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Listening is everything in relationships. Clients, peers, superiors, and subordinates — and we won’t get into personal relationships here — but they count too.

Everything about digital communications is slowly, silently, and insidiously eating away at this essential skill. Digital tools are at the forefront of everything we do today — and are essential for business development, relationship support, and critical in the new normal. But these tools are not enough to breathe full-blown life into a client (or work) relationship. Listening is.

Digital communication just begs you to multitask during a conversation. The urge to glance at an email, important text, or voice mail transcription is so tempting. Studies show the human response to text and email alerts rivals the fight or flight response. It is physiologically hard to resist.

The rainmakers know all this. They bring tremendous self-discipline by ignoring extraneous screens and alerts — or better still they turn devices off. Add this awareness to their already honed listening skills and you have a relationship-building machine.

Here is how you can develop the kind of listening skills even a rainmaker would envy:

1. Cleanse Your Palate

Clean up your mind. Get rid of all those previous thoughts — good, and/or indifferent.

Prepare a clean palate to accept the words you are about to hear with a minimum of filters and bias. This includes listening without the inclination to respond — your response will come later. You will develop a more thoughtful response after listening to an unfiltered message.

2. Develop a Small Ritual to Get Yourself In the Game

Rolling Stones Guitarist Keith Richards and Ron Wood famously play snooker (pool) before performing. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would sit in his uniform and read the newspaper before championship games. Celtics legend Robert Parish would get his car washed before home championship games. Why? To clear their minds. They all went on stage with clean and focused minds.

Take 5 slow and deep breaths before initiating your conversation. Take out any device on which you make notes and place a clear title with the name and date. Turn off or silence any other devices.

A clear mind helps you hear what others might miss — and what others are saying.

3. Embrace Neutrality

The best listeners start with an unfiltered message. They hold back their opinions and feelings until they hear it all. They don’t want to respond too early. You can always engage and debate later. But the successful listening process starts with a clean baseline. And, it’s easier to offer thoughts, counsel, or debate from a common baseline than anyplace else.

Even when you don’t agree, resist the urge to respond and focus on the words and the message unless you are being asked a direct question. Most professionals listen to prepare a response. This takes up valuable brainwaves you could be using to listen to what is being said — and likely to bias the intended message.

4. Confirm What You Think You Heard

It’s so easy for 2 people to walk away from the same conversation with different interpretations. Not wrong. Just not the same. Confirming what you heard not only ensures you are on the same page but helps others sharpen their message — and the thoughts behind them.

Share what you heard. Ask if you heard correctly. Note any clarifications and changes. What did they add or delete? Some people suggest asking for confirmation shows weakness — but clients see it as a strength — the drive to understand the first time.

5. Understand

Listening is all about making sense of what we hear. Place the thoughts you just heard into any context you may have. Draw on prior conversations and any other backstory. Why would someone be sharing this conversation with you?

Once you understand someone — you earn the privilege of being understood.

6. Share Back

Your ability to comment, offer thoughts, and help develop client thinking tells them you received a message worth listening to — creating a bond and an avenue for you to have a high-value conversation.

7. Have the Conversation Again

Check in with your client. Has their thinking changed — it will for most clients. Double down on your listening skills. Keep talking to your clients and keep listening. There is always something new in their world.

We talked about how few attorneys use voice-to-voice communications. Listening is one more tool to help you join the small but strategically minded group in voice-based dialogue with clients. These are the people winning the new business in the current normal and the next.

Be well. Be safe.


The Mad Clientist

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