Students learn many useful skills in law school, including reasoning, legal interpretation, legal writing, public speaking. One skill that does not seem to get enough attention is listening. Attorneys need good listening skills to be able to understand the needs of their clients, build trust, negotiate effectively, develop business relationships. One of the first things you will need to learn as a young associate in a law firm is to listen carefully to the partners’ instructions and check your understanding. People want to be heard, but they don’t get enough opportunity in our fast-speed bottom-line oriented world. Next time you talk to someone, watch for 8 listening pitfalls that hurt good conversations:
- Coming to the conversation with predetermined attitude and assumptions about the other person or the subject matter to be discussed. Good conversations have the power to create new meaning and understanding, but it is only possible if we are open enough to consider those new possibilities. So many people use conversations just to reiterate their position on an issue. Little is gained with such approach. Instead, join a conversation with an open mind and desire to learn something new. Listen without bias.
- Developing your own response while listening. Sometimes we are so preoccupied with our own thoughts that we are unable to listen attentively to what’s being said. We either speak or prepare our response, but we don’t really listen. That produces two monologues, not a conversation.
- Completing others’ thoughts. How often do we hear something and say to ourselves: “Oh, I know where she is going with it.” We attribute ideas, motivation, intent to others that they may not have. Patience pays off in conversations. Let the others finish their thoughts and don’t assume you already know what they are going to say.
- Jumping to conclusions. That happens when we choose to act on limited information instead of searching for more. It helps to suspend your judgment, listen with curiosity and ask open-ended questions. We’ll learn more this way.
- Selective listening. It occurs when we listen only to what we want to hear. We like to be right, and our minds like consistency. We don’t feel comfortable when something upsets our belief system. It’s easier to ignore that information. The downside is that we don’t learn and we don’t develop.
- Disengaging from the conversation and using disrespectful body language. For conversations to work, the parties need to show respect to each other. It’s a basic premise, and it’s surprising how often legal professionals ignore it. Don’t be a conversation bully. Listen with respect.
- Not paying enough attention to supersegmentals, such as intonation, rate of speech, emphasis, tone. You can listen not only to what’s being said, but also to what’s not being said. The supersegmentals give away clues about people’s emotions, feelings, stress level that can be important to conversation.
- Disregarding feelings and emotions. Strong feelings and emotions affect our listening, reasoning and judgment. If the parties feel overwhelmed, it may be beneficial to take a break from the conversation.