10 Tips for Active Listening

By Taylor Burton Published on November 8, 2023

Estimated reading time: 4 Minutes

While discussing the core skill of communication last week, we briefly touched upon the importance of active listening. As a lawyer, you spend a great deal of time listening to your clients, judges, and colleagues. Despite this, it's an undervalued skill that does not come easily to some--which can be very frustrating for others.

Active listening is more than just shutting your mouth and letting someone else speak. It is about being present and truly understanding what is being conveyed rather than thinking ahead to your response. Taking strides to become a better listener will improve relationships within both your professional and personal lives, making it a skill worth mastering.

Follow these ten tips to build this valuable skill--and be sure to join us in Philadelphia on December 7th for "What Is It Costing You Not to Listen?" In this interactive CLE workshop, Christine Miles, an expert in transformative listening, will assist you in uncovering the true needs of your clients, colleagues, employees, and loved ones. Delve deep into the art of listening and walk away with a deeper understanding of how successful communication works.


Young Office People with Happy Facial Expressions Listening to Someone Discussing to them Inside the Office


Eliminate distractions. This is the first step in successful active listening. Always be sure that you're offering your full attention to the speaker. It's the respectful thing to do. Turn off your phone, or at least silence it, because our phones are often the biggest distractors. If you'd like to learn more about how to defeat a distracted mind, be sure to return to Raising the Bar for next week's blog!


Ask questions. If you'd like to dig a little deeper or have something clarified, wait for a gap in the conversation to pose questions. Leave them open-ended in order to gain the most information rather than asking questions with a simple yes or no answer. This enriches the conversation while reassuring others that you're interested in what they have to say.


Don't interrupt. This one feels a bit obvious, but it has to be said. We all know how frustrating it feels to be cut off mid-sentence. It can be distracting and disrespectful, and easily derail your train of thought. Exercise self-control and wait until you're sure that the other person is finished speaking. Only then should you pose your ideas, questions, or solutions. Remember: silence is golden.


Young man during therapy at psychologists office-1


Subtle encouragement. When speaking with a client, you can subtly make them feel more comfortable through your body language. Making eye contact, nodding, or even quiet verbal acknowledgement can encourage them to continue speaking on the subject. Ensure that your posture is open and relaxed as well. Crossed arms can make you appear closed off, while leaning forward slightly signals that you're interested in what they have to say.


Listen to more than just their words. Everyone's body language tells a story, just as yours does. Pay attention to others' facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, and behavior. Take these factors into account and what they might mean. We often communicate in ways that we aren't even aware of. 


Take notes. Keep a list of mental notes during the conversation--or physical, if you have to. Let others know beforehand that you will be taking notes in order to retain important details. 


Therapist taking notes on clipboard at therapy session


No judgement. A lawyer should never let their biases or beliefs interfere in their work. Do not let your emotions take control, no matter what you're hearing. Maintain your composure and listen to the entirety of the conversation, without judgement or preconceived notions. Leave the judging to the judges!


Reflect. Don't rush to a response. Take time to think through what is being said and the emotions behind it. Take a deep breath before formulating your response. Stay on topic and resist from straying into too many anecdotes. Offer useful, in-depth feedback when appropriate.


Summarize and clarify. At the end of the conversation, summarize what was said and clarify the most important details. It demonstrates that you've been listening well and also serves as a way to make sure you have your facts straight. Kick off this final leg of the conversation with, "So to summarize what you're saying...", "To make sure we're on the same page...", or "Let me make sure I have all my facts straight..." and wrap it up from there.


Business people working together on laptop in office at desk


Give it time. Active listening is not as easy as it sounds and takes time to perfect. Don't expect to wake up an expert after one conversation. Exercise this skill all through your day as you meet with various clients and colleagues. Improvement will come over time.

Let PBI help you level up this valuable skill--don't forget to sign up for our upcoming workshop on December 7th if you truly wish to become an active listening expert!