Tag: Conversation

Client developmentLegal communicationPeople skills

Listening on TV: What Sitcom Clips Can Teach Lawyers

Thanks to unnamedTami K. Lefko for this fun and informative guest post.

I often use clips from television shows and movies in class, and there are a few related to active listening that I especially like. Here are three of my favorites, from three popular sitcoms:

1. Everybody Loves Raymond, “Father Knows Least”

This early episode of Everybody Loves Raymond largely focused on active listening. In the first part of the episode (“Part I” below), Debra forced Ray to attend a parenting class with her after their daughter Ally began misbehaving. Ray did not take the class seriously and did poorly when he was asked to role play with the instructor and demonstrate how he listens to their daughter.

(Part I – Ray demonstrates ineffective listening skills in parenting class)

But later in the episode (“Part 2”), he has a little more success using active listening techniques with his own parents. The most relevant part begins about 50 seconds into the “Part 2” clip and continues for about two minutes.

(Part II – Ray does better with his own parents)

One tangential aspect of this episode that I find interesting is that it also illustrates (and debunks) a common misperception about skills like writing and listening: that they can’t be taught. Those of us who teach legal writing and related skills have probably all heard, at one time or another, the objection that these skills cannot be taught: either you are a talented writer (or good listener) or not. In this episode, Ray initially objects to attending the parenting class. He agrees to attend, however, when he catches himself saying that his parents never took a class and they did a fine job — not exactly how he usually describes their parenting. Similarly, his parents tease him about taking a parenting class, but the techniques he learned in class are shown to work well to diffuse one of their arguments.

Credit: Season 2, Episode 2/Original Airdate: September 29, 1997

2. The Big Bang Theory, “The Extract Obliteration”

For a more recent example, I like this one from The Big Bang Theory. In the clip below, Sheldon and Leonard realize they are talking past each other rather than having a real conversation, so they try using a chess timer to give each other a chance to speak in turn.

The brief non-conversation that prompted Leonard to suggest using the chess timer is included in this longer clip, but it is of lesser quality than the clip above:

Although the use of the chess timer is played for laughs here, a chess timer or something similar could be used effectively in class for listening practice. Clients often complain that their lawyers do not truly listen to them, and law students can also find it difficult to listen, uninterrupted, to another’s story. Using a chess timer or similar device could make students aware if they tend to interrupt or pressure a speaker rather than listening patiently.

Credit: Season 6, Episode 6/Original Airdate: November 1, 2012

3. The Office, “The Whale”

In the episode linked below, Pam tries to teach Dwight how to appear interested in what other people have to say so that he can sell to female clients more effectively, without much success.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qg8PIK74KO4

Credit: Season 9, Episode 7/Original Airdate: November 15, 2012

All three of these episodes can be viewed in their entirety on Amazon Instant Video and similar services. If you have any favorites of your own on the listening topic, please mention them in the comments! I’d love to expand my repertoire of listening videos that are both entertaining and informative.

Law firm marketingLegal communicationPeople skills

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.