As attorneys, we pride ourselves on being good communicators. We are good at talking and at writing, but how good are we at listening? As a general rule, people talk entirely too much, and forget to listen. When we don’t listen, there are misunderstandings and errors, and that could transfer into hundreds or even thousands of dollars of lost profits!
Reflective listening is a productive skill to have. In my consulting sessions, I always reiterate the fact that reflective listening doesn’t mean you’ll be a parrot, repeating everything back to your client. What it does mean is you are trying to understand what your client is saying, and confirming in your own words that you have the meaning right.
Employ these 4 tips for reflective listening and you’ll have an edge over those who are surface hearers:
1. Show you are attentive. When you are talking to your client, you can show attentiveness by looking directly at her in a non-threatening way, instead of looking at a pad of paper (or doodling!) or staring at the ceiling or the wall behind her. You can also nod your head to acknowledge you understand.
2. Show empathy. You can express empathy nonverbally or verbally. Your face and gestures should be open and inviting. Smiling is fine, but if you smile too much or at inappropriate times, you will appear to be insincere. When you speak, say things such as, “I can see you are…” so you are coming from their perspective. Vary your pitch and keep the volume at a conversational level.
3. Demonstrate your interest. Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal cues, such as “yes” or “I see”. You can paraphrase what the speaker said to make sure you understand, or ask questions to clarify what she just said. If you want to get more information, ask an open-ended question and see where it goes. If it gets off track, bring it back by asking a new question.
4. Highlight any facts or feelings you think are important to the person speaking. This will allow her to further explore her opinions and thoughts about the situation. And it may lead to better solutions.
Every successful woman lawyer knows that there are some great advantages to reflective listening. First, you will have the ability to gain deeper information. If you control the conversation and don’t let the speaker talk, she will merely answer your questions without delving into the issue and exposing underlying problems. Second, you will develop a deeper relationship with the person. Allowing someone to talk and really understanding what she is saying will create an open and trusting bond, which is valuable for client retention.
There are also some traps to avoid:
1. Don’t focus on yourself and your problems, trying to one-up the other person. It’s not about you!
2. Don’t judge or berate the speaker. Telling her that she should have done something different will shut her down.
3. Don’t fake that you’re listening. If the person starts to ramble and you get confused, stop her and ask for clarification.
4. Don’t give long-winded responses and take the wind out of the speaker’s sail. Keep your end of the conversation short.
As an executive coach, I encourage everyone to implement reflective listening as a tool not only in one’s professional life, but in his/her personal life as well. Practice doing it, and soon it will become a habit. It will help set you apart as a truly skilled attorney!