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Monday, October 17, 2011

Listening: Impossible to Teach?

This post is from Judge Christina Habas of Denver, Colorado.

                Thinking back to a time when I failed to understand the importance of listening, it never occurred to me that this would be a problem.  After all, I understand English, I am not stupid, how hard could it be?  Then I asked my first important question in a deposition and heard absolutely NOTHING.  When I read the transcript sometime later, it was amazing how many follow-up questions I could have asked, if I had just listened.

                Some people claim that you cannot teach a person to listen – either they know how to do it, or they do not.  I respectfully disagree.  There are probably many ways to teach this, but here are just a few that I have found helpful:

1.                   Do a drill which requires the student to wait for a period of 5 seconds after an answer, and before they ask their next question.  Do not let them write notes, do not let them look at their notes during this time.  They must look squarely at the person to whom they are speaking, and actually LISTEN.  Five second seems interminable to the person asking the question, but to us, it is nearly nothing.  GET THIS ON VIDEO, if possible.  This drill should not be overdone, however.  Once the student does this for 5 or 6 answers, it should suffice.  Choose a time during the examination when listening is important (i.e. not the qualification stage).


2.                   Require to student to do a “loop back” in every question of their examination, looping back to the immediately preceding question.  This will force the student to not only listen, but to use the information that they hear, and to THINK before asking their next question.  Again, do not overuse this, and use this drill during an important phase of the questioning.


3.                   Do a drill using the entire room, requiring each successive student to ask a follow-up question to the answer just given.  Let them take the time to formulate the question before asking it.  Make certain that the question actually follows up on the ANSWER, and does not just represent a normal follow-up to the prior question.  Faculty should play the witness so that there is information loaded into the answer that requires follow-up.


4.                   Do a direct examination drill which is not tied to a case file, but to an actual occurrence.  Anyone can play the witness, and the subject matter is irrelevant.  No notes may be taken, and at the end of the questioning (perhaps 5 minutes) the student must tell the story that they heard from the witness.


There must be many more ways to teach listening.  Each time I preside over a trial, I wonder why we are so reluctant to actually listen, and I realize that this is because it is so difficult to give information, and to receive it at the same time.  Giving yourself the luxury to think and “soak in” all of the information given in an answer takes practice and patience.  This is absolutely teachable.



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