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The Power of Listening

Great lawyers—the ones who have the highest client loyalty, extraordinary business acumen and an innate understanding of what it truly means to be successful—all share one common trait: They listen. They listen to their clients, they listen to their teams, they listen to ideas and they act on what they hear.

But even the best listeners can’t avoid processing what they hear through their own biases. I am 100% confident that what I hear is what is intended, but I am often wrong. I often believe that what I say is clear, supportive and on point. When I ask if I am understood for feedback, I sometimes realize I’m not as clear or supportive as I think. It is difficult to be a great communicator and difficult to be a great listener.

In conducting client feedback interviews with CEOs, general counsel and myriad others, I am still surprised at how often a client and a lawyer experience what the lawyer says differently. Feedback is crucial to confirm understanding, confirm expectations and confirm that goals and visions are aligned. Getting feedback and giving feedback from those with whom we communicate require effort. They require commitment. In a perfect world, we could play back a conversation to hear what is discussed and then get feedback on how that conversation is perceived.  

The adventurous founders of Gimlet Media (public radio and podcast veterans extraordinaire) decided to record their “StartUp” experience and share that with the world. The podcast is a behind-the-scenes audio diary of everyone involved in building this new company that creates narrative podcasts. Like all businesses, they reach that point where the stress of what they are trying to achieve hits the proverbial breaking point.

Many of us are familiar with the feeling of hitting the breaking point, and the “StartUp” team documents that moment in “Burnout,” as Episode 12 is called. But the real story is not about this inevitability. It is about the power of listening, the power of feedback, the power of perception and how the smallest comments can shatter the most loyal and valued relationships.

If we could track back and hear what we said, we would be better off. It’s a luxury we can’t naturally afford, but we can learn from others’ experiences. Take 20 minutes and listen to how a visionary leader in one simple comment threatens the very thing being created. Then take care to avoid making the same mistake.

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