How to Practice Effective Listening - Martindale-Avvo

How to Practice Effective Listening

Effective Listening

For attorneys, engaging in effective listening can help them gather crucial information and data about their clients or cases. And for clients or prospective clients, feeling heard and understood creates a positive relationship between them and their attorney. We spoke with Sandra Bodin-Lerner, VP International Listening Association and a communication professor and public speaking and listening coach, to determine what attorneys can do to prepare to listen. 

What is your background?

Sandra:  I am a communication coach with a background in instructional design. For the past 20 years, I’ve also been an adjunct professor at Kean University and Montclair State University teaching communication courses. I noticed that for my clients and students (and myself!) that listening is the most challenging of the communication skills. In fact, poor listening is frequently the culprit of errors and conflict. Yet, listening is only a chapter in the books for communication majors. And, most people, including attorneys, never get any training in listening skills. So, I introduced a full semester, college-level listening course, and the response has been excellent. 

Attorneys have told me that to be successful, it’s crucial for them to establish credibility and trust with their clients. Many people think that the way to do so is by talking. I have found that excellent listening skills are critical and arguably, more important than speaking, to develop meaningful relationships. Unfortunately, listening is a difficult skill that few people take the time to learn.

Just like developing public speaking skills, learning listening techniques enables you to better comprehend and connect with others. Seeing the impact it has on my students led me to offer listening training to clients. 

What is effective listening? 

Sandra: Listening is a skill, unlike hearing, which is a sense. Listening is intentional, and you have to choose to do it. Effective listening is all about the other person. That’s what makes it so difficult. It involves a total focus on the person speaking. Which means having to let go of your own needs to be heard. The goal is to understand their stated and unstated messages. What are their verbal and nonverbal cues? When you’re engaged in effective listening, you want to make sure the speaker feels heard and understood by affirming what you heard.

What is your advice for professionals looking to better their effective listening skills?

Sandra: Just like you would prepare to speak, you also need to prepare to listen. Go into a conversation to listen to the other person, not talk, or get your point across. Really listening allows you to gain valuable information that you won’t get if you’re the one doing all the speaking.

Here are four things you can do to prepare to listen: 

1. Be intentional

  • Focus on the speaker; make it about them. 
  • To remind yourself to focus on the speaker, consider that some people find it helpful to use a token of some sort, like a small stone that they touch when their mind starts to wander, to remind them to focus. When your mind starts to wander, do a little ritual. 

2. Adopt an attitude of learning

  • Adopt the thinking of ‘tell me more.’ 
  • Run the mantra ‘tell me more’ in your head to find ways to encourage the speaker to continue sharing, like nod your head and literally saying, “tell me more.” 

3. Control your need to talk

  • Control your need to refute, explain, correct, advise, or sound smart.
  • Recognize your assumptions and biases and prevent them from coloring what you hear. Remind yourself to focus on the speaker.

4. Respond and confirm

  • Ensure your understanding of their content and feelings by asking clarifying questions
  • Repeat back what they’re saying so that they know that they’ve been heard and understood.  

For more information about effective listening or Sandra’s services like communication skills training, individual or executive coaching, check out her website:

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