally you're lousy, what your spouse is listening for is a way to start respecting you and stop not respecting you. Because it's painful to a spouse when they lose respect for you. And why are they losing respect for you? Well, you make a lot of money, but your kids want your attention. Your kids are acting out. They're starting to use drugs, they're doing video games too much because they want your attention, and that's not a high priority for you.

And I'm losing respect for you. And the next thing I'm going to do is you can disrespect me. But when I see you doing that with our kids, I'm going to start getting angry at you. And when I see your kids wanting your attention more and you're just ignoring it, that anger's going to cross over into contempt. And contempt is the end game of relationships. So what I'm listening for, honey, is to not go down that road.

SKOT WALDRON:

This is so relevant to all of us in the sense of yes, our interpersonal relationships and our personal lives, but in our work lives, it's the same thing. Again, I'm going to tie it back because... And it's just this idea of when I first hired you, there was an obvious and endearing, there was something there. We connected, we built some kind of relationship, we said, "I want to build a relationship with you, you want to build one with me. And then over time we fostered that relationship and then I potentially destroy it." Hey, I might be really respect, I may be super competent in my job, really good at what I do, but at some point in time I lost that respect. And then I continue to maybe behave in a way that doesn't build respect, and ultimately contempt is there, and then they leave.

MARK GOULSTON:

Absolutely. So if this Free Your Mind Coaching is too woo-woo for some of you listeners or viewers, another version of it, and maybe I'll pivot to that, although I think I'm going to stick with Free Your Mind for a while, is another description of the coaching I do is what I call TCRA coaching. And what TCRA stands for is trust, confidence, respect, admiration. Trust, confidence, respect, admiration. And you might say, oh, that's too abstract, that's too woo-woo. I don't care about that. Really? Well, how motivated do you think your talent's going to be where they can go anywhere or your key executives can leave you and maybe go to a competitor. If instead of those they don't trust you, they don't have confidence in you, they don't respect you, and they don't admire you. And here's what builds that. What builds trust, you do what you say you'll do.

What builds confidence is people believe you can actually do it. You don't just have good intentions, but you don't have the ability to do it. So they have confidence you can actually do it. What does respect mean? You really stand for something. Like if you stand for psychological safety and not just say the words, or if you stand for diversity, you actually stand up for it. I remember one of my favorite anecdotes about Jim Sinegal who was the CEO of Costco some years ago, he was meeting with his shareholders and his shareholders said, "Why don't you increase the margins? Why are you so caring about your employees? You could still make a lot of money for us. We love Costco, we shop there, but you know, could help the stock price." And what Jim said at the meeting is he said, "I have three words for you. Sell your stock." Because those things matter to him so you respected him.

And then admiration comes from when people just see you courageously go through something that they knew was really difficult and you were undeterred. You really admire someone who is vulnerable and courageous. So here's how you use that. Pick a stakeholder or two in your company who want the best from you and who want to feel trust, confidence, respect, and admiration for you. And say, "I'd like you to create an avatar of our entire company. So if you create an avatar of everybody who works here, on a scale of one to 10, how much do people trust, have confidence in me, respect me, or admire me?" And then you get your score and you say, "Why'd you score it that way? What do I need to do going forward to increase the score?"

SKOT WALDRON:

I love it. Self-assessment, understanding that. But the assessment's just the kicker, right? The discussion is where the growth happens. Yeah, the discussion after that is where that growth happens.

MARK GOULSTON:

The discussion, but then the actions. So don't do this unless you're prepared to take steps. And something that I also mentioned in the... I tend to come up with disruptive, doable by you ideas that can save you tens of thousands of dollars. So we're running out of time so I'll just leave you with this, and you can find it at Newsweek. If you look up Three Steps to Culture Change on a Dime. Three Steps to Culture Change on a Dime, Newsweek, Goulston, and you may be spending tens of thousands of dollars to change culture, but here's a simple way to do it. To me, the sign of a good culture is when everybody wakes up in the morning and they put aside their personal issues and divorce and whatever, but when they think about your company, everybody wakes up and says, "I can't wait to go to work."

Show me a company where everybody wakes up saying, "I can't wait to go to work." You got a good culture. If they wake up saying, "Oh, another day." You better fix that. And then that's the first step. The second step is you ask them, "What do we need going forward? What do we need to do consistently? And what negative things do we need to stop completely so that you wake up and say, 'I can't wait to go to work.'" And you collect those and you're transparent and you say, "This was the top answer."

And so the third step is you make a commitment to that and you say, "I'm going to check in with you quarterly to see how we're doing." And why would you want to do this? Because if your people are going out with their friends, talent that you would like to poach, and their friends say, "Hey, how's your company? How's work?" And if they say, "I can't wait to go to work," if their friend doesn't feel that way, who's talented, their friend's going to say, "Are you hiring?"

SKOT WALDRON:

That's what I talk a lot about when I used to do a lot of external brand message work and marketing and things like that. And at the end of the day it always came back to the internal side, which is why I focused there now, is that it all starts on the inside. And if we are creating toxicity inside, it doesn't matter what you say outside, maybe for a short period of time we can put lipstick on that problem. Or how did you say it earlier? Is that what you said?

MARK GOULSTON:

I said lip lipstick on a pain.

SKOT WALDRON:

On the pain. So we can try to put lipstick on that pain, right? Well, I love that phrase. But at some point in time the lipstick rubs off and the authenticity and transparency comes out. And so when you're trying to recruit, when you're trying to keep the people there and then also use them as your biggest advocate outside of your company at the weekend barbecue, it's really important that you're not only listening but that you're, like you said, doing afterwards.

MARK GOULSTON:

Yeah, I'll share something that's really important because recruiting and retaining top talent, who know they can go anywhere, that's a huge challenge. And if you were recruiting me and I was top talent in something, and you would ask me do I have any questions? The question I would ask if I'm top talent and I can go anywhere and I just left the place is, "How comfortable are you or the people above me or the CEO, how comfortable are you with my disagreeing with you or bringing up problems to you?"

Because if you're not comfortable with my disagreeing... And I'll back it up, I'm talent back up what I do. Or if I have a different way of doing things or problem with something. And again, I'm talent. I don't bring you a problem without a solution that I came up with that's not working. I would say how comfortable are people bringing up problems or disagreeing with their superiors? Because if they're uncomfortable, you don't have psychological safety.

SKOT WALDRON:

And that is the key to healthy culture. And Project Aristotle, I'm familiar with that and the Google research that was done of analyzing what was 150 something high performing teams inside Google. That psychological safety was number one. That I can bring a problem to you, I can disagree with you, and not feel like I'm going to be reprimanded for that thing. That is a key question. I hope that a lot of people are empowered to ask that question when they are interviewing. I think that's really smart. Let me ask you this. At the end of the day, Mark, you've had an amazing career. You've created a lot of impact for a lot of people both personally and professionally. What is your stamp on the world that you want to leave? What's your legacy and your impact you want to leave?

MARK GOULSTON:

Well, something I'm trying to teach the world, which is an extension of my book, Just Listen, which did pretty well, is if you can pause and realize that whoever you're with, especially if the conversation's going sideways, they're listening for something that's not happening in the conversation, and they're getting agitated because they were listening for something. And you can turn a conversation around. I do a training to a accelerator called Expert Dojo. That's about 180 companies that they've worked with and they have cohorts of 20 companies, and one of the parts of that training that they like most and it's about how do we get money from investors. And one of the things I say is when you're pitching an investor and they smile in three minutes, do you think it's a yes?

And some of them say, "I guess so." I say it's not a yes. It's not a yes, because they're already done with you, and they want to be respectful that you put so much time into this deck that they're not interested in. And they're smiling like this because they don't want you to catch them being rude. And if you think the smile is going to lead to how much money can we give you, and it doesn't, you better fix this. So what I'm training them to do is that when the investor smiles because they're thinking, "I'm done with you, but I don't want to be rude," drop your presentation and say to them, and this goes back to what I want to leave the world, "Can we stop for a second?" And they're going to be nervous because you caught them not wanting to be rude, and you say, "You were listening for something and you didn't hear it, and we're getting further away from it."

"Can you tell me what you were listening for? Because we actually might have it but we just didn't put it in the deck. And if we have it, I'll share that with you. And if we don't have it, I'm in a cohort of 20 plus companies, some of them might have it. I'll introduce you and you all go make money together." And do you follow what I'm saying? They love that. They say, "Oh my God." Because what's happened is when they smile and they're ready to have nothing to do with you, you have just salvaged the relationship by letting them tell you what they're looking for and then matching that to another company in your cohort, you play matchmaker and everybody's grateful to you.

SKOT WALDRON:

So you've talked about the investor scenario there, but this applies to every single thing. This applies to marital relationships, relationships with my kids, relationship with my neighbors, my HOA, with my employees, my team, my boss. That key phrase, what are you listening for, is different enough to make people think, oh that's an interesting way you phrase that.

MARK GOULSTON:

So something I want to leave your audience with, there's something I call the Huva exercise, H-U-V-A. And it's something that if you do this once a day with a conversation that you want to go very well for the other person, not just you winning and they're not, what you do is you have that intention, "Oh, I'm going to apply Huva to this conversation." And then afterwards you're going to rate yourself on a scale of one to 10 with each of the components from their point of view. So you leave the conversation and you say to yourself from their point of view, on a scale of one to 10, how much did they feel I heard them out versus interrupting them versus changing the subject in some sort of tangential way?

The U is how much did they feel understood by me? And they feel understood when you asked them to elaborate on something they said. Say a little bit more about that. V is on a scale of one to 10, how much did they feel that you value what they say in which you say gen in a genuine way, "That was really remarkable. I can really see how I could use that today." And then the final A is how much on a scale of one to 10 did they feel you added value? And so you've done a great job. I would rate you 10, 10, 10, 10. You heard me out, you obviously had some sort of a plan, but you deferred to hearing me out. I think I felt you understood me because you asked me to go deeper into certain things.

You certainly valued it. And then you added value by saying, this isn't just about talking to your kids, we can use this as leaders, you can use this everywhere. So if you apply the Huva exercise once a day, and then I'll quote my late mentor Warren Bennis, he said, "Be a first class noticer. Noticing is different than looking, watching, and seeing." So if you apply Huva to a conversation with someone, and then you're a first class noticer of their response, what you're going to pick up is they're going to lean towards you because they want more of that because they don't get enough of that in their life.

SKOT WALDRON:

Mark, awesome, thank you so much. If people want to learn more about you, what you offer, how they can find out more, whether it is the impact you've had on the suicide prevention world or what you've done in the executive world, what do people do? How do people get in touch with you? What do you want people to take action to?

MARK GOULSTON:

The Suicide Prevention Program that I'm working with Jason Reid, whose son killed himself, go to chooselife.org. That used to be a pro-life thing, but he's got chooselife.org. And you go there and you can see links to what we're doing. You can find me at LinkedIn and I keep that relatively relevant. I may be changing what I'm about, but it's pretty relevant. There's something, we also have on a LinkedIn called 90 Second Mentor. And every Wednesday we drop a bite size piece of nugget from one of our interviews. So we've had people like Daniel Pink, Susan Kane, Whitney Johnson, Nolan Bushnell, and it's a 90 second bite size piece of wisdom because we want to give people an oasis in the middle of LinkedIn.

Because LinkedIn is too much transactional, yada yada, yada. And if you go to 90 Second Mentor, you'll hear something and the text is only like three paragraphs. And you'll listen to these wise people drop a nugget so you can go, "Ah, I'm going to think about that." So you can go there. And then I have a podcast called My Wakeup call, which is in the top 0.5% globally, and is listened to in 40 countries. And I'm really excited because in the New Year I'm going to be co-hosting a radio show at UK Health Radio, which is the world's leading talk health radio channel. So we're excited about that. That'll be a weekly show with a British journalist and me giving practical advice. I hope there was a pony in some of what we talked about today.

SKOT WALDRON:

There was a gold pony in some of the stuff we talked about today. So I'm again grateful for you, Mark, and excited about the wisdom you have to share with the world. You've gained a lot of it, you've learned a lot from other people, mentors of yours, and I appreciate you sharing those thoughts with us because it's helped me a lot. And I mean, I wish people could have heard the lengthy conversation we had before this call because half my paper was already filled up with notes before we even got on the call. So I want to thank you personally for the gold you shared with me before that, but also the gold you shared with my audience. So thanks, Mark. Appreciate you.

MARK GOULSTON:

Thank you, thank you.

SKOT WALDRON:

Mark's mission, drive, passion is helping people connect to people. That's kind of what I got out of that. It's this thing you shared with me before the interview rolled, and I don't think we shared this on the interview, aggression plus mission equals conviction. Aggression minus mission equals hostility. Conviction leads to strength, hostility leads to wildness. So it's this idea of having a mission, and if we have somebody like Mark backing us up who has this idea of aggression plus mission equals conviction, which leads to strength not only for him but for everybody involved, we're going to go so much further in what we do. I hope you got some nuggets out of that. Go back, rewind it and listen for more gold in there because it's in there. So much of it is in there.

Take them up on the listening exercises, take them up on the challenge to really ask what are you listening for? I love that question. I'm going to use that and the future. I really, really am grateful. If you want to find out more about me, you can go to skotwaldron.com and I've got some other... My other shows are on there. I've got some tools for you. You'll find out more about hiring me to speak at your next event or find out about my coaching services. If you want to like, subscribe, comment, share, please get this podcast, this show out to the world. That is how we impact more people. That's how we multiply what we do here. So I'm really grateful for you. Thank you for being here on another episode of Unlocked.

Want to make your culture and team invincible?

You can create a culture of empowerment and liberation through better communication and alignment. We call these invincible teams. Make your team invincible through a data-driven approach that is used by Google, the CDC, the Air Force, Pfizer, and Chick-fil-A. Click here or the image below to learn more.

Create an invincible team