Listening when their talking style triggers “fight or flight”

The Harvard Business Review Blog recently had a great post titled How to Listen When Your Communication Styles Don’t Match. I am so grateful to the Legal Skills Prof Blog for bringing this post to my attention here. The HBR post is based on the work of Mark Goulston in his book Just Listen.

Goulston outlines two scenarios:  your conversation partner is a “venter/screamer” or an “explainer/belaborer.” The mismatch comes when a venter encounters an explainer, or vice versa.

Either way Goulston suggests some coping tactics. The sort-of-bad news is that the first tactic is to actually listen to the person. Goulston then suggests ways to get at the speaker’s substantive point and direct the communication in a more focused and constructive way. Some of the tactics are consistent with what you may already do, such as acknowledging what the person is saying and asking for takeaway points. Others may be more unexpected, such as looking into the person’s left eye, which is connected to the right side of the brain (the “emotional brain”). The post is definitely worth checking out in its entirety.

For lawyers interested in better listening, Goulston’s ideas prompt some questions.

  • What communication styles do you see in law practice? My hunch is that explaining and belaboring are more common among lawyers than venting and screaming.
  • What do you do when you experience a conversational mismatch?
  • What do you think about Goulston’s advice for coping with a mismatch?
  • What tactics have you developed to listen, understand, preserve relationships, and maybe (just maybe) manage conversations so as to reduce the venting and the belaboring in the future?

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