The Art of Listening


A lifelong skill that requires practice, patience, and persistence

I must admit that I’ve picked a topic that I may not be an expert on. By trade, I am a trial lawyer. I help injured people seek and receive justice for the harms and losses they have suffered.

I’ve finally learned, after 45 years of practicing, that I need to talk less and listen more to fully appreciate what someone is trying to convey to me. I found that when I actually listen to my client’s story about how the event has impacted their life, I gain new insights on their experience with the injury and how we can work together to resolve the case.

I recently had a client with a back injury who I thought had an unrealistic view of her case. It was only after I truly listened that I came to understand the full impact the injury had on her life. She had a daughter with three young children and her son in law had left the marriage for another woman. My client was the daily caregiver for the three young grandchildren that were all under six years of age. When I finally listened, I learned how difficult it was for her to care for her grandchildren in the way she needed. She could not pick up the two youngest children, an unexpected impact I never really considered. With that information in hand, I was able to reach a fair resolution with the insurance company.

This important art of listening is incredibly valuable to me in my professional life, but over the years I’ve learned it is just as important, perhaps even more so, in my personal life. If you know me, you know that my labs, Ty and Woodrow, are my constant companions and best friends. Last month, Ty kept coming to me while I was at my desk and putting his head in my lap. I knew something was up so I took him to the vet. After x-rays and testing, we discovered that he had a cancerous growth on his spleen; the vets told me he probably had six months left with us. Following surgery, I brought Ty home and he laid on his bed in the den. He whimpered, trying to get my attention, so I finally laid down with him and held him. I was thankful that I listened intently to his needs because in that moment, as I held him in my arms, he passed away.

Listening takes time, practice, and skill. And it becomes something even more profound when you begin to not only start listening, I mean truly listening to the words someone is telling you, but also begin listening to what is not said. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The more we are open and engaged and make every effort to really listen to one another, the more likely we are to develop more meaningful relationships and connections.   

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