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Empathy and active listening

Evan Koslow

Evan Koslow

One of the first things I tell new clients is, “You will always receive a response from me within 24 hours of contacting me. However, you may not like what I have to say.”

This statement, unfortunately, rings true every single day. I find myself needing to tell my clients things they do not want to hear, things that will change their life and their families lives forever. It is trying. Many times my opinions may sound like I am fighting against my client and not advocating for him or her. Obviously, that is furthest from the truth, but I can understand if some clients may feel that way by how often I tell them things they don’t want to hear or is against what they are trying to accomplish.

That is why before I speak with my clients, I remind myself that I need to be emphatic to their situation (even if they are the causing factor of their situation), as well as reminding myself I need to educate them (not talk down to them) on what the law is able to do and how we cannot control everything.

I often channel the same patient tone I use to teach my two boys (ages 4 and 6) how to do new things or to answer their questions they have regarding the world around them and when my parents call because they cannot figure out how to work an electronic gadget. They are not asking the question over and over again because they are looking for a different answer, I remind myself, but rather they are trying to better understand why.

This is where empathy comes into play. You cannot just be patient and sympathetic with the situation your client is going through. Make sure they know their case is not just another number to you but you truly care about their situation. I have found, for the most part, the majority of clients will take the responses they otherwise prefer not to hear better when they feel that you actually heard what they had to say.

Practice the role of active listening. This requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and remember what is being said. This is the opposite of reflective listening, where the listener repeats back to the speaker what they have just heard to confirm understanding. Active listening involves the listener observing the speaker’s behavior and body language. Having the ability to interpret a person’s body language lets the listener develop a more accurate understanding of the speaker’s message. The proper use of active listening results in better conversations by getting people to open up, avoiding misunderstandings, resolving conflict, and building trust.

This, in turn, allows you to build a strong relationship with your client that can result in the client being more open to resolutions that they may otherwise not have considered.