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November 1, 2014 12:01 AM EDT
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

FBI Hostage negotiators know how to listen and this is the secret to connecting with people.

We’ve all been told we could be better listeners and that listening is important. But what does that really mean and how do we do it?

Let’s round up the research…

Why It’s Important

Nobody likes a conversational narcissist but we’ve all been one:

What makes teams at the office smart isn’t combined IQ, it’s social skills, with the ability to listen being paramount:

What two qualities make great salespeople? One of them is the ability to listen:

What made subjects in a research study be rated instantly more likable? Just listening to the other person and saying “tell me more.”

Not listening ends relationships. And from a more strategic point of view, if people don’t think you’re listening to them it’s almost impossible to change their mind.

Active Listening

So what do you have to do?

Keep in mind that good listening is “non-evaluative.” Don’t judge or analyze what the person is saying at first. Just focus on trying to understand their perspective.

What’s the first thing you have to do? Shut your mouth. Should be obvious but if it were, you might not be reading this.

Here’s the important part: just shutting up is not enough.

Listening isn’t just listening. It’s letting the other person know you’re listening.

This is “active listening.” It has three components: paraphrasing, inquiry and acknowledgment:

But does this really work?

It works in relationships. Active listening is sexy:

Our happiest moments are made better when 1) we share them with others and 2) they respond supportively. A response should be both active and constructive.

Guess what the top ranked telemarketers all had in common?

Active listening is the first thing FBI hostage negotiators use to de-escalate incidents and save lives.

Gary Noesner, former chief negotiator with the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group and author of Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator has discussed the use of active listening techniques:

Short Takeaway

Summing up: what do you need to do to be a great listener? What steps should you follow in your next conversation?

  1. Listen to what they say. Don’t interrupt, disagree or “evaluate.”
  2. Nod your head, and make brief acknowledging comments like “yes” and “uh-huh.”
  3. Without being awkward, repeat back the gist of what they just said, from their frame of reference.
  4. Inquire. Ask questions that show you’ve been paying attention and that move the discussion forward.

They will feel like you really understand them and you probably will — because while they were speaking you weren’t trying to figure out why they’re wrong or misguided. You were trying to understand their perspective and communicated that to them with your behavior.

To get my exclusive full interview with former head of FBI hostage negotiation Chris Voss (where he explains the two words that tell you a negotiation is going very badly) join my free weekly newsletter. Click here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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