Getting Them To Get It With One Weird Trick

You’ve got important stuff to say. But how can you get people to listen, and to “get it”? What needs to happen for them to pay attention, understand, and take appropriate action?

Whether you’re communicating with executives, with customers, with colleagues or with others people, you need to to be heard above the constant buzz of everyday distractions.

Here’s an approach that works: when they believe that you “get” them, they’ll be more open to hearing you. Then, they’re much more likely to “get it”.

I know! Nobody has time these days to get to know people properly – especially when we’re not even working from the same office. With conference calls instead of meetings, we miss out on the chat that would usually happen. Mostly we’re not even connecting “live” – it’s all on email or Slack.

Let me share a trick. Chris Voss, former FBI lead hostage negotiator, calls it “the nearest thing the FBI has to a Jedi mind trick”. It sounds weird, but it really works.

As the other person ends a sentence, repeat back three of their words. Either the last three words, or one to three key words.

Mirror the words. Not the body language. Just the words.

Voss explains, “We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar… Mirroring, then, when practised consciously, is the art of insinuating similarity. ‘Trust me,’ a mirror signals to another’s unconscious, ‘You and I – we’re alike.”

Mirroring someone’s words sounds simple, but it takes a bit of practice to master. You know you’ve mastered it when it feels natural and easy to you, and is pretty much unnoticeable to the person you’re connecting with. You’re paying them full attention. They can feel it. And that’s when a profound sense of connection emerges from the “trick”.

At a conference the other week I had the group try the technique out and, sure enough, someone protested that it had felt awkward and stilted. “Awkward and stilted,” I replied. He elaborated. I mirrored his words again. He elaborated again… Only once the knowing smiles started to spread around the room did I draw attention to what I was doing. The guy’s jaw hit the floor! He hadn’t noticed what I was doing at all.

Voss himself (in Never Split The Difference) tells a story of one of his associate consultants mirroring his words for over an hour without Voss noticing anything unusual.

By the way, there’s research that shows this trick really does pay. Professor Richard Wiseman (in his book 59 Seconds) quotes a study from the University of Nijmegen in which a waitress increased her tips by 70 per cent simply by repeating the customer’s order back to them, rather than saying “okay” or “coming right up”.

And the best bit? This technique works even on the phone.

2 thoughts on “Getting Them To Get It With One Weird Trick”

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