Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Why active listening is important to all professionals

Just back to duty and still very saddle sore.

The only really professional thing that I have done this week was a consultation for a manager seeking advice on how to manage a particular problem. This got me thinking.

Most professionals know, I think, that the capacity to listen is a key professional skill. This holds equally true for a lawyer, management consultant or doctor. The problem for most of us, however, is that time is limited and that as soon as we identify a problem we switch into problem solving mode. See problem, fix problem.

The difficulty here is that the first identified problem or problems may not be, often is not, the key problem. This is true whether dealing with individual or corporate problems. Too often, the first identified problem is either one of a number of problems or simply a symptom of a deeper underling problem. So we need to probe through active listening.

Active listening involves several different processes.

One is simply the gathering of information. We do this by listening and by asking questions. We also have to analyse the information as we go along. What does it mean? What additional information do we need? This leads to further questions. 

We also have to test the ideas we are forming. This may be done by asking questions or by summarising, testing our conclusions with the client.

Summarising can be used as a validity test, but it is also used to change a direction in the discussion. In this second case, we summarise and then ask a question, taking the conversation in a new direction.

We can all consciously practice these steps.