Recently, I have had several experiences in which someone asked me one or more questions, then constantly interrupted me while I attempted to answer the question(s). This has happened more times than I can count, however, it happened several times in the period of a few days, both in business and personal situations. One of the more memorable occasions was during a business meeting with several prospective clients. One of the clients, who just happened to be the only female besides me in the room, asked me to explain something to her and, just as I began to answer her question, I was rudely interrupted by another client, who talked and talked and then talked some more until I finally gave up and waited for him to come up for air. Interestingly, the woman who asked the question looked at me with a stunned and painful look on her face, as if to say, “This joker does the same thing to me, all the time!”. When I finally had a chance to answer the woman’s question, I began by saying, “No, that is not at all what I was going to say. Now, if you will be kind enough to allow me to answer, I will gladly do so.” If the woman and I could have “high fived” one another without any of the men seeing us, I think we would have done so! On a series of encounters with male friends, I have been asked my opinion about something they, by their own admission, know nothing about, but they just couldn’t resist exerting their dominance by interrupting me when I was speaking, arguing with me about how wrong I was, and speaking in louder and louder volumes to put me in my place. Some of the conversations pertained to events that took place in my own home or yard, others were about an area of my expertise the questioner lacks, and others were about David’s and my family experiences that the questioner does not share. As a woman who has spent her entire career mostly with men, I am constantly appalled by the lack of respect I am afforded, on a routine basis. However, when I am asked a question by someone, social norms dictate that I should be permitted to respond to the best of my ability. Why, oh why, would someone bother to ask me a question then keep talking and talking, as if I were not present?
I think part of the listening dilemma is an occupational hazard. Our clients are mostly attorneys and attorneys are paid to talk. Listening seems more difficult for some, not all, of them. This manifests itself during jury selection when some seem to have difficulty actively listening to the responses to the questions they are asking. But, it is often a factor in pre-retention discussions, and during feedback sessions. Sometimes, as Melissa describes, a question is asked, then the person who asked the question proceeds to expound on his (usually it is a man) question. Perhaps this is a way to ensure that the details of the question are clarified, but often, it seems a way to try to influence the direction of the answer. That is, sometimes the question asker wants to ensure that the response is the one he thinks it should be. When we observe this, Melissa and I wonder why they are paying us to be there if they already know the answers. Of course, they don’t know the answers or we wouldn’t be there. I don’t know what drives this phenomenon. Could it be that the asker is accustomed to being in control – the only one in the room whose opinion matters (to him)? We’ve seen some of those. Could it be that the person is afraid of the answer and perhaps doesn’t want his client to hear Melissa’s analysis? I think we’ve experienced this, especially when a case should get settled, but the attorney isn’t ready to do that yet. But, the phenomenon does not occur only with clients, and it is not completely gender differentiating. I’ve observed women ask and answer questions as well. But, it has been most frequent in the scenarios Melissa mentions. All of which is a reminder that listening is often more important than talking. The saying about having 2 ears and 1 mouth comes to mind. As trial consultants we are hired to listen, analyze, and report, so we are often listening – and we sometimes hear things beyond the words which are spoken.