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Clients, and especially potential clients, like feeling special. One easy way to make them feel special is to really listen to them.
For years, those who know, have been preaching about the benefits of active listening. It's not that difficult, and you'd be surprised by the response you get from people when they feel that you are intently focused upon what they are saying. Even in your interactions with opposing counsel, active listening can go a long way in preventing misunderstandings.
Below are three tips on being a better active listener.
Simply put, don't be afraid to use your brain. Think about what you are being told. And don't just think about spotting the legally relevant issues, or what you're going to say, think about the other cues you may be receiving, either via body language, tone, emotional response, or even the word choices that a speaker makes. Consider alternative perspectives, and what a particular speaker's goals might be.
There's a difference between hearing and listening. You can hear something, and just let it go in one ear and out the other. Or you can pay attention and really listen, trying to understand what's being said.
While you may have done thousands of similar intakes, this is likely your client's first time dealing with this sort of an issue. Even if it's not, showing the client that you were listening by restating what they told you and calling out the facts that seemed important to them (remember, you were cued into their body language, tone, etc... for a reason), before asking probing open-ended questions, will help provide the client with that special feeling known to come from receiving "personalized services."
Don't be afraid to ask follow-up questions that allow the speaker to keep speaking. If you need specific answers to specific questions, if it can wait, help develop a narrative by asking for further explanations and additional details. Phrases like "tell me more about [blank]" or "can you explain [blank]" should be common. These phrases will show that you're interested in the details (which is what clients want from their attorneys).
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