Tribute to Carole Grau

There is such a thing as the “International Listening Association.” It’s a wonderfully diverse group of people from different professions, academic disciplines, and cultures. One of its founders was Carole Grau, who passed away last week.

I had the pleasure of attending the ILA’s annual conference in 2017, where I met Carole and her daughter, Jennie Grau, key members of Grau Interpersonal Communication. Jennie and I were working on a CLE event with Anita Dorczak, but we had a bit of time away from preparing to sit down with Carole. Her presence was striking: an unmistakable intellect and a lifetime of wisdom, but at the same time humble, curious, and patient. In short, she was everything a great listener should be.

Carole wore many hats, including professor, consultant, speaker, and coach. She was not a lawyer but was a trained mediator with deep theoretical expertise and practical experience in conflict resolution. Also, as Jennie told me, the Grau household has a number of lawyers so their family discussions often took on a lawyerly flavor. In the short time I was able to spend with Carole, it was apparent she could handle just about any situation—personal or professional—with honesty and assertiveness. She had been struggling with serious health problem for years; despite her health challenges, she was clearly delighted to be among friends at the ILA conference, listening and in turn being listened to. When Carole spoke at that conference, everyone did really listen, showing a palpable respect and reverence for her wisdom gathered in a career spanning 50 years.

I was so sorry to hear of Carole’s passing. Working with her daughter Jennie was a highlight of 2017, and seeing the loving bond among Carole and her family was an inspiration. My hugs and condolences go out to the Grau family at this time.







Today is the International Day of Listening

Today, September 20, 2018, is the International Day of Listening. This event, now in its third year and sponsored by the International Listening Association, aims to promote listening benefits and practices in a variety of ways, encouraging people to:

  • Become more aware of the importance of listening
  • Listen to each other better
  • Gain awareness on their listening behaviors

The theme this year is “Listening—even when you disagree.” Personal activities you can do to observe the International Day of Listening are suggested on the International Day of Listening website. Legal professionals who have 30 minutes at lunch may want to talk to a trusted colleague about their effectiveness as a listener. Or take 20 minutes for a meditative listening walk.

The International Day of Listening has broader aspirations than helping lawyers recharge their batteries by listening to nature, collaborate effectively in the workplace, and do an excellent job representing individual clients—although all of these are excellent goals and high on the priority list for this blog. The International Listening Association’s broader aims with political dialogue raise far more difficult questions about listening and power. Part of a lawyer’s job is to listen effectively in difficult situations. All professionals in the legal industry should have experience listening in difficult situations. Ideally, these skills from the professional realm can serve beneficial purposes in public discourse.

International Day of Listening

This Thursday, September 21, 2017, marks the second annual International Day of Listening:

The [International Day of Listening] will promote a variety of events that engage people of all ages and all around the world in listening interactions—everything from one-on-one conversations with friends and family to business or community meetings to governments and their citizens talking about mutual concerns.  The goal is to promote better listening in our conversations that will lead to better relationships and solutions to problems that will help make us more human.

This day, sponsored by the International Listening Association, has its own website, an excellent resource for anyone who wishes to place more of a focus on listening.

Suggested activities range from listening to the environment on a mindful walk to listening to someone with a different viewpoint. Sharing and displaying this poster would be a good way to remind oneself and others that listening is a choice (and how to make that choice). Listen Like a Lawyer’s Twitter feed will share more information leading up to Thursday, but the best source is the website itself and International Listening Association’s email list. Check out what they are doing and join as a member or affiliate if you’d like to get their updates as an ongoing reminder and resource about listening.

Of course, you don’t have to be a member of that association to observe the International Day of Listening.

And it bears noting that this Thursday, September 21, 2017, also falls upon Rosh Hashanah. A friend and colleague, Rabbi (and Professor) Mark Goldfeder, suggested potentially reflecting upon Moses’ command “Shema Yisrael.” The word “Shema” may be translated not just as “Hear!” but can also be explored in the sense of “Listen!” Professor Goldfeder quoted a beautiful sermon from Rabbi Helen Cohn:

It is a great gift to be able to listen to another person in a way that gives relief and comfort and a sense of worth.  Being able to listen is one of the most generous and kind things we can do for another person.  And it’s an ability we all have.  We just need a few tools and a reminder, in order to do it well.

Here’s a post about last year’s first annual International Day of Listening. 

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.


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.