Best of 2015

This post is a rather unscientific summary of some of the best articles and posts related to lawyers, law practice, and listening in 2015. Please feel free to comment on other sources you think should be considered among the best of 2015.

General article of the year

How People with Type A Personalities Can Become Better Listeners

Type A personality patterns include competitiveness, urgency, and hostility. For type A people, “the listening struggle is real.” This article offers a few techniques for compensating such as practicing the “WOA” method: Wait. Observe. Allow. It’s amazing what one can learn by patiently waiting and letting the person finish his or her thought.

Study of the year

Take a paragraph. Have one test group read the paragraph out loud to a listening audience. Have another test group hand over the paragraph in writing so the audience reads the exact same text. These two audiences will rank the speaker as more intelligent than the writer, even though the text is exactly the same. The study, conducted by business-school professors at the University of Chicago, found this result to be true across several different conditions. Even when a text is written to be read rather than spoken, audiences who hear it still rank the speaker more highly than audiences who rank the author after reading it.

It is thought that “vocal cues” provide more signals of intellect than are available in the reading experience. As one study author summed up,  “If you read aloud my written pitch, you’d sound smarter than my written pitch.” The study was described in the New York Times here, “The Mouth Is Mightier than the Pen.” The study is available here, with a subscription to Sage Publications: (subscription required)

Law review article of the year

A theme of this blog has been that it’s difficult to measure listening and even more difficult for any person to accurately judge just how good—or bad—a listener they are.* Professor Andrea Curcio of Georgia State wrote about how hard it is to accurately judge one’s own cultural sensibility as well, due to a variety of cognitive biases. A culturally sensible lawyer is a lawyer “who understand[s] that we all have multifaceted cultural backgrounds, experiences, and biases that affect how we perceive and analyze legal problems and how we interact with clients and colleagues.” Curcio’s article discusses cultural sensibility, barriers to developing it, and methods law schools/classes may consider to foster it. Being not just theoretically knowledgeable but actually skilled at cultural sensibility leads to more effective listening, which is why this article is LLL’s law review article of the year. The citation and link are here:  Andrea Curcio, Addressing Barriers to Cultural Sensibility Learning: Lessons from Social Cognition Theory, 15 Nev. L. J. 537 (2015).

Book of the year (reviewed on the blog)

Heidi Grant Halvorson, No One Understands You and What To Do About It, reviewed here. This book is short and insightful for analyzing different aspects of communication situations through the lenses of trust, ego, and power. The book explores ways to make a more accurate, less distorted impression and perhaps even recover from having made a bad impression.

Book of the year (still to be reviewed)

Another book of the year, not yet reviewed on this blog is Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2015). The New York Times (and specifically, Jonathan Franzen) reviewed it here. He sums up the book as a “call to arms”:

Our rapturous submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy and self-­reflection, and the time has come to reassert ourselves, behave like adults and put technology in its place.

Tweet of the year

This is from the Clio Cloud Conference in the keynote by John Suh, CEO of Legal Zoom:


Word of the year


Pam Woldow and Doug Richardson wrote a great series on “manterruption” at Pam’s website At the Intersection: Where General Counsel & Law Firms Connect. They wrote about this issue in three parts:

Part 1: Are You a Manterrupter?

Part 2: The Quest for a Cure 

Part 3: Reader Responses and Connecting the Dots

Not surprisingly, some of the feedback they received included helpful thoughts such as “Stick to your knitting.” Some of the other feedback was actually constructive and hopeful.

Runner up for word of the year

Deipnosophist: “a person skilled in table talk”

Hat tip to @LibrarySherpa:


Futuristic thought of the year

Ken Grady of Seytlines argues for process improvement and technological innovation in the legal industry, while also maintaining that soft skills have never been more important. In a September post on measuring lawyer performance, he touched on the possibility of wearable sociometric devices that will quantify social skills and effectiveness—essentially, as Ken said, a “FitBit for listening.” Such devices can already measure “proximity to other employees, who was talking, engagement levels, and other data points.” Such data can be interpreted to “determine which group dynamics led to more creativity or productivity.” (Seyfarth CEO Stephen Poor more broadly explored the idea of FitBits for lawyers as well.)

Thus, perhaps by 2016 or 2017 one of the “best of” posts here will include someone’s experience using a sociometric device to assess their actual listening skills.

*(By 2017 “their” as a pronoun for “someone” and “a person” will be widely accepted as well, but that is a different post for a different day on a different blog.)

One thought on “Best of 2015

  1. Jennifer, I want to congratulate you on the uniquely valuable service you provide to the legal profession.
    Here’s to continued informative, thoughtful, and comprehensive coverage of a key communication topic in 2016.
    Two thoughts about this blog:
    1. Regarding speaking being a more influential more than writing, I think we’d have to examine the content in the study. The written document and the spoken word have key differences. Among then , the use of more conversational tone for oral language,the allowance for mistakes in oral language, and the ability a reader has to reread a written document on his or her own timeframe.
    2 . Regarding the measurement of listening, I will speak to my technical advisers on this topic. It should be possible to develop an app for self assessment.
    Meanwhile, anyone interested in improving their listening skills can video a typical interaction and rate their percentage of listening versus talking, which we call the talk /listen ration. Over time, We be expecting a 50-50 split between listening and speakingv we be expecting a 50-50 split between listening and speaking.

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