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How to talk so people will talk: not talking

Deploy Empathy
Deploy Empathy
This was written as part of the rough draft for Deploy Empathy, a practical guide to interviewing customers.
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One of the tenets of active listening is right in the name: listening. 
As former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss says in Never Split the Difference, “people think of listening as a passive activity, when in reality it’s anything but.”
Listening without any interruptions is the foundation of active listening. 
Think about how a therapist, or Oprah, will talk to someone: calmly, with long pauses, and no interruptions.
Now, compare that to how a political journalist would interview someone on TV. They’re trying to get information – likely from someone who doesn’t want to give it and only wants to speak to their talking points. They likely need to interrupt the person a lot in order to get any information of substance out. Oftentimes, there’s a lot of shouting, interrupting, and talking over one another.
Thankfully, interviews in a business context like this are usually (always) less combative than that.
You might think you’re a good listener. And chances are, you’re a caring person who does genuinely listen to people. 
But I’ll also bet you interrupt people sometimes. 
(If you are neurodivergent like me, chances are it’s a bit more often than you’d like to admit. Whether it’s brain chemistry or growing up different, sometimes we neurodivergents have to fight to be listened to and included.)

Here is a way to evaluate your listening skills.
Ask a friend or family member “What are you really excited about lately?”
The only things you are allowed to say are:
  • Mhmm
  • Really?
  • Can you say more?
  • (Nothing)
Challenge yourself to talk as little as possible and when you do, to only say things that encourage them to keep talking. 
Unless you’re a trained therapist or negotiator, I bet this conversation will be a lot different then your typical conversations, and I encourage you to reflect on that.
Listening is the foundation of interviews for straightforward practical reasons (you’re hoping to learn things from them, and that requires talking).
And there are also deeper neurological reason why it’s important:
When people talk about themselves, they feel happy, and they associate those positive feelings with the person and concept they’re talking about: in other words, your company.
“These results suggest that self-disclosure—revealing personal information to others—produces the highest level of activation in neural regions associated with motivation and reward, nucleus accumbens and the ventral tegmental area” according to fMRI studies of people while talking about themselves to another person.
The worst case scenario: a new advocate
Good customer relationships and word of mouth are both one of the easiest competitive advantages for a small company and the most important. 
It’s not the purpose of the interview, and yet I’ve found that customers I’ve interviewed tend to become our most vocal supporters. They’re the ones tweeting about us, linking to us, and sharing the word in their networks. 
Most of us are so used to being ignored by companies that when we find one that listens to us – and actually literally listens to us – it’s startlingly refreshing.
The mere act of listening alone is powerful, and I want you to remember that when you find yourself anxious about whether you’re asking the right questions, your interviews are long enough, or whether you’re analyzing them in the right way. 
Just listening to customers alone has benefits for your company.
Even if you do nothing with what you learned afterwards.
Not negating them
Related to not interrupting and not explaining anything is not negating someone. 
During an interview, you’re trying to build an environment of safety, of trust, of comfort. They should feel like they can be open and honest with you without fear of judgement. 
You are a sponge who is there to absorb whatever it is they have to say. 
(And afterwards, you can apply the judgement and discernment skills that have probably served you well professionally.)
An important piece of creating that environment is not negating them in any way. 
Remember the improv example?
If one improv actor puts on a cowboy hat and says they’re an astronaut, the other person can’t tell them they aren’t. 
The whole scene would break down. 
This probably sounds simple as you read this, so I encourage you to notice this in your next conversation. 
How often do you say “Well, but,” or “Yes, but,” or “Well actually…” or “No,” or “What you’re missing is…”?
Just notice. Take mental notes when you feel the urge to say something. 
Slowly, you’ll start to notice when you’re doing this, and that will make it easier to scrub this out of your speech during interviews. 
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Deploy Empathy
Deploy Empathy @mjwhansen

A practical guide to interviewing customers

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