How to Get Listened To


August 28, 2020 12:31 pm
August 28, 2020 12:31 pmLeave your thoughts

By Deb Hirschhorn, Ph.D.

The man was very sad. “I never get listened to. It’s been going on my entire marriage. I feel invisible.”

I asked him if he tried to be assertive, meaning not wimpy, but not obnoxious, either. I’d heard from his wife that he starts raising his voice and getting unpleasant.

He assured me that he was assertive, just as I had wanted.

“But you said you could lose it too,” I mentioned.

“Well, sure, after not getting listened to,” he responded. He was a bit surprised at my comment. After all, anybody would lose it if they keep knocking their head against a stone wall, right?

So I thought it would be fun to share with you a book that I’m reading. This one was written by a hostage negotiator. He works or used to work for the FBI getting terrorists to give up their kidnapped “property” in exchange for ransom. The author is Chris Voss and the book is Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It.

I can assure you that he never lost his cool. At least not when negotiating for someone’s life.

And his subtitle – and the theme throughout the book – is to use his methods with your spouse, at the airplane terminal, or anywhere else where you need to be listened to. Maybe your life doesn’t depend on it. But maybe it does.

After all, being listened to at home in your family may very well be the difference between a miserable life and a happy one. So maybe not giving in to the temptation to “lose it” or walk out in a huff or file for divorce is what’s required. And negotiating with these basic rules in mind may be the better alternative.

So what do you do, then – just take it?

Absolutely not. If you “take it,” you’re not absorbing Chris Voss’s tricks.

Here are some of them:

  • Know for sure what the other person wants.

See, you thought it was all about being heard. Well, it’s not. You don’t need to be heard as long as you win in the end.

It’s not about ego, after all. So his first rule is to know what your spouse, mother, child, or boss really wants.

Then figure out how you can help him/her change that want to something closer to what you want. While it’s easy to know what hostage-takers want because they want money, the trick is that they always would ask for more than anyone would or could possibly pay. How do you bring them down to something reasonable? And, of course, the real question is how do you get your life partner to come down to something reasonable?

Voss has a bunch of ideas, but the common thread running through all of them is to make them totally believe that you want to give them what they want. And you do. You want to meet in the middle. You really, truly do.

Or if you don’t, maybe that is your problem. Remember: do you want to succeed or do you want to feed your ego?

Assuming you do not want to feed your ego, never call it “compromise.” Don’t compromise because you will both be miserable. That is why his book is titled “never split the difference.” So you want to please them and yourself, but not by compromising. What you want is to find a way to gently bring them over to your own point of view without them feeling like you’re doing it.

Here are several ways he advocates:

  • Ask the simple but elegant question, “How can I do that?”

Imagine you’re arguing with your life partner about whether you should or should not go to their mother for a meal. You do not want to go because you’ve been insulted in the past. Why not employ Chris Voss’s suggestion of “How can I do that?” And by the way, he further advises to say it in a kind and conciliatory voice.

For example, “You know I want to please you. I want to make you happy. And I’ve done X and I’ve also done Y just for that reason. But now that your mother said A and also B, how can I go and put myself in a place to have her say those things again to me?”

The kinder and more conciliatory you are, the less argument you will get in response.

  • Phrase your questions to get a “No” response, not a “Yes” response.

The logic behind this is simple. Most salesmen are trying to get to “Yes.” The water filtration system salesperson asks, “Do you enjoy a nice clean glass of water sometimes?” You can see the question coming a mile away and you can see where it will go. They want you saying “Yes” so many times that you’re ready to say it again when it’s time to buy.

But that’s not what you’re ready to do when it’s time to buy. You’re ready to clobber them!

On the other hand, people feel like they’re in control when they say “No.” So ask them whether they think there will be a problem if we can alter plans so everyone will be happy. “No” is a reasonable answer to that one.

  • “That’s right” is a response that shows they’ve internalized a point but “You’re right” means they’re blowing you off.

So you might not want to say, “Your mother is rude!” It’s extremely unlikely you’ll get an agreement there. On the other hand, if you told a story with some neutral person or a stranger as the main character and repeated over what your spouse’s mother said to you as if it came from this third party, and concluded with “I think that’s rude,” you could very well be surprised with an acquiescence.

A husband and wife were having a difference of opinion over how to handle a plan their son had made to be driven to the airport at 4 a.m. and picked up three days later at midnight. The wife was totally against it because this particular son thought everything was coming to him. In short, he was spoiled. And the wife was starting to see this.

Her husband, on the other hand, wanted to accommodate their son’s requests because the son had drifted further and further away from his parents and the husband thought the ride in the car would be a great bonding opportunity.

Now, the reality is that two people are entitled to have different opinions and neither one needs to persuade the other to change.

But let’s throw in a bit of a complication. In this particular case, the son was a substance abuser. The father felt that bonding and getting closer to the son could possibly help him want to break his bad habit. The mother felt – very strongly – that this type of accommodation was what caused the son to get into substances in the first place and she wanted strong boundaries drawn for their child’s sake.

So, using these techniques, she could have said, “I know you want to have that bonding time. And we haven’t had much of it with him, have we?”

Hubby would have said, “No, we haven’t.”

She could have gone on to say, “We’ve been instructed to put better boundaries in place and be consistent about keeping them. Is there anything about that you object to?”

Hubby might have also said, “No, there isn’t.”

“So is it a boundary or isn’t it if we say that we weren’t consulted about the schedule before the tickets were made and we should have been?”

Hubby would most likely say, “It is a boundary and we didn’t set it.” This is equivalent to “that’s right.”

In fact, she can add, “Really, how can you do so much driving at such ridiculous hours?” (Remember, tone of voice is crucial here. It has to be asked as a real question, not a complaint.)

He might say he’d have to nap first. And she could say, “But we were supposed to spend the evening together. How can you do both?”

Well, he can’t. But don’t nag him on this. Leave the question without requiring an answer. Just asking it makes the point very well.

And here comes the clincher. Wife-y then says, “If we put this boundary in place and we stick to the need to get consulted and also appreciated with a warm and friendly, ‘Thank you’ by our son for all the things we do for him, do you think that could open up more opportunities to bond in the future?”

Hubby probably would see the wisdom here, that if there’s a requirement for a thank you and a smile that goes with it, each and every time they do something for him, there will be more chances to connect.

Arguing just gets people’s defenses up. Try hostage negotiating instead.


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