Excerpted with the permission of the author from pages 59-61 of  “Just Listen”

As the old joke goes, “You can’t fake sincerity.” You can’t fake interest, either, so don’t try. The more you want to influence and get through to discerning and successful people, the more sincere your interest in them needs to be.

Recently, I was having lunch with an insurance professional in his mid-thirties and a lawyer in her early thirties. He asked all the right questions: “Where are you from?” “How did you get into what you do?” “What do you like about what you do?” “What would be the best client for you?”

I was impressed with his questions, and the young woman answered them with enthusiasm. The only problem is that when he asked them, he didn’t seem earnest . Instead, he seemed to be following a script he’d learned in a sales training course. He did well enough to win over the young and somewhat inexperienced woman who’d joined us, but more experienced senior clients, customers, and prospects— who typically have highly refined “Baloney” detectors— would have picked up his insincerity and eaten him for lunch.

twopeopletalking-2So: how do you master the skill of being interested—and be sincere when you do it?

The first key is to stop thinking of conversation as a tennis match. (He scored a point. Now I need to score a point.) Instead, think of it as a detective game, in which your goal is to learn as much about the other person as you can. Go into the conversation knowing that there is something very interesting about the person, and be determined to discover it.

When you do this, your expectation will show in your eyes and body language. You’ll instinctively ask questions that let the other person fully develop an interesting story, rather than trying to trump that story. And you’ll listen to what the person is saying, rather than thinking solely about what you’re going to say next.

The second key to being interested is to ask questions that demonstrate that you want to know more. It’s not always easy, of course, to get another person to open up so that you can be interested in what he or she is saying.

In a Business Setting, the best way I’ve discovered is to ask questions like these:

  • “How’d you get into what you do?” (I credit Los Angeles super mediator Jeff Kichaven with this; he says it never fails to start and keep people talking.)
  • “What do you like best about it?”
  • “What are you trying to accomplish that’s important to you in your career (business, life, etc.)?”
  • “Why is that important to you?”
  • “If you were to accomplish that, what would it mean to you and what would it enable you to do?”

In Personal Relationships— for instance, at a party or on a first date— questions like these can often trigger a heartfelt response:

  • “What’s the best (or worst) part of (coaching your kid’s soccer team, being away from home, etc.)?”
  • “What person has had the biggest influence on your life?”
  • “Is that the person you’re most grateful to? If not, who is?”
  • “Did you ever get a chance to thank that individual?” (If the person asks, “Why are you asking these questions?,” you can say: “I find giving people the chance to talk about who they’re grateful to brings out the best in them.”)
  • “ I’d like you to imagine that life is perfect . . . Okay, tell me— what do you see?” (I credit Los Angeles-based human resource specialist Monica Urquidi with this tip. If the person asks why you’re asking this, say: “I find that learning about people’s hopes and dreams tells me what’s important to them— that’s a good thing to know, don’t you think?”)

FTD Delivery

When I meet new people, I try to engage in conversations in which I ask questions that will cause them to say: “I Feel x, I Think y, I Did or would Do z” (what I call FTD Delivery). I know that when people ask me questions that generate all three of these answers, I feel “known” by them in ways that I usually don’t if we’re talking exclusively about what we feel or what we think or what we did or would do. Much of who we are is composed of what we feel, think, and do, so when we’re in conversations where we get to express all three, we feel more satisfied.

Eventually, one of your questions will click and you’ll see the person lean forward eagerly to tell you something with enthusiasm or intensity. When that happens, do the right thing: Shut up. Listen. Listen some more. And then, once the person reaches a stopping point, ask another question that proves that you heard (and care about) what the person said.

For example, if the person tells you that her college math professor had a huge influence on her life and explains why, don’t reply by launching into a speech about your own professors. Instead, follow up with a question like: “I’m curious— why did you decide to go to that particular school?” or, “Whatever happened to that professor? Do you still keep in touch?”

Another way to show you’re interested is to summarize what the person is saying. For instance , is the person regaling you with the story of a nightmare vacation trip? If so, repeat back some of the money points of the story: “Holy cow! You broke your leg, and you still made the flight. Unbelievable.” (Another good move, if the conversation offers an opportunity, is to ask for advice: “That’s amazing— you grow all of your own herbs? Tell me: how do you keep your cilantro from bolting?” People love offering advice, because it makes them feel both interesting and wise.)

At some point, if you’re doing this skillfully and sincerely, the other person— who’s grateful to you for really listening, which almost never happens in this world— will probably turn to you and say something like, “And what about you?”








Mark Goulston


Mark Goulston, M.D.,is a psychiatrist, consultant, business coach focusing on founders, and is the author of Just Listen,  Get Out of Your Own Way and most recently,Talking to Crazy.  He is a contributor to Harvard Business Review, Huffington Post, Business Insider, Fast Company and Psychology Today.  He is frequently quoted or featured in The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, Newsweek and others, and on CNN, NPR, Fox News, and BBC-TV.  Mark lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.  For more information visit: contact him:


75 Best Sales Questions to Close More Deals

Guest Post by Paul Cherry Have you ever faced a situation where the sale seemed to be just about sealed,...

10 Questions to Ask Your Mom or Grandma on Mother’s Day

My Mom, Clara Tiede, was the best Mom I could have ever had.  With one year of Junior College she became a...

5 Questions for Helping Others with their Struggles

Guest Post by Dr. K. Shelette Stewart A few years ago, when I resigned from my leadership role at Harvard...

4 Best Icebreakers For Team Meetings

Guest Post by Dr. David Burkus Originally posted @ Icebreakers are not just games or...

Do You Have a Hard Time Saying “No”?

Excerpted from Chapter 24 of “Now That’s a Great Question.” Click HERE to listen to Chapter...

Four Words

Excerpted with the permission of the authors from Chapter Three of Power Questions: “Four Words. ...

You need Questions…. Not Answers….Start here

Guest Post by Diana Kawarsky You’re a new hire in financial services, maybe an Analyst or Associate who...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.