Category: Client relationships

Client developmentClient relationshipsCollaborationEmotional intelligenceLaw firm management

Listening to punctuation

Thanks to Julie Schrager, counsel and legal writing coach at Schiff Hardin, for this guest post. 

schrager_julie_s_bw_bio_wide-1

I have been desperately trying to find a way to write about exclamation points. I grew up in a time when they were reserved for exclamations:

“Congratulations on winning that game!”

or

“That’s the reason he got that promotion!”

Lynne Truss, the author of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, calls those uses the “Yes!”  and “Ah!” meanings of exclamation points.

And I was taught—starting in high school, then in college, law school, and in my first 20+ years of legal practice—that exclamation points had no role in business communications. Nothing we wrote was considered exciting or emotional, and exclamation points were viewed as showing too much emotion.

My teachers were in good company in disliking the exclamation point.  Fiction writers for centuries had condemned the use of exclamation points in fiction-writing. Both Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald are credited with saying that using an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.

But then I started sending and receiving texts. The old exclamation point rules didn’t apply there. And now I would say the rules—at least for certain legal correspondence—have changed.

This blog is about listening like a lawyer. Lawyers listen to things judges, clients, and other lawyers say out loud. But they also “listen” to writing:  opinions from judges, emails from opposing counsel and clients, and notes from colleagues. Some people read written communications out loud, but even if we don’t, we read and “hear” them in our head.

And I don’t “hear” exclamation points as exclamations anymore. I’ve started to listen to what I read from law students and new law grads and my college-age daughter. I’ve learned that exclamation points don’t say “Yes!” or “Ah!” anymore. Instead, they say, “I hear you” or “I’m not angry” or “We are in this together” or “Our relationship is on solid ground.”

Let me explain. My job involves regular email correspondence with associates at my law firm. It’s a unique position. I work as Schiff Hardin’s legal writing coach and read and comment on written work—memos, briefs, articles, web content, blog posts, and anything else summer associates or associates write. My interactions are almost exclusively with people under 35, and most are with people between 25 and 30. Sometimes associates reach out to me to ask me to review a piece of work—and sometimes I reach out to them.

This is how it goes: at the start of every week, I send around an email to all of the associates at the firm reminding them of my existence and asking if anyone would like to work together during the week. I ask them to fight against the idea that they should be able to figure out their jobs by themselves and do not need to ask anyone for help. I ask that they embrace a “growth mindset,” which holds that abilities are not fixed in space but can be developed with perseverance and hard work.

Exclamation points play an important role in our correspondence. They help young associates and summer associates win the fight against going it alone. Sometimes I’ll get a return email letting me know that the associate is writing a blog post and would like to send it my way. Often the email either starts with “Hi Julie!” or ends with “Thanks in advance!” The message is clear:  I am putting myself out there and am interested in working together.

Listening like a lawyer means matching the tone of the person speaking to you. So I respond with exclamation points of my own: “Thanks for reaching out!” or “Sounds good!” or “My pleasure!”

And I submit that the exclamation point has a new meaning and a legitimate role in business correspondence.

Client relationshipsCross-cultural communicationEmotional intelligenceGenderLegal communication

Kairos in 2017

Killing time has never been easier, with smartphone settings that feed constant data and the average smartphone user checking it 85 times a day. But what exactly is being killed? How do we describe these moments lost?

One of the first books I read for this blog introduced me to the concepts of chronos and kairos timing. The book was Talk and Social Theory: Ecologies of Speaking and Listening in Everyday Life by Frederick Erickson. Yes, it is an academic work, but with some charmingly concrete moments. Anyone who’s seen a gunner in a law-school classroom will understand a term coined by the conversational turn-taking analysts: “turn shark.”

Erickson also explored the concept of chronos and kairos timing in communication study. Chronos (or kronos) is basically clock or calendar time. Chronos time is measured in equal bits and sequenced perfectly and inexorably one after the other. In contrast kairos timing is about “the opportune time” or “the moment of opportunity.”

Kairos is important to conversation study because mutual timing is what allows people to make sense together in conversations. Kairos moments in conversations are those where the conversation shifts, someone begins to contribute, a person speaking notices someone else shifting their gaze and notices the need for a conversation pause, and so on. Because conversations aren’t defined by automated turn-taking and timed exchanges, communications scholars find multiple kairos moments in conversational analysis:

Kairos is the time of tactical appropriateness, of shifting priorities and objects of attention from one qualitatitvely differing moment to the next….It is a brief strip of right time, marked at its beginning and ending by turning points.

Or, more poetically:

In kairos time there are kinds of time that are apples and others that are oranges. There is a time when rain will fall from a cloud, a time to attack the enemy in battle, a time to negotiate a truce, a point that is qualitatively different in time from the time in kronos just before.

Kairos can be a blessing or a weapon, according to Erickson, who summarizes meticulous moment-by-moment studies of various conversational settings, finding kairos moments of opportunity and of subtle and not-so-subtle power exchanges. A teacher tries to manage a group of students where a shy student continually loses her turn to a “turn shark” who incessantly interrupts. A medical intern and senior supervisor talk about an overdosed patient, with the supervisor offers a smile while implying the intern (who is African-American) might know something about buying illegal drugs. Using “hyperformality,” the intern refocuses the conversation with clinical language about the patient. These conversational studies were done years ago in the era of gas shortages and the Vietnam draft, but connections to today’s topics of gender-based “manterruptions,” cultural competenceimplicit bias, and microaggressions cannot be missed.

And for those kairos moments that are not a weapon but a potential blessing, the fact is they can be squandered. In Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Sherry Turkle details the effects of smartphones on in-person conversations:

The mere presence of a phone signals that your attention is divided, even if you don’t intend it to be. It will limit the conversation in many ways: how you’ll listen, what will be discussed, the degree of connection you’ll feel.

Urban Dictionary now includes a definition of the common, meme-friendly phrase “Wait, what?”:

“[a] phrase used to back the conversation up when you realize you weren’t listening.”

(See Resolve to Use Your Device as a Tool—and to Resist Being Tooled by It, Jack Pringle’s guest post here last week.)

Kairos is a useful idea not just for individual conversations, but also for effective storytelling and understanding broader social situations. In his book Point Made: How to Write Like the Nation’s Top Advocates, legal writing expert Ross Guberman implicitly criticizes chronos timing as a storytelling method:

Few things are duller than a paragraph stuffed with dates.

Instead, he shares a variety of techniques for connecting factual details into a series of meaningful moments. Although not using the terms chronos and kairos, Guberman shows how to play upon a reader’s conception of kairos, in the sense of “the right moment.” His examples show how a fact statement can suggest that certain events happened too slowly or too quickly—or that they shouldn’t have happened at all.

Explicitly applying the kairos idea to advocacy and litigation strategy, Professor Linda Berger explored kairos in Creating Kairos at the Supreme Court: Shelby County, Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, and the Judicial Construction of Right Moments. Berger uses her deep knowledge of rhetorical theory to provide context:

Through their use of two words for time, chronos and kairos, the Greeks were able to view history as a grid of connected events spread across a landscape punctuated by hills and valleys. In chronos, the timekeeper-observer constructs a linear, measurable, quantitative accounting of what happened. In kairos, the participant-teller forms a more qualitative history by shaping individual moments into crises and turning points. From a rhetorical perspective, chronos is more closely allied with the narrative accounting for—how long? what next?—while kairos is the more metaphorical imagining as—at what point? in what space?

The end of any year is an opportunity to make a kairos moment—and the end of this particular year brings to mind thoughts of a crisis or turning point. Berger shows that kairos moments are not passively experienced as one watches a ticking stopwatch measuring off equal seconds and minutes. Kairos moments are sensed and recognized, but they are also shaped. In rhetorical terms, Berger tells us, “kairos presumes that the author will intervene in history’s causal chain.”

So it’s the end of a year. It’s the end of 2016 specifically. It’s a moment of kairos time, or at least it could be—personally, professionally, socially, politically. For 2017, I propose a resolution: let’s not kill time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Client developmentClient relationshipsEmotional intelligenceLegal communicationLegal technology

Resolve to Use Your Device as a Tool—and to Resist Being Tooled by It

2016-9-jack-pringle-croppedListen Like a Lawyer is grateful to share this post by Jack Pringle, a partner at Adams & Reese in Columbia, SC. Jack is a litigator, appellate advocate, and information technology attorney. He publishes on Medium and LinkedIn.

Introduction

It’s that time of year: reflection and some soul-searching about what to do differently when we turn over a new leaf on January 1st. Let me offer a modest proposal.

The New Body Part

Everyone reading this post has a smartphone. (Ok, Jared Correia does not have a smartphone, but the rest of you do). And chances are you are not going back to a flip phone, a bag phone, or a rotary dial phone hanging on the wall in your kitchen.

These cases require us to decide how the search incident to arrest doctrine applies to modern cell phones, which are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy. — Chief Justice Roberts, Riley v. California.

And I know you have some legitimate uses for your device: very convenient to get things done at any time and wherever you are. Ridiculous amounts of computing power and broadband internet speeds and video and pictures and those GIF memes, emojis, etc., etc. I get it.

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But I am pretty sure that none of us planned to be on our devices constantly, at least not in the way we actually use them. Be honest: when you are on your smartphone, how often are you doing productive things? And how often are you doing “unproductive” things intentionally?

I am not being a scold here. No one enjoys playing as much as I do. The question is whether you decided to play, or whether your device just happened to be there and you started swiping and typing.

Are You Using the Device, or Is it Using You?

Bright, shiny devices that are so easily accessible and so full of bells and whistles tend to hijack self-control. And left to our own devices (thanks, I will be here all week), we are likely to create our own little Skinner Boxes—with games, social media sites, and constant checking of all our information streams—all the while not knowing that we’re doing it.

Your attention is being sought and used relentlessly by those doing business in the online world.

If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”. — Andrew Lewis.

Technology as a Servant, Not as a Master

And when computer tools are using us, we don’t get a chance to determine the ways in which we can use these technologies as part of our “extended mind”- allowing computers to perform tasks that free up our minds to do higher-level thinking. That higher-level thinking is what is going to enable work and workplaces to continue to evolve as automation advances.

In other words, if you are going to have your device as another appendage, then put it to work for you.

Train Your Mind-Try Meditation.

Headspace is just so easy to use. And you can use it anywhere. At anytime. Carving out those quiet moments may create the space for you to see the way your minds works, and how these technologies have commandeered your attention and created the idea that you are so “busy” all the time.

And I certainly am a proponent of getting quiet—whether through meditation, getting outside, exercising, or undertaking other pursuits—and away from devices altogether. But I don’t think it is an all-or-nothing proposition. The key is to have the space and frame of mind to discern what tools to use and when. And to realize who or what is being used.

Give Your Mind a Rest.

See above. In addition, stop keeping all these ideas in your head. Use Evernote or a similar program to memorialize and organize things for later use. If the device is going to be with you at all times, at least take advantage of that fact. As the late great Mitch Hedberg remarked:

I sit at my hotel at night, I think of something that’s funny, then I go get a pen and I write it down. Or if the pen’s too far away, I have to convince myself that what I thought of ain’t funny.

Free Up Your Attention

Quit complaining that you don’t have time unless you have gotten smarter about the way you use your time. Try Boxed. Or Amazon Prime. The idea is to use your time and attention up to do meaningful things. An afternoon of shopping and hauling things around is not meaningful in my world when there are available alternatives.

Feed Your Mind

There has never been a better time to learn new things. And these devices make myriad information sources available to you at any time. Below are just two examples.

Listen to Books. It has never been so easy to have great content literally at your fingertips. Consider a subscription to Audible, and listen while you drive, work out, walk, or otherwise have downtime. If you are looking for recommendations, click here.

Listen to Podcasts. See above. Long-form discussion. Topics directly related to your profession, interests, or entertainment choices. Always available. Pushed directly to your device. You don’t have to do anything but click and listen. Podcasts for lawyers? Click here.

Conclusion

The age of machines (artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomous vehicles, the blockchain) is only just getting started. The changes in the way we live and work are going to be significant (and arguably have already been significant). In order for humans to figure out where we fit in, we have to have lots of attention and figure out where to spend (pay) it. That means understanding these tools—their benefits and risks—and making sure we use them wisely and effectively.

GIF courtesy of GIPHY via Huffington Post

See Andy McDonald, 11 Ways Smartphones Are Not Making Us Any Smarter, Huffington Post (March 24, 2014)

Client developmentClient relationshipsEmotional intelligenceEmotional laborGender

Love your lawyer (part 2): Emotional labor of lawyers

Love Your Lawyer Day prompted the question: what makes clients love their lawyers? Client satisfaction is one way to gauge clients’ love. As addressed in an earlier post, client satisfaction depends on the lawyer’s competence and expertise. But client satisfaction is also intertwined with how the client experiences the process.

The client’s desire for a satisfying experience raises an aspect of lawyering that deserves more attention: emotional labor. Emotional labor is a common practice across service professions and “requires one to induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others.” Emotional labor generally occurs in personal interactions such as face-to-face or voice-to-voice moments. The person doing the labor displays emotion to influence the client or customer, and that display of emotion follows the rules of the profession. (The source here is Sofia Yakren’s article Lawyer as Emotional Laborer in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, which is this post’s major source along with Joy Kadowaki’s Maintaining Professionalism: Emotional Labor Among Lawyers as Client Advisors in the International Journal of the Legal Profession.)

The concept of emotional labor was originally formulated and studied by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, who focused on flight attendants in the early 1980s. Emotional labor has been in the news with the rise of Uber and other on-demand service where customer ratings mean a lot. As reported in the Harvard Business Review Blog, “on-demand workers end up performing outsize amounts of what sociologists call ‘emotional labor,’ or expressive work to make the customer experience a positive one so that users come back to the platform.”

Lawyers may not use platforms like Uber apps (not much yet anyway), but Yelp ratings are important and sometimes problematic for many. And whether a lawyer gets clients from Yelp or a casual conversation at the Yale Club, lawyers do perform emotional labor. A common theme of all emotional-labor literature is the tools workers use for performing it:

  • deep acting
  • surface acting
  • detachment

Deep acting means trying to make yourself experience the emotions you are displaying. Surface acting means using techniques to fake emotions. (This can be done in good faith to help the client, or in bad faith as a sort of cover-up.) And, as Joy Kadowski found in surveying consumer-oriented lawyers, detachment means dealing with repugnant clients by “taking emotion entirely out of the interaction with the client, reducing the relationship to one that is ‘strictly business.’”

The emotional-labor literature does not paint a particularly optimistic picture. When professionals genuinely change their feelings or align them with their actions in deep acting, the costs of emotional labor go down. But surface acting and detachment are associated with emotional dissonance, which leads to a host of problems from addiction to depression to general alienation.

Another question is, who is emotional labor for, anyway? If the focus of emotional labor is on creating a comfortable emotional state in the client, then perhaps it’s for the benefit of the client. Emotional labor to keep the client as comfortable with the legal process as possible under the circumstances could indeed help clients love their lawyers.

But emotional labor also follows predictable rules defined by the profession, and part of what professionalism does is to “convince, cajole and persuade employees, practitioners, and other workers to perform and behave in ways which the organization or the institution deem to be appropriate, effective, and efficient.” (This is Kadowaki quoting sociologist Julia Evetts.) The sociologists coined the term “feeling rules.” And feeling rules are not just for the benefit of the client in the relationship; as Kadowaki points out, “In some cases [emotional labor] is done for the benefit of the attorney-client relationship, but at other times emotional labor is used to protect the emotional state of the attorney, and thus his or her performance of professionalism.”

What can be done to minimize the consequences of dissonance for lawyers while preserving what clients need? Dismissive attitudes might say the profession should self-select: if practicing law is so dissonant and painful, then don’t do it. But that’s not a very good answer, as Yakren points out: “Do we want to eliminate healthy self-doubt as a check on professional conduct?” No. Moreover, “constructing a profession comprised of a particular type of thinker could stifle creative solutions to complex problems.” (And thus it could make clients individually and collectively not love their lawyers even more than they already don’t love them.)

Solutions Yakren poses include expl0ring and teaching lawyers more about deep acting (which helps clients just as much if not more than surface acting and detachment, and emotionally costs less for the lawyer doing it); encouraging more autonomy for lawyers to exercise their consciences; and critiquing formalistic notions of professionalism and ethics to recognize the importance of context. Similarly Kadowaki points out that professionalism is far more complex and interconnected than any formalistic system can account for: “While the lawyers [interviewed in her study] defined professionalism as requiring the suppression of emotion, their description of their actual practice detailed significant emotional labor efforts and a much more nuanced negotiation of emotional expression.”

Sources:

Joy Kadowaki, Maintaining Professionalism: Emotional Labor Among Lawyers as Client Advisors in the International Journal of the Legal Profession (2015), http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09695958.2015.1071257

Sofia Yakren, Lawyer as Emotional Laborer, University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform (2008), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2602520

Dan Defoe, Emotional Intelligence and Selecting Personnel Lawyers for High Emotional Labor Jobs, Psycholawlogy, July 15, 2016, http://www.psycholawlogy.com/2016/07/15/emotional-intelligence-and-selecting-personnel-lawyers-for-high-emotional-labor-jobs/

 

Client developmentClient relationshipsClinical legal educationCross-cultural communicationEmotional intelligence

Loving your lawyer (part 1)

Last week once again America—or at least American lawyers—celebrated “Love Your Lawyer Day.” See also #loveyourlawyerday on Twitter. Beyond the marketing hype, there’s a good question:

What makes people love their lawyers?

The first answer is competence. A 2002 study of how the public perceives lawyers found the majority of consumer clients to be satisfied with their lawyers:

Consumers tell stories of lawyers who apply significant expertise and knowledge to their cases, identify practical solutions, and work hard on behalf of their clients.

The survey also delved into various aspect of lawyers’ performance with clients. 72 percent of clients were very satisfied with their lawyer’s knowledge of the law. The study did go into some factors beyond hard-skill competence. For example, 68 percent were very satisfied with how the lawyer handled the initial conversation.

This study did not ask participants to rank which criteria were most important, or most strongly correlated with satisfaction. It did not ask them whether they found it more important that the lawyer knew the law, as compared to handling the initial conversation effectively.

Analyzing a study of big-firm clients in the U.S. and similar studies in Australia, Professor Clark Cunningham’s paper “What Do Clients Want” delved deeper into the causes of client satisfaction and dissatisfaction. In these studies, the comparative importance of competence appears to be more complicated (emphasis added here):

Many lawyers equate client satisfaction with the outcome achieved; however, studies over the past three decades in three different countries has produced impressive evidence that clients evaluate their lawyers’ competence more in terms of the process experienced by them in the representation than the outcome.

It seems clients see competence as necessary but not sufficient for client satisfaction. Competence is the baseline, and something else is what makes the difference in client satisfaction or dissatisfaction. What is that something else?

Although there was widespread client satisfaction with the specialists’ legal knowledge and skills [in the Australian study of clients], the evaluators also found “consistent evidence of client dissatisfaction with the provision of services, and the quality of the service-delivery process.” According to this study (emphasis added):

Practitioners are concentrating on developing their knowledge and skills to deliver better outcomes; but their clients, expecting both technical competence and results, are being disappointed by the process of getting there. Clients complained about the quality of their lawyers’ services in terms of inaccessibility, lack of communication, lack of empathy and understanding, and lack of respect . . . .

The original idea for this post was to write about the “emotional labor” lawyers perform for their clients and others. Emotional labor means, basically, showing up and being constructive even when it’s difficult: “the effort it takes to keep your professional game face on when what you’re doing is not concordant with how you feel.”  Does a lawyer’s performance of emotional labor make the client “love” the lawyer more?

That question led to the more basic question of what motivates client satisfaction, which led to this overview of the studies above. (There must be more information; please direct my attention to additional good data on client satisfaction.) And the overview here suggests it will be worthwhile to explore emotional labor in more depth in a future post. Emotional labor does seem connected to accessibility, open communication, empathy, and respect.

Feedback would be welcome on clients “loving” their lawyers, client satisfaction generally, and the idea of lawyers performing emotional labor for clients, colleagues, and others. Please share thoughts in the comments or on social media.

Client developmentClient relationshipsClinical legal educationCollaborationInterviews

Categories of listening

Katrina Lee from Ohio State tweeted earlier this week:

The article referred to in her tweet is by  Jim Lovelace, Director of Talent Development at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, and was published in the ABA Law Practice Today.

As Katrina said, it is a quick read. And it’s a pretty powerful read, too. The essential premise is that to be effective, a listener must move beyond “self-focused listening.” What does that mean?

In my 25 years of experience as a practicing lawyer and legal career development professional, I have observed that lawyers spend the vast majority of their work time—when they are not talking, that is—as self-focused listeners. When they hear others’ stories, their minds are occupied with: What are the flaws and where are the potential liabilities? Where is the “good stuff” on which I can build a case? They dig for facts, often asking for more information to construct their narratives and theories. This is not surprising. This is what lawyers have been taught, from law school onward, to do.

But there’s more to listening than this self-focused approach. Lovelace introduces empathic listening and comprehensive listening, two other categories of listening that may not be right for a contentious deposition but are very, very right for interpersonal situations at work. Lovelace uses a hypothetical in which a trusted senior associate blindsides the senior partner by announcing he’s leaving the firm. Different listening methods can affect not just the tone but the outcome of such conversations.

Lawyers love categories, and somebody this blog will have a pull-down menu listing the many categories of listening that communications experts have identified. When it comes to (1) self-focused listening, (2) empathetic listening, and (3) comprehensive listening, Lovelace’s article is an excellent introductory resource. It doesn’t take long to read, and it’s really good. Thanks for the tweet recommending the article, Katrina!

Client relationshipsCollaborationEmotional intelligenceLaw firm marketingLegal communication

A Day of Listening      

Thursday, September 15, 2016, will mark the International Day of Listening, an event envisioned and promoted by the International Listening Association. This Day of Listening has its own website with some excellent listening resources and ideas.

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For lawyers, law students, law professors, and legal professionals, I will highlight a few ideas for what to do on the International Day of Listening. Or any day, really. The big idea is that listening is helpful on any given day.

Invite someone to a conversation.

The website provides a template form for inviting someone to a conversation. The template looks a little bit like a subpoena or affidavit, so lawyers wishing to make a personal connection with someone may want to avoid or modify the actual form and focus on the concept. The form envisions providing a topic for the conversation; this isn’t randomly generated small talk but a purposeful conversation. Even more important, the person initiating the conversation makes a commitment: “I promise to give my undivided attention and to do the best job of listening I can.” This is a one-way promise offering something valuable without expecting or demanding something in return.

Invite a group to a conversation.

The website also provides a template form for initiating a group conversation also centered on a stated topic. Here the group makes a pledge to one another: “We will all pledge to give our best efforts to listen well to one another.”

The phrase “best efforts” stuck out at me as an interesting term for lawyers. Ken Adams has analyzed the history and meaning of this phrase in contracts. Interpreting “best efforts,” various courts have imposed a good faith standard, something more than a good faith standard, a reasonableness standard, and a diligence standard. Because the idea of “best efforts” can be vague in a legal sense, it helps to compare efforts against a benchmark, Adams points out. Benchmarks can include explicit promises made during negotiations, industry standards, the same party’s practices in similar situations, and how the parties would act toward one another if they were united in the same enterprise.

Fortuitously, the website for the International Day of Listening does offer a nice benchmark-type resource. They don’t call it a benchmark or a bookmark but actually a “ListenMark.” It’s available both here and here in the Professional Activities section of the website. I think the intent is for people to use the “ListenMark” as a bookmark or other tangible reminder. Although the name is kind of corny, the content is excellent. From putting electronic devices away and giving undivided attention to giving nonverbal signals and being familiar with others’ expectations about how to show respect, it’s a solid overview of good listening practices. It could be a good review to glance over just before key meetings.

The Professional Activities section of the website is structured around lideas for professional activities to try on September 15:

·          Tech-Free Meetings
·          What Happens When You Tune Out
·          Free Listening
·          Listening to Opposing Viewpoints
·          Listening to a Life Story
·          Listening Café
·          Discussing Issues
·          Listening to TED
·          “When am I listening or being listened to”
·          Successful Listening Strategies
·          First Hit the Pause Button

One of my favorites on this list is “Listening to a Life Story.” Carole Grau submitted this idea, and it’s a good way to learn more about a longtime coworker—perhaps someone you see every day but don’t know that much about. The core of the activity is this:

Have the listener identify a significant company employee or a long­time employee/member that they (the interviewer) can interview about that person’s (the interviewee’s) life story and their experience within the organization. What have been significant events in the company/organization or in the person’s life while they have been employed or a member?

Bar associations encourage activities such as “take opposing counsel to lunch.” What about dedicating some listening time to a longtime contributor within your own firm or organization? The longtime courthouse runner at my old law firm recently passed away; he was a consummate legal professional with so many great litigation stories. He would have been an incredible interview along the lines Grau suggests.

The outline for listening to a life story gives more details on conducting such a conversation and listening effectively. It recommends resources such as an app offered by  StoryCorps, which itself promotes a National Day of Listening the day after Thanksgiving every year. (In a world of so much talking past one another, we really can’t have enough listening days.)

These are just a few of the ideas and resources available on the website supporting the International Day of Listening. The purpose of this post is to encourage lawyers, law students, law professors, and all legal professionals to recognize and practice listening on September 15, 2016, and other days too.

Client relationshipsFact investigationLegal communicationLegal skillsPeople skills

More on flow and listening

Feeling “flow” means being fully immersed in a challenging task, with a sense of energy and enjoyment. Lawyers might find flow when they have enough skilled experience to know what they’re doing and encounter a new challenge using their skills, as previously mentioned in this post. The founder of flow theory, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, created a visual model of flow:

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 5.20.20 PM

Credit: Wikipedia (citing Csikszentmihaly, Finding Flow (1997))

As you can see the states inferior to “flow” reflect a mismatch between skill and challenge:

  • Apathy
  • Boredom
  • Worry
  • Anxiety

States with a closer match can be found closer to the upper-right:

  • Control (but the skill slightly outweighs the challenge)
  • Arousal (but the challenge slightly outweighs the skill)

In the far upper right area, where a high skill level meets a high challenge level, you find flow.

The model below is a variation on Csikszentmihalyi’s general model, tailored for lawyers and legal professionals. The examples here all focus on listening.

image

Please use the comments or social media to suggest other examples and share thoughts on lawyers and flow. What types of listening experiences prompt apathy or boredom? What types of experiences prompt worry or anxiety?  And what experiences may lead to flow?

Client relationshipsCross-cultural communicationEmotional intelligenceLegal communication

The outro

Still thinking about Prince . . .

Like so many, I downloaded some Prince and revisited the music of my youth. Purple Rain, of course. And in listening to it, I did something that I may never have done in the 80s: listening to all of Purple Rain, all 8:42 of it. That includes the final atmospheric two minutes of the song. There’s no more chorus, no big guitar, no more purple rain. There’s some trilling piano, a few of Prince’s vocalizations, and some echoing violins.  A friend who’s a musical expert told me that section has a name. It’s an “outro.”

16249452_2885c862ba_o

Flickr/bnilsen/Purple Rain 3/CC by SA-2.0

“Outro” is a music term for “the end of the road for your song.” It can be an instrumental solo, repeated chorus, or something else like that. There’s no real formula, but I think the most accurate description of Purple Rain’s outro is a meditation in strings (i.e. violins).

As a young person I honestly thought the end of the song was boring. It seemed like fluff after the huge vocals and massive guitars. The average song length has been on the rise since the 70s, leveling off in the 1990s at about 4 minutes. In fact the radio version of Purple Rain was shortened to 4:05, but I always listened to the album (on tape). Maybe my teenage attention span maxed out at 4 minutes. I would rewind the tape back to the beginning, craving the organ chord and unforgettable opening of the album:

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life . . .”

That did not feel like fluff.

Sadly now, every moment of Prince’s work seems more precious. Spending that extra two minutes finishing out the outro is a way to honor him. It’s a way of appreciating what the artist—in this case, The Artist—was doing. The whole song, including the outro, is what he was really trying to say.

Beyond that, this outro reminded me of a broader theme with communication. Conciseness is highly valued, both in writing and speaking. On this blog I sometimes pull data and anecdotes from a book called Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less. One of its arguments for brevity is the thought-speech gap: listeners can process information at a rate of 600 more words per minute than speakers can actually speak. This gap creates “spare mental bandwidth” that can lead to distraction, boredom, and judgment. Conversely, speaking in a concise, message-heavy way maximizes efficiency and attentiveness.

Brevity is a virtue in pop music as well. A tight 3- or 4-minute pop song reduces the likelihood the listener will flip or click or tap to another song. But Prince (a) was too good to be limited to a formula and (b) probably didn’t care anyway. Those who are attentive enough to hang in through the whole 8:42 get a gift—the gift of a gentle orchestral landing to this booming ballad. Everyone else misses it.

Likewise with conversations, the informal, meandering end of a conversation—when the official conversation itself is over—can be extremely valuable. The “outro” of a meeting is a place for checking in and observing nonverbal communication to understand the real reaction. People may be creating their own outro. Are they still repeating the same chorus over and over? Are they calming down and echoing what was said? Using friendly, open body language can encourage people to tell you things they were thinking about the whole time but just not comfortable saying. Checking one’s phone at the earliest reasonably polite opportunity misses the chance to learn more from the conversational “outro.”

Connections between music and conversation are pretty fascinating; see this post on communications theorists who transcribe conversations with music notation. But ultimately my point here is a simple one about music appreciation. Purple Rain is a great song, and I recommend listening to it again. All of it.

Client relationshipsLaw firm managementLegal communicationPeople skills

Anticipation = preparation

This week Attorney at Work re-published a “classic” (i.e. 2012) post by Gerry Riskin on “Five Things Lawyers Hate to Hear Clients Say.”  This post lays out some predictable, potentially recurring situations where communication is sensitive and can easily go awry. These situations certainly deal with classic challenges to lawyer-client relationships such as setting retainers, delegating work, identifying additional work, and dealing with an unhappy client.

Riskin says he’s not offering any scripts although the post does offer some ideas on language that might be a good start. He also qualifies that the post assumes the lawyer in these situations is in fact offering excellent service of unsurpassed quality. The idea is to anticipate challenging situations that arise even when the lawyer does provide great service and to handle them with tact. Part of this, of course, is listening and not getting defensive.

 

This post caught my interest because it’s not a “top-down” approach to listening. Instead of laying out general techniques and then applying them, it is structured around very specific situations where communication and client relationships are challenging. This seems more interesting to lawyers who don’t care about listening in an abstract sense but do want to have better experiences than the stressful situations they’ve encountered with clients. 

Focusing just on specific situations—the ones listed in Riskin’s post or whichever situations are most likely to arise in a particular lawyer’s practice—should certainly help a lawyer maintain client relationships. The opposite strategy, reacting in the moment without much thought and doing the same thing over and over, seems quite likely to yield less-than-optimal listening and client relationships.

Of course it’s also true that incredible communication skills may not fix a problem caused by other factors such as the economics of law practice. Those are issues for other blogs, but it seems pretty clear that incredible or at least reasonably strong communication skills are helpful in these situations.

Did Riskin capture the universally common situations that “lawyers hate to hear”?  Which ones would you add to his list?