Mastering the Art of Effective Listening

February 12, 2024

Being a good listener may seem like a soft skill, but it’s actually critical to establishing strong business development and marketing strategies. You may think you have this skill down, but take stock: If your phone buzzes mid-conversation, can you ignore it without pausing to wonder who sent the text? During a long Teams call, can you resist the temptation to check your email? We are all overloaded and overwhelmed in a world filled with distractions, and we could all use a refresher on how to pay genuine attention to the person in front of us.

Effective listening can help you get a fuller understanding of what’s being discussed and avoid missing critical details, whether you’re working with a client or in a one-on-one meeting with a colleague. These techniques are the hallmarks of active listening:

  1. Pause before responding. You can’t effectively listen and prepare at the same time.
  2. Acknowledge and validate feelings by verbally reflecting them back to the speaker.
  3. Ask insightful questions, recalling previously shared relevant details.
  4. Summarize to check for understanding.
  5. Clarify key points by asking open-ended questions.
  6. Encourage the speaker to continue and add more.

Before the meeting: Go in with the goal of learning something — not just checking a meeting off your to-do list. Prepare by reviewing previously shared information, such as emails or notes from earlier meetings. Create a distraction-free environment so that you’re giving the speaker your full attention.

During the meeting: Begin conversations by facing your speaker and making comfortable eye contact. Maintain open body language, such as keeping your arms at your side rather than crossing them. Keep the conversation going by using the six techniques above. Remember to reinforce without interrupting, and to restate key points to check that you understand.

As the meeting winds down: Share common ground and end the meeting by seeking agreement on next steps.

If the meeting gets uncomfortable: If you’re dealing with a client-service imperative, an emotionally charged situation, or a problem without a solution, your active listening skills will be put to the test. Relying on these best practices can help you manage tough conversations and prevent them from escalating into bigger conflicts.

Building and maintaining strong client relationships is crucial for law firms, and effective listening is one way to up your business-development game. It helps you show clients and prospects that you understand them and their business, demonstrating your firm’s client-centricity and commitment to collaboration.