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Listening As Opposed To Hearing

Apologies to Hans and Franz (two Saturday Night Live characters, from long ago), but hearing is not the same as listening. In all fairness, the two characters were part of a comedy skit that was intended to make us laugh--but their signature line is too perfect, and it really makes the point!

is something that occurs for most of us, simply by being born. Listening, on the other hand, is a skill we have to work at, and learn to do. Without doubt, what we say (and are heard to say) is important--words do have a meaning. But listening is qualitatively different than hearing.

Listening informs what we say. It is the sine qua non of the manner in which we relate to others, which is why it receives so much emphasis when speaking about management skills. "I hear you" (or, as many would say, "I feel you") is a close cousin, but it's less meaningful than genuine empathy, which is the foundation of real listening. Sometimes, saying nothing is more empathetic than mouthing simple words that really don't mean anything.

Hearing opposing counsel is useful, if we are simply intending to formulate a rebuttal argument. Listening, however, is about understanding what opposing counsel is saying, without the need to simultaneously formulate an intellectual response--which is what those of us who spend a lot of time in our own heads, tend to do. It becomes our default mode.

is what we are taught in law school, and in much of life. It serves us, transactionally, and gets us through the day.
But, as is the case with so many habits, hearing gets in the way of listening--which is something that we have to consciously work on. If listening was ever part of our nature, it certainly is not the case, today.

Listening, like empathy, is a skill or quality that most of us possess, but--at least, speaking for myself-- it's a skill or quality that doesn't manifest itself naturally, or consistently. It's something about which I have to constantly be reminded, and in a world where there is so much to be reminded of, listening too often gets drowned in the din.

Yet another thing to be added to the list, but it happens to be really important--for lawyers, and for all of us! Solutions that are not informed by understanding, are not really solutions at all. Convenient? Sure. Likely to be useful or satisfactory for all parties concerned? Doubtful.

We all know in advance what we plan to say, and we pretty much know what the person we are butting heads with, is going to argue in response. So, next time, try listening to whomever you may be talking to, or debating with. You'll likely be more creative in your thinking, more empathetic in your approach and more effective in your response.

Listen, while you work!


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