The explosion of digital information in the last decade has given rise to the commoditization of professional services. At the Academy, our coaching focuses on building a practice based on a Trusted Advisor model rather than the selling of legal services or documents. As you might guess, a Trust Advisor is a law firm who develops multi-generational relationships with families with a solid foundation of trust, reliability, empathy and connection. Clients feel valued, respected and taken care of while the law firm prospers.
One of the key skills needed to form those strong relationships is effective communication. Communication comes in multiple forms – Written, Visual and Oral – and each has its own set of best practices and skills to master. Regardless of the medium, humans are emotional beings to which communication is inextricably linked. The higher our emotional IQ, the better we connect with others.
So what exactly is effective communication and who in your law firm needs these skills? The short answer is, everyone. Not only are they important for your business but they are fundamental to having success in many different areas of life such as relationships, home, and school.
The problem is traditional learning is focused on gaining more knowledge and having more information rather than on developing new skills. So we live in a society that prizes strong communication skills very few people actually possess.
Developing our communication and emotional aptitude can greatly enhance our leadership skills, ability to build and maintain strong relationships, the contribution we make as mentors, how we nurture clients and COIs, and the culture we create in our businesses. Furthermore, ensuring team members have these skills is equally important so they can also make this level of impact on your business and the lives of your clients.
In this two-part blog, I’ll focus on two key areas of communication – how we listen and how we deliver our communications to others. My next blog will be on the latter.
“To listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words. You listen not only to the ‘music,’ but to the essence of the person speaking. You listen not only for what someone knows, but for what he or she is. Ears operate at the speed of sound, which is far slower than the speed of light the eyes take in. Generative listening is the art of developing deeper silences in yourself, so you can slow your mind’s hearing to your ears’ natural speed, and hear beneath the words to their meaning.” – Peter Senge
Because many people lack listening skills, we often hear advice on etiquette instead of listening – such as don’t talk when others are speaking and have the ability to repeat what others say (hmm, parroting them) to show you were paying attention. However, good listening is about much more than being silent. You may even have had some insight in this area when you heard Stephen Covey say that most of us listen with the intent to reply rather than listening to understand.
First of all, if it’s a difficult topic or emotional conversation, there must be a safe space where everyone can express themselves and feel heard. Secondly, there should be no multi-tasking, so put away your cell phone, email and other distractions. Then practice listening not only to what people say, but their emotions and the commitment behind what they are saying. This is where we get to suspend judgement and put aside our own personal agenda. Only by putting ourselves in their shoes can we really understand what they are saying. Ask questions, reward them with feedback, reflect back to them what they’ve said. This will naturally create empathy, relatedness and rapport. Only if it’s appropriate, offer your personal point of view or opinion and only without attachment – your commitment to their success is larger than an individual action. I know, it’s easier said than done.
For example, one question I’m often asked from law firms is, “A prospective client called to cancel their appointment and I didn’t know what else to do to have them keep their appointment…” Consider that when a cancelation call comes in it’s natural to have an attachment to “saving” the appointment, which colors the rest of the conversation. Since we are attached to a result, it’s impossible not to focus on that attachment in the conversation – i.e. rescuing the appointment. It’s only by asking the caller questions out of a commitment to their concerns being met that you can discover what is not being said. At face value they may tell you you’re too expensive and yet you learn it’s not really a fee issue at all. Your questions support them in reconnecting to their concerns and how important those are to them. It’s only at this point that they can discover for themselves they need to keep the appointment – you’re not convincing them.
Which relationships in your business would be impacted by some enhanced listening skills? How could you increase your effectiveness at networking lunches or events by listening to others’ needs instead of telling everyone what you do? How could you mentor your team to discover their own greatness? How would you adjust your corporate values so your clients come first and feel they are number 1?
In my next installment, we’ll delve into effective ways of delivering communication to others which inspires, encourages authenticity and creates partnership.
Until then, happy holidays!
Practice Leadership Coach
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128
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