Review: Effectiveness Requires Listening

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By Sophie Sparrow from University of New Hampshire School of Law

Neil Hamilton, Effectiveness Requires Listening: How to Assess and Improve Listening Skills, 13 Florida Coastal Law Review 145 (2012) [Read fulltext (564 KB PDF)] (Reprint courtesy HeinOnline.org)

In this article, Professor Neil Hamilton first reinforces the importance of listening skills for lawyers and then shows us how we can help our students develop theirs.

Empirical research . . . indicates that people whom others perceive as the most effective individuals have strong listening skills. . . . [T]he most influential individuals had a common ability to encourage others to talk openly about high-stakes, controversial, and emotional topics. These individuals found a way to get all the relevant information from others and themselves out in the open. [page 145; footnotes omitted.]

Summarizing the research about listening skills for lawyers, Hamilton refers to multiple studies that show how instrumental listening is in developing client relationships, working well with colleagues, and practicing many other lawyering tasks. For students who are more interested in speaking about the law than listening, this research may help persuade them that learning to listen well is important in law school and their future careers.

Hamilton further explains listening’s complexities, such as listening for inferences, listening for overall themes, and listening for emotions. He describes the usefulness of silence and explains how different listening skills contribute to academic success. He acknowledges the awkwardness that students may feel when practicing active and passive listening skills, and suggests ways to work through that discomfort.

One of the best features of this article is that half the article is dedicated to six listening exercises. Detailed self-assessment inventories ask students a series of questions like “I look at my cell phone (i.e., to check the time or emails) during conversations with others” and “I ask questions to help the speaker clarify and reflect.” A scoring system helps students understand their listening strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Role-plays, observations, and reflections further provide opportunities for students to practice and get feedback on their listening skills.

We spend a great deal of time teaching students to think, speak, and write like lawyers. This article helps us teach them to listen as well.

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