As I caught up on some reading last week, I came across an article on the Contented Cows website by BIll Catlette entitled “Listening . . . Really Listening,” July 26, 2015. When I read it, I realized I haven’t written much about this critical skill. I wrote recently about the importance of listening for recruiters (see here). But I haven’t written a post just about listening.
When I had been practicing law for about a year, I took my first deposition. I had prepared a very detailed list of questions to ask the witness. After the witness was sworn in, I launched into my questions.
After about half an hour, the more senior attorney with me asked for a break. During the break he pulled me aside and said, “You have to listen to what the witness says.”
He was right—I hadn’t been listening. I asked my questions and got the answers, but I wasn’t listening to the answers, nor was I thinking about whether I needed to follow up to get more information in response to what the witness said. I was using my list of questions as a checklist, not a guide.
It took a lot of practice, but over the next several years I developed the ability to probe a witness’s answers, whether in a deposition or in a less formal interview. I still usually prepared the points to cover in some detail, but I tried to follow the witness’s lead when possible, which typically got me more information.
So I recognized many of the points described in the Contented Cows piece on listening as lessons I learned the hard way. Some of those lessons were
- take notes, so you know you’re paying attention to what the other person says
- don’t frame your response or your next question while the other person is still speaking
- don’t interrupt, and
- ask clarifying questions.
There’s more in the Contented Cows article than I’ve mentioned here. It’s worth reading.
When have you realized the importance of listening?