Thursday, December 10, 2009


  For the past couple of years, I have tried to listen more.  I am not always successful.  At the Trial Lawyers College, the psychodramatists have coined the phrase, "Listening With The Third Ear."  I think what that really means is that listening is more than hearing.  The "third ear" is really a combination of the mind and heart.  To truly listen to someone is to empathize, to understand.  In order to understand someone, we have to reverse roles, or understand in what context he or she makes a statement. A statement is not merely what is said, but in what context it is made. When a person talks, oftentimes they are sharing their perception of an event through their eyes of the world.
    It is hard to listen with the third ear.  It takes all of one's attention and focus.  It's like meditation because you must be in the moment, in the here and now.  You cannot listen and multi-task.  You must totally focus on the speaker.  As Joshua Karton says, most communication is non-verbal.  Listening involves not just hearing, but also seeing and perceiving, and feeling.
    When you truly listen to a friend or loved one, it can be an act of love because when you listen, you give up yourself to the other person.  It is all about them, not you.  Your ego cannot get in the way; in fact one's ego cannot even exist if you are truly listening.
    This last year, I have tried to revamp how I handle cases.  I want to listen more than talk.  As I said in the first paragraph, I am not always successful.  Sometimes my ego or my insecure feelings interfere.  I have found that I am at my best when I don't care if I am at my best, when I am listening and in the moment.
     For instance, in preparing for depositions, I read everything in the case.  I may jot down notes.  I may have some questions in mind.  But in the deposition itself, I want to listen, to learn.  I want the answers to my questions, but the answers lead to areas I did not know even existed before the deposition. I go where the witness takes me.  I try to listen without judgment.
     I know when someone is truly listening to me and interested in what I say.  Witnesses know when we listen to them.  I feel honored when someone cares about how I feel. My clients have told me that they feel the same way.
    The most important person, outside of those in my personal life, is my client.  If I cannot empathize with her or him, there is a problem and that problem stems from me.  Something in my life experience is getting in the way.  I need to deal with what is inhibiting me and preventing me from listening to and understanding my client.
     What I have found when I really focus and listen, I learn things that were not in my preconceived script.  For instance, in one deposition, the witness told me he was not angry with my client for complaining about sexual harassment, but there was this "tone" in his voice.  I listened not to his words, but to what he was communicating.  I prodded, "Well, if not ticked, then what?"  He opened up that he was disappointed that she had come to him because it would put a "muzzle" on the workplace because he liked to "joke" with women, too.  That admission was important to the case, and it let me understand where he, and the company was coming from, how they did not understand the purpose of their policy because they let their insecure feelings get in the way.
     I am not saying that listening is a tool to trick adverse witnesses, but that it is a way to understand many of the multitudinous layers of a story.  Lawyers often ignore others in their quest to be kings.  The "downside" of empathy is that it is impossible to hate someone with whom you empathize.  In lawsuits, do we need to hate the other side?  Can we muster righteous indignation without hatred?  Yes, we can.
    A by-product of my quest to listen to others is that it makes me feel good to honor others.  When I feel good about myself, I am less insecure and I do a better job for my client.  I am less likely to see conduct as an affront, even if intended as an affront, since I try to understand where that person was coming from who tried to hurt me or my client.  Usually, the other person, or lawyer, is lashing out from fear.  To understand this is power.  Listening to others is an act of giving, to the other and to oneself.

1 comment:

  1. I like your blog. I would love to see you write about TLC. Doesn't seem like they are listening to people or practicing what they preach.