Close The Sales Gap Through Stories with Dr. Mark Goulston

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TSP Goulston | Storytelling And Selling

Episode Summary:

Do storytelling and story selling differ? A lot would argue that being a great storyteller can increase your chances of bagging massive sales. Dr. Mark Goulston, a UCLA professor of Psychiatry for over 25 years and a former FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer, believes that you cannot be telling a good story and selling at the same time. Find out why as he gets into the science behind it. The podcast host of My Wakeup Call, he reveals the several key elements that people are unconsciously looking and listening for. On top of that, catch on how storytelling can access a different part of someone’s brain to make their defenses go down.

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Close The Sales Gap Through Stories with Dr. Mark Goulston

TSP Goulston | Storytelling And Selling

Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone

I am thrilled to welcome back, Dr. Mark Goulston, who is my mentor and a close personal friend. I’m honored to say that. I’m going to tell you a little bit about Dr. Mark. He was originally a UCLA professor of psychiatry for over 25 years and a former FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer. Imagine being qualified to do that. His expertise has been forged and proven in the crucible of real life, high stakes situations. If you’re in sales, there are high stakes situations all the time, whether you’re going to get the sale or not. That’s why we brought Mark on. He’s an influencer who helps influencers become more influential. His background from speaking in Russia on empathy, which is a key skill that any person in sales or pitching needs to have, as well as the author of several successful bestselling books such as Just Listen. He’s an expert on so many things, but he’s going to talk to us about how we can become better sellers and the science behind it. Mark, welcome.

Thanks for having me on again, John. I’m proud to call myself your mentor. That’s really been special.

Mark, you and I were having a conversation that generated the concept of multitasking. People are like, “I’m going to be on my phone. I’m going to be listening to you and writing an email at the same time and maybe checking a text message that pops in.” There’s a big myth around that. I think you’re an expert who can talk about that as a topical opener because you can’t sell and tell a story at the same time. It triggered so many thoughts about multitasking and the ability to be present with people. Can you talk about what inspired you to have that insight?

I have an anecdote because people remember stories. I think you may have taught me about that. Here’s a story. We live in Los Angeles and they say it’s better to show than tell. Within a month after 9/11, I was called in by a number of groups to say, “Can you call the group down?” I was a member of a professional services networking group and these were lawyers, accountants, insurance people, very transactional people, but the whole world was shaken. I did an exercise with one of the groups which had about 25 attendees. I said, “I want each of you to talk about a dark time in your life that you never thought you’d get out of but you did and that life was never the same again after you got through it.” What was fascinating is they all went around. I think it can show you the power of a story. There was a very civil, demure female attorney. It was very easy back then, hopefully, it’s changed, to see people who had manners, who are attorneys not having the killer instinct, not having what it took to be able to handle your case. She was seen in that way. She was highly competent.

Here was her story, and she said it with no scintilla of being impressed with what she said. She said, “One of those times in my life was on the day that I graduated law school and I was about to be given a chance to start paying back all the debt I had. On that same day, I was given total custody of my two younger siblings.” You could feel in the audience, she’s no lightweight. What was fascinating is I would say it was 90% recall of people’s stories. Whereas this group, we’ve been meeting for years and a lot of times you hear the elevator pitch and you still don’t know, “Is this a banker? Is this an accountant? Is this a lawyer or what do they do?” They say the same old spiel.

I think what happened is as people shared stories that they were connected to, everybody lowered their guard. That’s what you and I spoke about. When you share a story that you’re emotionally connected to, it causes the other person to feel he or she is emotionally connected to that story so I can lower my guard and lean in without worrying that they’re going to do a bait and switch. That said, and you’re a master at this, you need to teach people that when they share a story, it just can’t be a memorized one where they raise the inflection at the proper time to demonstrate how I am so emotional and then do a bait and switch. It’s a challenge because when you tell the same story many times because it touches a nerve, you need to be able to still be present in the story as opposed to knowing this is instrumental to my getting them to connect with me and then I’m going to start selling them.

Actors on Broadway get the same script every time, and yet the really good ones make it fresh and respond to how the audience is responding and they’re in the moment, which I think is the big takeaway. If I’m someone who is in sales and we all have to sell ourselves, we’re pitching ourselves to get hired, we’re pitching ourselves to get a new client, we’re pitching ourselves to get hired as a speaker, we’re pitching ourselves to get our start up funded. Whatever it is, you’re selling yourself and your ideas to get implemented all the time. People say, “It’s time to sell. Push.” My whole premise is to tell a story that people see themselves in and you become magnetic. Instead of pushing, you’re going to pull people in. When you’re telling a good story, you’re so present as you just described, that you’re not selling. What happens to us from a scientific standpoint? You obviously have a medical degree, so you understand mirror neurons and how that all works. Why is it that when we’re telling a story where accessing, if you will, a different part of someone’s brain and the defenses go down?

I’m glad you mentioned mirror neurons. I have several books and I have a book called Just Listen and the subtitle is Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone by Listening. What I talked about in there were mirror neurons. For people who don’t know much about neuroscience, mirror neurons were discovered in the late 1980s actually in macaque monkeys. They were called “Monkey see, monkey do” neurons because people noted that monkeys would imitate each other. They would even imitate you. There are pictures where you’ll see someone sticking their tongue out and one of the monkeys and the monkey sticking his tongue out backwards, back at that person. Mirror neurons mirror what’s coming to them. I introduced the concept in Just Listen, which I’ve spoken to in many occasions, called the mirror neuron gap. Imagine that we’re often trying to mirror others. We’re trying to conform to their needs. We’re trying to please them. We’re trying to not tick them off. The more that we do that consciously or unconsciously, the more it develops a hunger in us for the world to mirror us in return. The greater the mirror neuron gap, meaning the more we feel we’ve confirmed everybody else’s emotional, psychological needs, the greater the gap and the greater the gap, the higher our cortisol is. It is stressful when there’s a big gap. Some of the things that widen the gap are sarcasm, ridicule, abuse and sullenness.

Define that word for us just in case it’s not a word that everybody says in their everyday language.

Sullenness means if you have ever talked to a teenager or a spouse and they’re really upset and you think they’d feel better if they spoke about it, they just say, “Leave me alone. I’m fine. I’m okay.” Clearly, they’re not a happy camper but they’re just sullen. They’re withdrawn and they’re moody.

You can't sell and tell stories at the same time. Click To Tweet

Let’s double click on that because for people reading, you can transfer this, not just to your personal life but your business life. If you’re managing people and you’re trying to motivate them or you’re a speaker, like you and I are, and we’re trying to motivate an audience or just not getting through, sometimes it has nothing to do with us. If you’re selling something to someone and you don’t have any idea what the story was, what phone call they got. Maybe they got chewed up by their boss, who knows what happened and they are just not in the mood to hear what you have to say? The awareness that not everybody’s always just as excited as you are to be talking about what you’re talking about is a huge tool in our toolbox.

It reminds me of a 60 Minutes segment that Oprah Winfrey did. It was about a program I think in Wisconsin that treats childhood trauma. In the 60 Minutes Overtime, someone interviewed Oprah because Oprah said that was the most life-changing story she’s done in her entire career. That’s a pretty big claim, so the person interviewing her in 60 Minutes Overtime was like, “What do you mean?” She said, “There’s a reason they’re so successful in treating these traumatized children who are not just passive, they’re acting out, they’re doing destructive things, they’re hitting, they’re kicking. Their whole approach is they believe that most people are good inside, but it gets distorted. Their whole approach when they approach people is to say, ‘What happened to you that this is what’s going on now?’” They always believe that something happened, a prior story, a prior incident to cause what’s happening as opposed to just jumping down their throat and saying, “Stop doing that. Why are you doing it? Why are you acting up?”

It was fascinating because the reporter asked Oprah, “Did that change your life?” She said it changed everything. I think what she was really admitting is that between the lines that you can be judgmental if someone acted up instead of realizing something had happened to them to cause them to act up. I think what she was admitting is before realizing this, I would react to the behavior and said, “Why are you doing that? Stop doing that,” as opposed to, “What happened to you?” Here’s the power of going behind things and it’s in my book, Just Listen. There’s an anecdote and this is the power. If you’re reading and you want to influence people, what’s more powerful than what you tell others is what you enable them to tell you that matters to them. The more you can get them to tell a foundational story or a story behind what’s going on. To your point, I was meeting with a CEO and it took a while for me to get an appointment with him. I’m seated with him and it is clear he’s not there. He’s not making eye contact. It’s clear that he had made the appointment and he probably wanted to cancel it.

I work for myself. I can say things that if I had a sales manager and I told him I said this, they tell you “How did you dare say that?” To this fellow who was clearly preoccupied, I said, “How much time do you got from me?” He goes, “What?” I said, “Your time’s up.” “What do you mean?” I said, “How much time do you got for me? Look at your calendar.” He ruffled around. He was ticked off and he said, “Twenty minutes.” I said to him, “We’re into minute three and it’s clear that there’s something more important in your mind than meeting with me. I’m guessing it’s more important than a lot of the things you’re going to do now. Here’s the deal. Let’s stop our appointment now at minute four, but take the remaining sixteen minutes and take care of whatever is on your mind because I think what we would talk about would be worth your undivided attention, but you can’t give that to me. It’s not fair to this conversation, but it’s not going to be fair to other people. Take care of that other thing. If I’ve been too rude, just tell your assistant, ‘Don’t ever let him back.’”

He was a big footballer and he looked at me and he paused and then his eyes watered up. I say to myself, “Mark, you can’t be the shrink out in the business world. Stop making people cry.” He looks at me and he says, “You’ve known me for four minutes and you know something that people 30 yards from us don’t know because I’m very private.” I said, “What’s that?” He looked at me and he said, “My wife’s having a biopsy and it doesn’t look good.” His voice is emotional. I said, “Go be with her. You shouldn’t be here. Make a call. I’m sorry. Take care of it.” It was fascinating because he looked at me and he felt the relief of being able to tell his story that was behind his behavior. He was like one of these big Newfoundland dogs coming in from the rain. He shook his shoulders, he looked at me and he said, “I’m not as strong as my wife, but I’m pretty strong. I did two tours of duty in Vietnam. You’ve got my undivided attention and you’ve got your full twenty minutes.”

TSP Goulston | Storytelling And Selling

Storytelling And Selling: A lot of people have trouble with their close, pitch or sales because they’re so nakedly about themselves.


I think if you’re reading this, what happened is I mirrored him by knowing something was going on that was causing him not to be present. By then having him tell the story of what was going on, and again I didn’t race to put it aside. If I was really a jerk, I would have said, “Do you think you’ll be able to compartmentalize that so we can get onto the pitch?” It shouldn’t surprise you. I know this person since then. That’s the power of not only storytelling but getting other people to tell their story. There’s something I’ve come up with, and you might want to try this if you’re doing a pitch. What I notice is a lot of people have trouble with their close, pitch or sales. The reason for that is because you’re so nakedly about yourself. Even if you’ve had this conversation, when you have to come in and ask for the sale, a lot of salespeople are awkward because what you’re doing is you’re stepping out of it being about a win-win into, “Am I going to get my number?” That’s I think what fuels the awkwardness.

Something I’ve been coaching sales teams about is what I call starting with the close. Somewhere early on in the conversation and you have to modify to fit the situation and whatever you’re selling and you say to the other person, “Can I tell you what I think our conversation is about? It’s not about me selling you anything or you buying anything,” which would intrigue people to go, “Can I tell you what I think is going on?” You’re doing this early on, you could say, “The purpose of this conversation is that I get a yes from you. If not now, in the near future. If I get a yes from you, there’s a possibility, I’ll not only meet my numbers but I’ll exceed my numbers. I’ll get a raise. I’ll get paid more. I’ll get a bonus. I put myself in your shoes. What I realize is it’s about for you as what I call 1116 squared.” I’m putting that together in an article and possibly a book and they’re going to say, “What is that?” You could say, “What you’re listening for as the buyer of products and services for your company is if you say yes, whether you will regret it one day, one week or one month from now. That’s the 1, 1, 1.”

You’re listening for that because if you regret it and it turns out badly, your boss is going to say, “What did you buy this thing for? We can’t use it. We can’t implement it. I have to tell my boss why we brought it into the company.” My guess is you’re listening to make sure that you won’t have the 1, 1, 1 regret, but the six squared is what you’re really listening for unconsciously. I this going to be the purchase where your boss’s boss says to your boss, “I’m giving you a raise because you and your group just brought something into the company that helped us be so much more successful than the CEO singled me out to say, ‘That was pretty neat, what you brought into the company.’” The 6 squared is what you’re hoping is that your boss’ boss will be so pleased with they’re getting a raise that they’re going to do the same for your boss. If your boss is someone who’s not totally self-absorbed, they’re going to know that not only did your bosses group to achieve that sale, but you’re the one who was the key person.

I do this when I’m being hired as a keynote speaker. I future pace the event planner and I’ll say, “What would it look like a week after this event for you to look really great to your boss? What feedback would you be getting?” They think to themselves, “I guess at the event I would see people engaged and not on their phones and then people will come up to me and say, “That’s the best speaker we’ve had in years. My boss would say, ‘You really nailed it. The people are actually using what John talked about in telling better stories now and we’re winning more pitches,’ and all of that would start happening.”

If they get stuck and they can’t visualize what good feedback sounds like, I will reference other keynotes I’ve given and say, “Here’s what happened last time, the feedback they got,” and then they see themselves in that story and they go, “That’s the journey I want to go on.” I think there are lots of applications to what you just shared there of future pacing people of when you make the right decision, because everyone’s afraid of making the wrong one. There’s fear to pull the trigger. If you can tell a story and paint the picture of what it looks like when you make the right decision, then they can take a breath, as you said, and the storytelling is happening versus the selling. They’re like, “That’s for me.”

Show, don't tell, how people can see themselves working with you. Click To Tweet

What I loved about what you just said and what I hope readers will pick up is it goes to the word relevant. When you future pace it, it needs to be relevant. You outlined it perfectly that a week or two weeks later, whatever the timeframe is it’s exactly that. The speaker was engaging, people didn’t look at their phones, plus you gave them information that was doable by them. I think that’s a key component, doable by them. One of the problems that experts have is they’re so passionate about their expertise that they often want to infuse people with all kinds of insight, how it works and why it works. That can sometimes be helpful. A lot of the audiences in business, what they’re listening for is the bottom line. The bottom line is, is this something that is relevant to me that I can use immediately without having to become an expert?

What I like about what you do is you give people actual tips and a roadmap for telling a great story. They don’t have to be natural born storytellers. If they follow those steps, the result will be people saying, “You tell an amazing story.” I know that when you work with people, initially they learn the skill and it may not be authentic, but as they start to attract an influence and attention, they begin to say, “I like this. I like that telling the story was not just affective and selling more, but more people came up to me.” When people learn what you have to teach them and they give presentations, people are going to come up to them and some of these people will say, “No one’s ever come up to me after a presentation.”

I remember when we met years ago when you came up to me and you said, that’s one of the best presentations I’ve ever heard because you spoke with us or above us. I think I will always remember that my whole life because it was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. I didn’t know who you were, so it even took on more meaning. That’s the goal, whether it’s a keynote presentation or a one-on-one conversation where you’re trying to get someone to take some action. I think the real takeaway from what you said there is everyone has this unspoken question in their head when they’re listening to you talk, especially if you’re telling a story about someone else you helped, and that question is, “Will it work for me?” It’s great that that person went from this to that or that other event planner got rave reviews, but these people are not that. They have to see themselves in your story and you are the master with this. It’s the mirror neurons. The more we get those mirror neurons to match, the more they see themselves in the story, you’re closing that stress gap and then they think, “Yes, this will work for me too because I’m matching. The more I’d match myself in that story if I understand your whole strategy there.”

The compliment that you took from that about you talking with an audience, when you talk with an audience, you’re mirroring them. When you talk over or at them, you’re pushing them away, you’re increasing the gap. If their minds are overwhelmed, and most people’s minds are, and you’re talking to them, they will nod from the neck up, but they won’t execute because it’s just more information and they can’t hold on to everything they have. When you talk with people, people lean into it because sadly, this is an interesting awareness that you could share with your audiences. You could say, “Raise your hand if you feel talked with less than 10% of your conversations.” I think a lot of them are going to raise their hand. “Raise your hand if you feel being talked with would almost exponentially increase the other person’s influence with you.” They’re going to raise their hands. You can say, “Raise your hands if what I’ve presented so far, not just stories I’ve shared, but hopefully my enthusiasm for you. I want to make you more successful and I want to introduce a way that you haven’t recognized. It’s yours for the having, for the taking.” It’s not rocket science. It might be neuroscience and because I think storytelling, especially stories that you’re connected with and that are relevant to them, people lean in to that and they feel talked with.

You’ve been interviewed by everyone from Oprah to Larry King. You understand the value of being present in those moments when the stakes are high. It’s not hostage negotiation, but your adrenaline is kicked up a notch or two when you’re being interviewed by people like that and the cameras are rolling and it’s live TV. The preparation that goes that, that you can depend on your skills when you need them is something so valuable. I wanted to give an example of the preparation I did and then get your take on what you do. It was invited to be on a show called Talk of the Town and talk about storytelling and selling. They said, “A lot of our viewers are in the morning and they’re stay-at-home moms. Is there anything in your book better selling through storytelling that’s at all relevant to them?” I said, “Yes.” A mutual friend of ours said to me she’s got some twelve-year-old boys that she’ll say to them, “How was your day?” She gets one-word answers, “Fine. Good.” Every parent has had that experience.

TSP Goulston | Storytelling And Selling

Storytelling And Selling: What people respect is when you have values that you don’t stray from and that are being of service to them.


I said, “Instead of asking your kid that question, ‘How was your day?’ you could say, “Tell me a story about the best part of your day.” It causes them to think about it, learn some storytelling skills and get a dialogue going.” The producer liked that and so did the host of the show. Customizing your audience, when you talk about being relevant, the ability to shift and say, for these people who are going to possibly hire me as a speaker, it’s a very different messaging and story I’m going to tell when I’m on camera talking about my book. You have done that so many times and I wanted to get your thoughts on the ability to be prepared and what is it that we can all do and learn from you so that we can be more flexible and in the moment.

There’s something that’s helped me get prepared and at the same time, lessen my anxiety because I’m an introvert and so I have to pump myself up to be present. Something I’ve been focusing on, and I’m coaching other people to do, is if you can imagine that whoever you’re speaking to or with, if you think to yourself, they are looking and listening for what? If you imagine what they’re looking for and listening for, I’ve actually identified several key elements that they’re unconsciously looking for and listening for. If you can deliver on them, you’ll have an amazing influence. The first thing that they’re looking or listening for is can they trust me? I’m this foreign entity. I’m obviously presenting something, until proven otherwise I’m selling them on something, which is basically I want you to hire me for more. The first thing is can they trust me to not hurt them or take advantage of them? Unconsciously they’re comparing me to all the people who did hurt them, took advantage of them, especially the ones who initially they thought were their friends.

The next thing that they are listening for is confidence. The confidence is, “What’s his track record?” Confidence comes not from what I say I can do. Confidence in me comes from them hearing what have I already done that helps someone exactly like them that produced hopefully measurable results. When they hear a track record of something, I was able to do with other people just like them, that makes it relevant. They have confidence. Here’s the extra thing and this is really underneath the trust and confidence. They’re actually listening for whether they can respect and admire me. Why? When they can respect and admire me, I become someone they want more of, not for my service as a product. They want my esteem. I had seven mentors, they all passed away.

One of the most important things to me about all of them was their esteem. These influential and powerful people gave me the gift of their most precious thing, which was their time. It was interesting because I so wanted their esteem and never wanted to disappoint them, I would never tell them something I was intending to do unless I was 150% sure I would do it. I want to be in integrity and I wouldn’t want them to think, “He’s flaky.” They were so forgiving and they liked me and I think we loved each other for more than what I was doing that they would have cut me more slack than I did. People are listing for, “Can I trust you? Can I have confidence in you?” Because of their experience of really not necessarily interacting with people that they respect or admire a lot, they’re not consciously listening for that. When you can deliver on that, people want more of you. What I’ve discovered that people respect is when you have values that you don’t stray from and the values are always focused on other people being of service to them.

That taps right into why companies hire you to become a keynote speaker. They’re trying to make sure that they have a culture that attracts and keeps the right talent there so that they can be more competitive. If there’s dissonance between departments, they can bring you in to get people to start cooperating and listening and working together in a new way that’s never been possible before. Those are some of the takeaways that I’ve seen from watching your reel of you in front of Russia and seeing some of the companies that have hired you to speak before. Are there any last thoughts you want to leave this with, Mark, about what takeaways the audience has when they hear you give a keynote?

Talk with people, not at or above them. Click To Tweet

Here’s an anecdote. People look up Goulston Moscow on YouTube. They made a three-minute highlight reel to say this is what our events look like and our speakers look like. I actually wrote a blog called the Three Da Formula. Da is yes in Russia. It was a way of easing my own anxiety. I spoke for six hours. It was just me one day for a one-and-a-half hour module and questions. People said, “Were you exhausted?” I said, “When you have adrenaline going through every pore in your body, you only get exhausted afterwards and you can’t move after.” What I did at the beginning was what you want to do to be successful as you want to get into the other person thinking. What I did at the beginning, and I try to do this now in most presentations, I said, “Wouldn’t you agree that it’s important for the speaker to get where you’re coming from?”

I did a little research on new Russians. My first slide was a slide of a Russian audience with their arms crossed and all of them looking pissed. I showed that slide and I said, “What people told me is when you go to Russia, don’t smile.” I showed the slide and they laughed and I said, “What I realized is you’re not smiling, not because you’re upset but you’re looking for whether you can trust me to not take advantage of you or hurt you because historically, every time some foreign entity came into Russia, it was to hurt it. You have hundreds of years of people trying to hurt Russia, trying to kill off Mother Russia. You’re listening for what my intentions are. Let me see if I get where you’re coming from.”

I’ll give you an example, but other people have to modify it. I said, “Most of you are managers. You don’t get anything done yourself. You get stuff done through people. You don’t do this stuff. You let people do it. Is that true?” “Da.” “Is it also true that you’re coming here because your way of getting things done is sometimes to be pushy, which gets short-term results but it’s stressful on them, stressful on you, causes them and you to drink a little bit too much vodka, not eat that well? If there’s another way to get the same results or better results, it’s less stressful. Is that what you’re listening for?” They go, “Da.”

The third thing I said, “Finally, what you’re listening for is can you get from our six hours together tactics and tips that are doable by you and there is no upsell? I’m not selling you a course. The Russian edition of my books are out there in front if you want it. You don’t have to buy it, but you’re looking if you can get things that are doable and implementable by you in your life, and you don’t have to like psychology. You don’t even have to like thinking. If I could give you those, would this have been worth your time and money?” They go, “Da.” The idea is if you can get into people’s thinking, it’s pretty easy like what we talked about earlier.

It’s easy for you because you’ve done it so long and you’ve been used to getting in people’s heads as a therapist. I think it’s the lessons that we can all take away of empathy, listening and storytelling. Those are the three key secrets to becoming or compelling and less pushing, Mark. I can’t thank you enough. The book again is called Just Listen. I can’t thank you again for giving us such great insights into the ability that if you’re telling a story, you can’t be selling and people love stories. Thanks, Mark.

You make me want to be a better person. I feel like this is that Jack Nicholson movie.

Thank you. That’s very kind.

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