You want people to listen to you? A good way to start is to listen to them. And to let them know you understand what they’re saying, you get them.
There’s no need to go on and on encouraging them, or asking questions, or commiserating.
All you need is three little words.
As they finish a sentence, you simply repeat three of their words. The last three words will work like a charm. Or you can repeat up to three other important words they’ve just used.
It’s important to choose the exact words they used. You’re not paraphrasing or using synonyms. This isn’t about demonstrating how perceptive you are or the extent of your vocabulary.
Simply repeat their exact words, and they feel heard. Then they’re more inclined to give you what you need. Former hostage negotiator Chris Voss calls this strategy “the nearest thing the FBI has to a Jedi mind trick”.
He explains why it works in Never Split the Difference, his book about negotiating. “We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar.” Mirroring the other person’s language suggests similarity, and you don’t have to worry about body language or anything else.
Using their exact words is enough. It’s a signal to their unconscious, Voss explains. The mirror tells them, ‘Trust me. You and I – we’re alike.’
Repeating their words is like magic.
And I didn’t need an FBI agent to tell me about it. I learned how well this works when I was a nursing student. (No, I’ve never been a nurse—the faculty of the college of nursing suggested that I consider another career path.)
Before I went on to try my hand at broadcasting, though, there was that day…well, step into the way-back machine with me…
It’s Nursing 101, and we’re in the hospital spending time with honest-to-goodness patients. Miss Mutke is my lab instructor, Miss Mutke doesn’t much like me, and the feeling is mutual.
Today’s lesson: How to elicit information from a patient. Miss Mutke is clear: the correct way to elicit information is not to pepper the patient with questions. This is health care, not an interrogation.
Instead, she tells us to ask one broad, open-ended question. “How do you feel?” for instance.
Then, whatever the patient says, you repeat their exact words, maybe with a hint of a question mark in your voice.
“Really?” a smart-mouthed student says. “That seems silly.”
Miss Mutke responds: “Silly?”
“Well, yeah,” I blather on, “you just want me to parrot whatever they say. I think that would be annoying.”
“Yes. And, they’ll think I can’t come up with anything to say on my own.”
“On your own?”
“Well, if I’m just copying them …”
By this time of course, my fellow-students are laughing–they’ve caught on that Miss Mutke just demonstrated her information-elicitation technique. By using it on me!
I finally figured it out too. And did I feel foolish!
I took that lesson to heart, though. And it has been so helpful. For years, I used it as a reporter and talk show host, getting people to open up and talk to me. It’s just as useful now in coaching…and in sales conversations.
Give it a try, even though it might feel awkward at first.
You might think it’s obvious what you’re up to. Surely the other person will pick up on it and wonder why you’ve become a human echo.
Truth is, they’re not likely to notice what you’re doing. They will notice that you’re paying attention to them, really listening to them, genuinely interested in them. They’ll feel that and they’ll respond to it.
Repeat their words. Their exact words…with just the hint of a question mark in your voice. You can expect three results. You’ll get high-quality information, you’ll make a connection with them, and you’ll give them a reason to listen to you too.
Their own words have a certain magic for people. You tap into that magic when you use those words too.
Maybe you’re like that skeptical college kid, thinking this’ll never work. Or maybe you have a story of your own about using their language to connect.
Share it in the comments below.