As Diogenes observed more than 2,000 years ago, “We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less.” Unfortunately, while most attorneys know intellectually that listening is valuable, few appreciate just how powerful the skill can be, especially when it comes to legal marketing.

Peter Drucker, renowned management expert, pointed out that “the most important thing in client communications is hearing what isn’t said.” When you deeply understand your clients and prospects – what motivates them and scares them, and what messages they need to hear – you will enjoy a tremendous competitive advantage.

Fast Company’s article, “Why Listening Might Be the Most Important Skill to Hire for, explains why: “Soft skills are what enable someone to get along with other people. From technology companies to law firms, every organization recognizes people who are functional experts. However, soft skills that complement these hard skills are what make a job candidate or employee a prize. A 2014 CareerBuilder survey indicates that 77% of employers seek candidates with soft skills. Sixteen percent of these respondents considered such qualities more crucial than hard skills.”

How to Listen Better

Your listening skills will make or break working relationships with attorneys, clients, prospects and colleagues. Learn to listen carefully to both feelings and facts. Pay attention to body language, gestures and posture, as well as to the spoken word. Listen for substance and tone, text and subtext. Pay attention to the speaker’s underlying feelings and needs: What is motivating him or her, and why? Make a habit of asking these types of questions. You won’t just improve your relationships and avoid miscommunications. You’ll also enjoy the work day more and be more connected to what you do.

A Simple Example of the Amazing Power of Listening

I recently participated in a new business pitch, where a law firm invited Jaffe to present our media relations capabilities. After hearing the firm’s attorneys and marketers discuss the firm’s perceived shortcomings, and listening closely, we figured out that they actually needed a new website and content development strategy before we could put a media relations program in place. The attorneys appreciated that we listened to their needs and ultimately hired us for the work.

Listening and the Online Marketing Experience

 “Listening” via social media strategy also matters for your firm. Pay attention to feedback. Your goal isn’t to scream into the wind; it’s to start a genuine two-way conversation that provides value to both participants. When you publish a blog or launch a TV marketing campaign, get data. Avoid making assumptions. Track metrics via social media listening tools, such as Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and Google Analytics. If you find that your firm’s content isn’t getting opened, read and shared, don’t ignore those red flags. Fix your online “listening system.” To find out what’s important to your target audience, “listen” to the topics they are sharing via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. These clues can help you retool your marketing efforts.

Tips for Better Listening

  • Pay attention to what your body is telling the other person. Maintain eye contact, but don’t turn the conversation into a staring contest.
  • Nod, paraphrase and acknowledge comments. Pay attention to the client’s point of view, and be open to the perspectives of others. Use responses like, “I heard you said XYZ. Am I following you correctly?” and “So, you’re saying that you feel XYZ?” Empathize – practice the art of helping others “feel felt.”
  • Seek clarification to prevent misunderstanding.
  • Reflect emotions back to the client in a natural, unforced manner.
  • Listen between the lines for what is omitted. Active listening means probing for answers to questions that haven’t been asked.

What to Avoid

  • Don’t jump to conclusions, interrupt or distort the other person’s message.
  • Don’t pre-judge or evaluate.
  • Be in the moment.
  • Don’t look at your computer or do busywork during a conversation… even if you’re on the phone. Give your full attention to whatever you do.

The desire to be heard and understood is the basis for authentic communication. Effective listening is one of the most important skills we as law firm communicators perform. How has listening shaped your business development efforts? I’d love to know. Share your stories with me, Lisa Altman at