Becoming a Better Listener
We’ve all zoned out when someone was talking. (Think back to law school…)
Nowadays, with electronic distractions competing for time and an increased workload, being known as a good listener is a particularly difficult achievement to unlock (especially since lawyers are reputed for being great talkers…not listeners). With the hectic and complicated pace of work life lawyers have become even more committed to getting their own agenda accomplished, and less in tune with others. This makes listening to others and building business relationships a greater hurdle for new lawyers (because clients need you to care).How can we create new habits to become a better listener?
Here are a few tips:
Why are you listening? Keep in mind that you should be listening not to be polite—you should listen in order to learn. Fight the impulse to “prepare” your response or reply, and instead, be curious. Now, curiosity isn’t a switch you can turn on or off—this means you will have to be generous with your energy. Aim to learn something surprising, and listen with that intention.
How are you listening?
Consider framing conversations in a way where you can listen more closely: try to learn something you did not know, or that you have been dead wrong about. Enter dialogue with a beginner’s mind-set walking. Once you made it clear that you are going to try to learn something from your conversation, quiet your agenda. Again, fight the impulse to react or simply assert yourself. An easy rule to follow is to ask more questions than you give answers, creating a sense of safety and trust for others to share with you their honest thoughts and insights. If it helps to quantify it, strive to listen 2 times for every 1 time you talk.
What did you hear?
In an exchange of words, there’s more opportunity to be misunderstood than there actually is to understand. Repeat back what you heard to practice active listening: echo back to the speaker what you heard. If the speaker agrees that what you heard is what he or she intended to say, and you can move on. If not, the speaker needs to reword their statement until the listener really does understand. Be that you don’t want create an echo chamber and not contribute anything at all—but keep in mind that properly repeating what you heard is a surefire way of helping the speaker know that they are being heard.
Is the speaker done talking?
No one likes being interrupted or having their opportunity usurped—so wait until the person is done talking before you respond. Don’t work on a reply before the speaker is finished (you not only might jump the gun and interrupt, but you lose the complete information being offered). It also sends a subtle message that what you have going on is more important than what they have to say, which leaves an uncomfortable, self-serving impression.
Remember—lawyers are more than just mouthpieces. To be great advocates, advisers, and counselors, we have to be great listeners too!