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Young Lawyers: Seek First to Understand, then be Understood

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Nevada Lawyer Magazine
“People are more likely to follow your example than to follow your advice.”
Young Lawyers
Laura Granier, Young Lawyers Chair
Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood
I recently had the privilege of being on a panel with Judge Brent Adams and a few other highly esteemed colleagues, teaching a CLE on issues that arise when business associations “blow up.” Adams is well-known for his high rate of success in getting cases settled. Even when the parties have been fighting for years, seemingly with no hope of settlement, he seems to have a way of helping people find resolution. So, this month’s article is inspired by his talk, centered on the theme of the extreme value to be found in simply listening. I also find it particularly appropriate for February, in light of Valentine’s Day and the important role listening plays in the success and happiness of our personal relationships as well as our professional work. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. It is said that, with the obvious exception of physical survival, there is no greater need among humans than psychological survival – to be understood by others. Communication is one of our most important skills as human beings and it is critical to us as lawyers. If you want to interact effectively with someone, to influence them, you first must understand them. This is one example of how life experience may play a role in making us better lawyers. When going through a difficult time, one will invariably be reminded of the old adage that our troubles will “build character.” As with many clichés, we know that, while perhaps overused, this statement does contain a nugget of truth. Going through difficult life experiences can create empathy, understanding and appreciation for others and their hardships. It can make us realize what really matters or perhaps force reflection on what, as Adams puts it, you want to spend your days on Earth doing. I found the core focus of Adams’ discussion to be that we all need to be good listeners in order to be effective advocates and counselors. We should remember that it is within our function to help clients find solutions and not just to litigate – to be problem-solvers who ask what it is the client really wants and find the best way there or at least a better or alternative way. In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, “sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” Hopefully, sooner rather than later, you will ask yourself what final goal you hope to achieve, and what result you can reasonably expect. Until you do that, it may be difficult to figure out how to get everyone on common ground or, if common ground cannot be reached, how to explain to the judge or jury why you should win. Executive Coach Marshall Goldsmith writes in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, that listening is the one skill that separates the great from the near-great. He points out that when you are on a date or talking to your boss or pitching a new client, you focus intently on what the other person has to say. The difference, according to Goldsmith, is that the super-successful maintain that level of focus all the time. How often do you solicit
Nevada Lawyer February 2010
opinions and take action based on what you learn? Listening is one of the most important of all leadership skills – a doorway to success. Yet, we often hear even lawyers complain about how much (other) lawyers “love to hear themselves talk.” So, perhaps we should pause and ask ourselves whether we are so busy talking that we are not able to hear what we need to know or learn to succeed. People are more likely to follow your example than to follow your advice. I have seen this fundamental truth best demonstrated by my children as they grow and develop based on what they observe me doing, much more than on what I tell them to do (even assuming they are listening some of the time). Similarly,
sense to me and is also demonstrated by my children, who clearly want to know that I am listening to them. After all, when people listen to each other, it is a show of mutual respect. Certainly we are much more willing to listen to someone who takes the time to hear what we are saying than to someone who talks all the time and thinks they know it all. The closing thought I took away from Adams’ talk was that the next time you have the urge to “speak your piece,” perhaps you should first try to take a moment and consider whether or not you understand where the other person is coming from. If not, ask some questions and listen to be sure that you understand before seeking to be understood. This may help you reach the best outcome for your client or have a better relationship with your significant other, and it will very likely improve how you spend your days on Earth.
it is said that we create better listeners by being better listeners. That makes good
February 2010 Nevada Lawyer

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