Listen – really listen

As a psychologist, I am a paid listener. I listen more than I talk. I learn far more from listening than from talking. Most people, in my opinion, talk far more than they listen (and rarely do they have anything of great importance to say!). If one listens, really listens, there are many details that reveal themselves. It has always been interesting to me that I am able to find out details of others’ lives, often in a short time, that people who have known them for a long time never knew. For example, many clients reveal things about themselves to me that they have never shared with their law partners, business associates, or others more well known to them than me. Some of my friends have told me people tell me things they don’t tell anyone else because I appear “approachable,” however, I think it is because I truly listen to what other people have to say. If someone is focused on what he/she is going to say in response to what someone else is saying, then active listening will never be truly possible. I also believe one should listen to one’s surroundings, to hear what is going on in the outside world. Listening is a skill that must be developed, just like any other skill. It is important to be a good listener; there are many things to learn about other people and the world we live in. So… shhh… listen!

It is interesting to be an observer both of people (like our mock jurors) and of people’s listening skills (like our attorney clients). Attorneys are paid to talk, to argue, to persuade. But, when they come to us and we do mock jury or mock arbitration research, they have to utilize their listening skills when they finish presenting their case using their talking and persuasive skills. Some of the clients, and the observers they bring, do a better job than others listening. And I find it interesting sometimes that, while these clients have paid us to “hear” what “real people,” i.e., potential jurors, have to say, they talk over the jurors instead of listening. This is not always the case, but it happens more often than one would think. It becomes an awkward dynamic when the lead attorney or his/her client (insurance adjuster, claims manager, general counsel, risk manager, etc.) is a listener, but others, including lower level attorney associates, are not. This lack of self monitoring can be harmful to one’s career in such instances. But, Melissa’s comments are about much more than in our daily work world. And, her listening skills and ability to “counsel” others are remarkable. I am sure these skills, honed at a young age, are part of why she went into psychology. However, listening is not just about interacting with people, but with the world. As one the human senses, it is critical to hear what is going on in the world around you. Personal safety and security are risked when not listening (or when listening to things other than your surroundings like those who walk down the street, or worse, drive, with ear phones playing music). But, I have also found listening skills to be very important as a wildlife photographer. It is frustrating to me to be in a quiet natural environment, and have people talking (usually loudly) to one another, or on a phone, when I’m photographing landscapes, birds or other animals. It is not only distracting, but some of the cues in wildlife photography are aural. Hearing the screech of hawk or osprey helps locate it to be able to take a photo. Hearing an owl at dusk can lead you to find it where it rests well camouflaged. “Yapping” in the natural world diminishes the experience. And, as in the world of the city, it can create safety risks in the natural world also. Not hearing, or not cuing into, threatening or distress sounds from an animal can be life threatening. So, listen, wherever you are.

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