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How to Be a Better Conversationalist (and Why It’s Crucial for Outside Counsel)

Most lawyers tend to be good communicators. Either written or verbal, they thrive on words. After working with lawyers for over 20 years, one thing has stayed constant: In times of greatest strength and significant stress, lawyers find comfort in words. It is often what makes them excellent at their jobs, particularly the technical and analytical aspects of practicing law. However, the client and decision maker has drastically changed, attention spans are at an all-time low and trust and rapport are keys to the kingdom. In this new era, words have become less important.

There will always be a need for the excellent writers and researchers in law. But the marketplace has less tolerance for hundreds of lawyers to fill those roles. Instead, the legal profession (and maybe even our broader world today) is desperate for great conversationalists. Clients need intellectually curious and active listeners who care more about the client’s goals, needs and messages than their own. They want communicators who are adaptable and who can gain the trust and confidence of their business colleagues. And those are all skills that can be learned.

Celeste Headlee, a writer and radio host, produced a TEDx video titled “10 ways to have a better conversation.” The eleven-minute video, well worth your time, can be viewed here. She says that aspects of a great conversation include honesty, brevity, clarity and a healthy amount of listening. Before you watch, take a moment to reflect and ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you approach conversations with candor and honesty?
  • Would colleagues and clients describe you as succinct?
  • When you are giving advice, is it clear what action you would take if you were in their shoes?
  • What percentage of the time do you spend listening in conversations? Heard of the 80/20 rule?

Your clients are telling us on a regular basis you could be better listeners, talk less, provide more clarity and be candid. Watch the video and then consider how to best incorporate Headlee’s tips into your daily client conversations.

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