The most valuable skill I use as a lawyer came not from law school, but from mediation training. It is “active listening” — the art (and it is an art) of focusing on the person speaking in order to be able to understand what he or she is saying and repeat it back in your own words. In fact, once learned, active listening is a skill you will use in every facet of your life, at work and at home.
Thus I commend to you the article by Jim Calloway, titled The Initial Client Interview. Jim emphasizes that the number one goal of the initial interview is simply listening to the client — and hearing what he or she is saying. But listening is a skill not all lawyers have, as Jim explains:
“We have all heard someone described as being a good listener. Listening is a skill, and like other skills can be improved with study and practice. Too many times in today’s society, what passes for listening is merely waiting quietly for your turn to talk. The art of good listening is greatly taken for granted. We often talk about the importance of good communication and yet too many times the focus is entirely on speaking or writing well. The listener or reader is an equal part of the good communications equation.”
He goes on to offer some simple tips for being a better listener. They are all elements of active listening, particularly this one:
“Repeat back what was said. One of the best ways to verify understanding in communications is to rephrase and repeat back the message. This technique reassures the client that you did understand what was said, and may provide an opportunity to correct a misunderstanding.”
Plenty more good advice in Jim’s article. I recommend it to all.