Holiday parties are listening opportunities

The holiday season brings many opportunities for lawyers and legal professionals to reconnect with old friends and make new ones at holiday parties, school events, and other social gatherings. Law students may also have networking opportunities at bar events and family gatherings. Making the most of these opportunities requires good conversational skills–which require good listening skills. What not to do is to “talk” to a conversation partner while scanning the room for someone . . . else. Or respond immediately to a good story with an equally good if not even better story of your own.

Mark Goulston, a psychiatrist and business coach, writes in his book Just Listen about how to move beyond merely seeming interested and into actually being interested:

[S]top thinking of conversation as a tennis match. (He scored a point. Now I need to score a point.) Instead, think of it as a detective game, in which your goal is to learn as much about the other person as you can. Go into the conversation knowing that there is something very interesting about the person, and be determined to discover it. When you do this, your expectation will show in your eyes and body language. You’ll instinctively ask questions that let the other person fully develop an interesting story, rather than trying to trump that story. And you’ll listen to what the other person is saying, rather than thinking solely about what you’re going to say next.

Some of Goulston’s anecdotes are law-related, such the story of a mild-mannered tax attorney who adjusted his marketing pitch after losing clients to less competent “gladiator” personalities. (The connection to listening is the dissonance that his audience was experience in needing a tough attorney for a tough situation. By perceiving and understanding the audience’s dissonance, the attorney was able to address it more successfully.)

But most of Goulston’s advice is universal. This book is deceptively easy to read, but has a lot of challenging content. Choosing a behavior you want to change and then asking relatives and colleagues for two suggestions on how to do that? Perhaps painful self-improvement is better left for New Year’s Resolutions.

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