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Listen Fully and Then Question Respectfully

Categories: Blog

We live in a world of entrenched people and positions. Right now, you may be thinking of politics and similar high-level issues, but I am not. I’m considering this on a day-to-day level in relation to your work and personal lives in how you deal with people on any topic. For me it’s about my clients and whom I have to deal with on their behalf.

I certainly deal with entrenched people and positions professionally when dealing with opposing parties and attorneys who have positions directly conflicting with my client’s positions. I dread conversations where an opposing attorney is going to try to change my mind through their words. Their positions come from the narrative they have been told by their client, many times contradicting the contracts, emails and texts underlying the matters at issue. Of course, when they speak with their clients, they receive positive feedback on their apparent understanding of their client’s narrative, thoughts, and ideas. However, their job is to listen, analyze, and question. Accepting what someone tells you as the truth comes with great risk when their voice is not the only source of information. This moves no needle, changes nothing, and actually can be detrimental to the result ultimately achieved for their client.

I can’t give you any ideas on how to help change this in a large way, but I have some ideas on what you can do in your world to start moving the needle. This speaks to how to get along with the people you work with, live with, and deal with on a daily or regular basis, including - for me - those pesky opposing attorneys. It could be about which shop has the best coffee, the best route to get where you’re going, or, in my world, how to interpret a law or contract provision.

The most important thought I have is to think and act independently and constructively. Don’t get sucked into groupthink without analyzing the situation or issue yourself, even if you trust the person pushing a certain idea. I always say I trust what my clients tell me unless and until I review materials that make me question their version of the “facts.”

Even really smart people aren’t right 100% of the time. You can reality test ideas respectfully and constructively with questions, but you also have to listen to the answers. Again, this could be about a discussion with a co-worker on whether to hire a new employee or switch IT vendors, or me questioning why my client’s position and a contract term don’t match.

Groupthink is the killer of innovation and ideas. When everyone piles on about how great an idea is without respectfully questioning it, opportunities are missed. If you jump on the bandwagon with your superiors, let alone friends and family, it may be at the price of your identity or personality. You may advance your career or a personal relationship by always being a yes person or team player, but notice the people who achieve professional success or seem to have healthy personal relationships can respectfully question or disagree with another’s thought or idea. Done in this manner it can result in better ideas and results, and serve as opportunities for learning and growth. It has helped me be a better advocate for my clients, set reasonable expectations, and achieve better results for them.

By asking the hard questions and not just agreeing with others you won’t end up being buddies with everyone. You will earn people’s respect as a thinker and as someone who doesn’t jump on the bus without thinking through ideas and issues. Up your game by thinking and acting constructively. It will make your corner of the world that much better of a place.

As always, this post and others can be found on my blog, Business Law Guy.


About the Author: Neal Bookspan is a partner at the Phoenix, Arizona law firm of Jaburg Wilk. He assists clients with business issues, commercial litigation, workouts, and bankruptcy litigation. Neal can be reached at 602.248.1000.