The Power of Yet. Professor Carol Dweck labels Growth Mindset as “the power of yet” because you believe that you can improve. She adds that people with growth mindsets are “luxuriating in the power of yet” while those with a fixed mindset are “gripped in the tyranny of now.”
Both phrases remind us to value and reward effort, strategy and progress as we evaluate our students’ current performance. Helping our students push themselves out of their comfort zones in healthy directions allows them to learn and develop in new ways.
Fear of failure and rejection can often be a barrier to new learning and a growth mindset. In Chapter 7 of Fundamentals of Lawyer Leadership, we offer a reflection exercise for students in a leadership class or program designed to help them normalize failure as an acceptable aspect of learning and growing.
You’re Not Perfect and That’s Okay!
Think about a mistake you made in the last couple weeks, preferably one that is not too emotionally charged. It could be anything – a mistake you made while learning something new, maybe you misunderstood the instructions for a task at work and did it incorrectly, or maybe a social faux pas where you said something you wish you hadn’t, or you snapped at someone and regretted it later.
What happened? What were the consequences? Did you have the opportunity to correct the mistake? If so, how did it go and how did it make you feel?
As part of our leadership development class at Baylor Law, one of the assignments over the quarter is to read a book about leadership. Our definition of what constitutes a leadership book is broad for this purpose, so our students choose a wide variety of books, ranging from “leadership lite” (as Deborah Rhode called it) to biographies of famous leaders. The task to complete the assignment is for the students to write a short review covering the book and why someone who is interested in leadership might want to read it. So, we hope you enjoy Caleb Bortner’s review of Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leaders Through Solitude by Raymond M. Kethledge and Michael S. Erwin.
– Stephen Rispoli
In a time when most of us are alone, due to Covid-19, how can we use this solitude to benefit ourselves and our society? I chose “Lead Yourself First” because the idea of isolation strikes me as something many of us are coping with right now. So how do we turn this “negative” into a positive force in our lives? How can we harness this unfortunate life event into something positive for us all?
Throughout history, leaders have used solitude as a sort of galvanizing tool to solve problems. Leaders have used solitude to bring focus without the constant background noise. Solitude brings out your natural intuition. It brings self-awareness or introspection in a way that would be impossible when surrounded by those you are leading. Time alone allows leaders to strengthen themselves using their faith or own inner strength and look at a problem from a different viewpoint. “Lead Yourself First” explored how many historical figures used solitude as a tool to create solutions.
Whether it was Ulysses S. Grant’s solitude in his tent after sickness, or Aung San Suu Kyi’s time imprisoned, or Martin Luther King Jr.’s imprisonment in Birmingham, leaders have found that time away from everyone allowed them to think. This opportunity to think, and to think deeply, allowed them to utilize the tools that made them great leaders in the first place. For Martin Luther King Jr., it galvanized his faith and resilience to keep fighting against systemic racism. Solitude gave Jane Goodall a chance to think deeply about chimpanzees and intuit a way to study them more closely. Solitude allowed Marie Curie the chance to intuit innovative experimentation techniques and conduct groundbreaking research.
In addition to the informative historical examples throughout “Lead Yourself First,” there were also stories of leaders in society today and examples of how solitude helped them. Frequently, Kethledge and Erwin focused on running as a mechanism for solitude. Not only does running create space between yourself and others, but it is also a way many people use to think through problems they are facing. Often, if stuck in a rut when you are writing or stuck with a problem, a piece of advice people will give you is to go for a walk. There is a reason for this; it allows you to place space between yourself and the problem and will enable you to think more deeply than you would if you were distracted by the electronics in your home.
Kethledge and Erwin end their book with straightforward advice about solitude and its benefits. They say that solitude works because it allows you to embrace hard thinking. It will not work if you use solitude to think on a superficial level or review old emails on the subject. Take solitude for the gift that it is. Close your office door, spread out all the documents on the matter, or allow yourself to look at your problem on a macro level and think about it from every angle you can. Kethledge and Erwin encouraged blocking off time to engage in hard thinking and solitude. They warned to use this time wisely to engage and embrace hard thinking and not just a superficial review of the issue at hand.
I would recommend this book to anyone struggling with the forced alone time we all have right now due to Covid-19. It helped me refocus my energy when I put into context all the forced solitude leaders from history have endured. They were all pillars of strength and used their time alone to create something extraordinary. I think we can all take notes from history and from “Lead Yourself First” to make our time in quarantine the most useful that we can.
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” – Thomas Edison
Following up on our Grit Challenge and as a companion to the ABA’s 21 day Grit and Growth Mindset Challenge (which starts today), we focus on Growth Mindset, one of the five concepts we view as foundational to Leadership of Self. We will address the remaining three: feedback, failure, and resilience in future posts. Grit strengthens students’ persistence in the face of challenges they face in the demands of law school or the practice of law. As their grit improves, they both address challenges and persevere through them with greater aplomb. They likewise learn to apply grit in circumstances beyond school and career. Beyond grit, however, leaders need to learn to take risks.
Our profession is filled with risk-averse lawyers who embrace the status quo and hate to fail or be criticized. They endorse the maxim “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” These characteristics can be protective, helping us serve clients and avoiding unnecessary risk, but those same tendencies reinforce a fixed mindset. Stanford professor Carol Dweck, the leading researcher on mindset, found that a person with a self-view or mindset that their qualities and abilities are fixed or unchangeable will “want to prove [themselves] correct over and over rather than learning from [their] mistakes.”
As we think about law school environment and culture, one can argue that the traditional approaches to legal education promote a fixed mindset since failure is punished and success is rewarded by grades, law review appointments, and ultimately jobs. But a student who never learns to fail—and consequently grow – is a student who may be tempted to cover up mistakes rather than own them. Lawyers who do this may find themselves facing disciplinary action or client ire. These consequences of settling into a fixed mindset heighten the importance of introducing fixed vs. growth mindset theory early in law school and teaching skills to embrace and develop a growth mindset. Helping students lean into a growth mindset both develops their intellectual curiosity and provides a better approach for dealing with adversity in law school and beyond.
Since recognizing the tendency toward a fixed mindset is fundamental to understanding the issue, we begin our coverage of growth mindset by having our students take The Mindset Quiz. We encourage you to do so as well. How “fixed” is your mindset? Next week we will share more about our development techniques for Leadership of Self fundamentals.
The past pandemic year has highlighted how much we all need to develop our grit and growth mindset! Making time to develop these skills, however, can be challenging. Where and how do I start?
My first exposure to the formal study of grit and growth mindset was through the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession’s Grit Project. We reference several of their scenarios in our textbookand use them as case studies in our leadership class. On June 2, 2021, the Grit Project is launching a 21-Day Grit and Growth Mindset Challenge. We are planning to participate and hope you will too!
By registering for the challenge, we will receive daily emails with content for the 21 Days of Grit and Growth Mindset Challenge. The challenge consists of a 5-15 minute daily commitment to growing your grit through listening to TED Talks and podcasts or reading articles. The goal: to inspire and help us to “develop good habits to exercise your grit (perseverance and passion for long-term goals) and growth mindset (the belief that you can improve in your abilities).” You can do the daily activities on your own or form a Grit Group to unpack the challenges and learnings together.
The 2021 21-Day Grit and Growth Mindset Challenge kicks off on June 2 with an exciting webinar featuring Alison Levine, mountain climber and grit expert. Register for this inspiring webinar here! If you are ready to start on your own grit and growth jury, though, you do not need to wait for June 2. It’s always a good time to get grittier!
As part of our leadership development class at Baylor Law, one of the assignments over the quarter is to read a book about leadership. Our definition of what constitutes a leadership book is broad for this purpose, so our students choose a wide variety of books, ranging from “leadership lite” (as Deborah Rhode called it) to biographies of famous leaders. The task to complete the assignment is for the students to write a short review covering the book and why someone who is interested in leadership might want to read it. So, we hope you enjoy Jessica Cox’s review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Even though Lean In has been covered extensively since it was published, we thought Jessie’s coverage of the book was a good read and thought you all might appreciate it.
– Stephen Rispoli
Sheryl Sandberg is a mother, a wife, a proponent for women’s rights, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, and the first woman ever to serve on Facebook’s Board of Directors. In her 2013 bestseller, Lean In, Sandberg discusses what she’s learned about the double standards women face in the corporate workplace, relying on both on her own experience as well as analytics and research to promote a future for women that leaves inequality behind.
The crux of Sandberg’s 5-point plan presented in Lean In is to encourage women to succeed in whatever career plan they choose. While she does strongly believe that women can do everything, she recognizes that a future without inequality doesn’t require that. Instead, the focus is on creating an environment where every woman can make a choice that is best for her without feeling guilty.
“Conditions for all women will improve when there are more women in leadership roles giving strong and powerful voices to their needs and concerns.”
Sandberg suggests that there are 5 methods women should implement on an individual level to address prejudice in the workplace:
1. SIT AT THE TABLE
Women will never be recognized as we should if we are too afraid to sit at the table. Sandberg referenced an experience in this chapter that really resonated with me. She was at a meeting when a male client walked in with two female associates. While the male, without hesitation, sat at the conference table, the two women automatically sat off to the side. As a young female in the workplace, I expect to not have a seat at the table, and that mindset is part of the problem.
Sandberg cited a statistic here that was jolting. When this book was written, only 7% of women negotiated for themselves in the workplace compared to almost 1/3rd of men. Even though most women currently in the corporate sphere did not grow up in a world where they had to fight for basic civil rights, Sandberg believes that women are still ingrained to think that they don’t deserve their successes. While men attribute success to their own hard work, women give away their successes to others – that someone helped them, or gave them a lucky break, instead of crediting their own hard work and expecting the same accolades given to men. Thanks to a century of hard work, there is now a chair waiting for women at that conference table, and we can’t be afraid to take it.
2. IT’S OK TO NOT BE LIKED BY ALL
A big part of moving past inequality is embracing change, and there will always be those that do not like change. As more women succeed in the workplace and take on leadership roles, it may mean taking a role that some believe was made for a man. However, Sandberg wants women to be confident enough in our own abilities and worth to be ok with jealousy and those that may be upset that we are succeeding.
“When you want to change things, you can’t please everyone. If you do please everyone, you aren’t making enough progress.”
Moving into an era where women can truly do anything without feeling pressured by societal expectations involves other women being more accepting. Sandberg repeatedly emphasizes the importance of uplifting not only women that are leaders in the workplace, but also women that choose to be stay at home moms. There is no one size fits all formula.
3. EMPOWER OTHER WOMEN
Moving into an era where women can truly do anything without feeling pressured by societal expectations involves other women being more accepting. Sandberg repeatedly emphasizes the importance of uplifting not only women that are leaders in the workplace, but also women that choose to be stay at home moms. There is no one size fits all formula.
4. GET THE RIGHT PARTNER
This was the most surprising step of the plan to me because it is not an area that many people are comfortable discussing. Sandberg believes in inequality on all fronts – both at the workplace, and at home. Generally, however, even for women that work full-time corporate jobs, those women are still taking on 2x the amount of housework and 3x the amount of childcare and rearing than their male partners. Much of this is related to another ingrained mindset where we put more pressure on boys to succeed than we do girls. Sandberg suggests that truly embracing inequality for women means giving women the same time, choices, and opportunity that men have to succeed, and that starts at home.
5. SPEAK UP AGAINST PREJUDICE
Being a leader in a world where prejudice still exists means speaking out when you see something wrong. Staying silent and watching inequality happen is essentially accepting inequality for what it is, and that is not something that any woman should be okay with. The more we get people talking, the more we get people caring about making those important changes that lead to a future we deserve.
“What would I do if I weren’t afraid? And then go do it.”
Standing up for yourself is scary. Standing up for yourself as a woman in a room full of men is even scarier. However, our ability to succeed as female leaders in the workplace is dependent on us believing in ourselves enough to be willing to confront that fear. As a young woman, I am full of self-doubt and anxiety about being able to be successful and being enough. And Sandberg really hit home for me in this regard – if I spent half the time and energy I spend on being afraid on believing in myself instead, there would be no limit to what I could achieve. If you can’t see how step the mountain is, then you can’t fear it.
I truly enjoyed reading Lean In, and highly recommend it for other women that want a refreshing and encouraging book on how to embrace your own ambition and worth to succeed as a woman and as a leader in life and in the workplace.
We recommend to you an articlecoming out in the Spring 2021 issue of the Journal of the Legal Profession. Professor Doris Brogan, the Harold Reuschlein Leadership Chair at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, addresses the question of why we should prepare law students for positions of influence and impact as leaders in society. The question was raised by her colleagues during a discussion about curricular objectives and goals. After immediately answering that we should, Prof. Brogan asked herself, “Why did it seem so right to prepare all our students with leadership skills if not all of them would end up in the that necessarily exclusive group we designate leader?” The article is the result of her research and reflection. She recognized that “good leadership education will make our students better lawyers, whether they become leaders or not.” She then addressed the myth that leadership cannot be taught. She proclaimed, “Of course, it can. Indeed it must be taught.”
The article is a delightful read with discussions of leaders who rose to positions of great influence, such as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. She included stories about companies who lacked moral leadership at critical times, such as Volkswagen and Wells Fargo. I especially appreciated her introduction to Dr. Mary Gentile’s work on Giving Voice to Values (GVV) which she recommends be adapted to law school curricula to provide “an effective platform to structure values-based leadership education.” Using GVV can prepare students to “step up and speak out in the face of actions or decisions that challenge their values,” which is a form of “informal leadership, or leadership without specific authority.”
I also appreciate her tribute to Deborah Rhode’s body of work in the areas of professional responsibility, women’s leadership and finally our movement to encourage leadership development in legal education. See footnote 2 of the article.
In the article, Professor Brogan suggests several imperatives:
Law schools must prepare students for formal and informal leadership;
Leadership education must focus hard on values education, and engage students in difficult, concrete discussion exploring personal, institutional, and universal values;
Leadership education must prepare students to speak up for their values and in service of doing the right thing courageously, and effectively, and to do so strategically, without unnecessarily putting their careers at risk); and
Those in positions of power—those in a position to act— must be prepared to listen and to hear. Few students will find themselves in influential leadership positions straight out of law school; rather, they will evolve as leaders, developing a constellation of skills and approaches and honing leadership aptitudes in an ongoing process of learning “throughout a professional trajectory . . . .”
Professor Brogan opines that “law school offers a safe place to wrestle with these issues—a place where the risks are low and where the student can try out different responses with no concern about real-world consequences. In short, law school offers a venue to help students develop a strong values-based foundation, the incentive to act in defense of values, and skills required to do so.”
Join Elizabeth M. Fraley, Stephen Rispoli, and Leah W. Teague for a discussion on training tomorrow’s leaders today. The legal profession has had an outsized impact through high-profile leadership positions in government, business, and non-profit sectors. However, leadership is not simply about a title or position. Today, more than ever, law school graduates need the skills required to be effective in their practices and in their communities. These skills – including grit, growth mindset, resilience, and working well with others – are crucial to their success. Not only do our graduates need these skills, many enter law school without them and have little or no baseline to build from.
Research shows that all these leadership skills can be taught. Leadership can be incorporated into law school curricula through courses, orientation programming, and events throughout law school. This webinar will discuss thoughtful programming and reflective assessments and assignments that are designed to teach these skills to our law students
To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times and rise eight. – Angela Lee Duckworth
Last month we started a series of monthly challenges starting with Listening. The next five cover topics we view as foundational to Leadership of Self: grit, growth mindset, feedback, failure, and resilience. We start with grit because it focuses on persistence in the face of adversity, a skill which seems particularly needed given the challenges of the last year.
But what is grit? Psychologist Angela Duckworth defined grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Grit requires both sustained effort and a zealous interest that goes beyond mere pleasure or amusement, moving to that which is meaningful and fulfilling. Agreeing to join a friend for a lovely 2-hour hike around a local lake cannot compare to training for 9 months to complete the Badwater 135 race in Death Valley – 135 grueling miles from the lowest elevation in North America to the tallest mountain in the continental U.S. Despite the inevitable setbacks during training and the race itself, gritty individuals don’t quit.
This trait translates to legal practice as well. In Milana Hogan’s 2013 study of women lawyers in AmLaw 200 firms, the most successful women demonstrated both grit and growth mindset. Grit predicted achievement, often above and beyond other metrics such as GPA or rank in law school. A partner classified as “very gritty” brought in almost $300,000 more per year than one of average grit. When interviewed, successful women lawyers gave grit-heavy explanations for how they succeeded in the practice of law.
We believe there’s value in grit. Our challenge to you this month is to assess your own grit. Perhaps you will recall incidents of grittiness in your professional or personal life (feel free to share them in the comments). Along the way, we will share a variety of resources and experiences on the topic of grit.
Few leaders have made decisions as momentous or widely varied as Dwight D. Eisenhower. Through his decades of service to America—first, as an accomplished general who led the Allied army to victory during World War II and later, as the 34th President of the United States during the Cold War—Dwight D. Eisenhower personified the qualities of successful leadership.
Baylor Law recently hosted an interview with President Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower, a distinguished Washington D.C. policy strategist, security expert, and author. In her book, How Ike Led, Susan Eisenhower details the qualities that made her grandfather the great leader he is remembered for being today. Author and attorney Talmage Boston, who interviewed Susan Eisenhower for the online event, described How Ike Led as a “textbook on leadership.”
How Ike Led may not be the only leadership “textbook” authored by an Eisenhower, however. In 1965, President Eisenhower authored an essay on leadership that was published in the Reader’s Digest. In that essay, President Eisenhower described the “handful of known qualities which I am convinced are the essence of leadership[,]” based on his observations of other renowned leaders, such as Sir Winston Churchill and Gen. George C. Marshall. According to Eisenhower, the essential leadership qualities include: Selfless Dedication, Courage and Conviction, Fortitude, Humility, Thorough Homework, and the Power of Persuasion.
Based on Susan Eisenhower’s discussion of her grandfather, it is clear President Eisenhower possessed many of these key traits. More than fifty years after President Eisenhower’s death, these qualities continue to remain relevant in today’s societal and political climate.
The first—and “perhaps the greatest”—quality Eisenhower described was selfless dedication. In his essay, Eisenhower wrote: “Any leader worth his salt must of course possess a certain amount of ego, a justifiable pride in his own accomplishments. But if he is a truly great leader, the cause must predominate over self.” In How Ike Led, Susan Eisenhower addresses this concept, writing that President Eisenhower knew when to suppress and when to deploy his ego. By this, she means that Eisenhower possessed a talent for knowing which fights to pursue and which fights to let go. Eisenhower innately recognized that insisting on winning every fight, no matter how large or small, alienated people. Instead, Eisenhower’s primary goal in both war and peace was to “foster unity” and “find a middle way.” In Susan Eisenhower’s words, it matters less “who does the right thing” and matters more that “the right thing gets done.” Eisenhower exemplified this belief by shirking partisanship and remaining open to working with both members of his party and those across the political aisle.
Eisenhower also described the importance of humility in a leader. In his essay on leadership, Eisenhower wrote: “My own conviction is that every leader should have enough humility to accept, publicly, the responsibility for the mistakes of the subordinates he has himself selected and, likewise, to give them credit, publicly, for their triumphs.” Eisenhower, again, serves as an exemplar of this quality. For any failure, Eisenhower claimed the responsibility rather than casting blame on his subordinates. Moreover, he instilled this value on his family as well. Susan Eisenhower recalled that the correct response to any failure or shortcoming was to accept responsibility and say: “No excuses, sir.”
A third quality of leadership described and exemplified by Eisenhower is fortitude. Eisenhower described this “vital ingredient of leadership” as “fortitude of spirit – the capacity to stand strong under reverses, to rise from defeat and do battle again, to learn from one’s mistakes and push on to the ultimate goal.” In line with this concept, Susan Eisenhower evoked one of her grandfather’s favorite expressions: “Don’t rewind the tape.” By this expression, Eisenhower meant that a leader should avoid replaying and second-guessing their past decisions. Rather, a leader should remain forward-facing and focused on the future.
Throughout the interview, the picture of President Eisenhower that emerged was one of nuance and complexity, highlighted by juxtaposed qualities and anecdotes. Despite being known for his considerable military accomplishments, President Eisenhower strove for peace rather than war during his two presidential terms. Relatedly, President Eisenhower used the United States’ military strength to negotiate a truce to end the Korean War and reduce tensions during the Cold War.
At the beginning of the interview, Talmage Boston noted how Susan Eisenhower’s brother, David, described President Eisenhower as both “beloved and forbidding.” Susan Eisenhower’s answers to interview questions, including her personal stories and anecdotes of President Eisenhower, revealed the truth of that duality.
Most historians are familiar with “the formidable Ike.” According to Susan Eisenhower, President Eisenhower possessed an “enormous physical presence” and a notorious temper, though he exercised great discipline in controlling it. After witnessing firsthand the liberation of a concentration camp during World War II, Eisenhower insisted that Germans from a nearby town visited the camp to see what had been done in their name, and he later required that villagers give the Holocaust victims proper burials. Eisenhower believed in accountability, but he also recognized that accountability must be followed by the opportunity for redemption. With President Eisenhower’s support, West Germany became a member of NATO in 1955, ten years after the end of World War II.
As this anecdote illustrates, President Eisenhower possessed an equally-important sensitive side in addition to his “forbidding” presence and reputation. Susan Eisenhower described her grandfather as a person with “extraordinary sensitivity” and a “big heart and tough head.” He was a “very passionate, emotional person” who was tasked with making difficult decisions in the absence of emotion.
As Eisenhower himself once wrote, “we don’t know all there is to know about leadership.” That said, Eisenhower’s legacy and nuanced approach to leadership serve as an enduring example of the marks of a true leader. As succinctly stated in the book’s description, “Susan Eisenhower’s How Ike Led shows us not just what a great American did, but why―and what we can learn from him today.”
Two hunters were out in the woods when one suddenly fell to the ground. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he seemed to stop breathing. The other hunter frantically took out his cellphone and called 9-1-1. As soon as the call connected, he yelled out, “My friend Bubba is dead! What can I do?” The operator calmly replied, “Take it easy. I can help. Just listen to me and follow my instructions. First, let’s make sure he’s really dead.” A short pause ensued, and the operator then heard a loud gunshot. The hunter came back on the line and said, “Okay… now what?” [i]
Our modern society provides constant noise. Everywhere we turn there is something to listen to – 24/7 news, social media videos, audiobooks, podcasts, satellite/internet radio . . . the list goes on and on. While noise is frequent, we rarely see anyone simply being in the moment, truly engaged in observing and understanding the world. Instead, we pull out our phones during any down time to check email and social media. We are losing the art of doing nothing—of letting our brains have creative rest. We also are forgetting how to really listen.
For me personally, these constant distractions make it difficult to focus on one thing at a time. This is true not only during personal time; it happens at work as well. When I am on a business-focused Zoom call, even with just a few people, I constantly glance at my phone to read text messages or check that most recent email in case it demands my attention. In doing so, I may be hearing the conversation on the Zoom call, but am I really listening? A Russian proverb says, “If you chase two rabbits, you won’t catch either one.” When I multitask, as the expression goes, am I really catching either of the rabbits I need to catch?
To compound the issue, we lawyers listen to respond rather than listening to understand. Law school has trained us – and done a fine job at it – to listen to what another person is saying and immediately formulate an argument that rebuts that person’s position. I have learned this the hard way with my lawyer-spouse, Jeanine. The mark of a great lawyer, after all, is the power of oration and persuasion, and based on how our arguments usually go, Jeanine is clearly the superior lawyer. But a different and more important question is whether the responding person really understood the first person’s position or argument before choosing to respond.
The distinction is key, particularly when personal relationships and difficult subjects are involved. From conducting voir dire to negotiating a business deal, real communication requires effective listening just as much as (if not more than) effective speaking.[ii] Listening actively to what someone says rather than focusing on the literal meaning of the words spoken can provide greater insight and improve productivity within your organization.[iii] Colleagues who feel they have been heard are more likely to feel valued and remain loyal to the organization.[iv] In addition, leaders who actively listen catch things that other would miss and are better informed when making decisions.[v]
I suspect that I am not alone in these listening faults. The lack of civil discourse present in society certainly seems to confirm that others struggle with this as well. So, how do we train ourselves to really listen to others and be engaged in the moment?
Artful listening includes hearing not only what is said but also what is not said.[vi] Non-verbal cues––body language, posturing, and tone, for example––can convey a great deal about what is really being said.[vii] Maintaining eye contact and using reassuring facial expressions convey to the speaker that you are hearing them. When you also confirm what you heard and ask open-ended questions to follow up, you increase the likelihood you are truly communicating. Resist the temptation to interrupt or think only about what to say next; both diminish your ability to listen closely.[viii] Your non-verbal cues, especially those that signal you are bored or impatient can overpower anything that you say. This skill can be especially beneficial when giving feedback to a team member as you convey that this conversation is important.
Practicing artful listening can be done on a daily basis with friends, loved ones, and strangers alike. Becoming a master will help you build and maintain relationships. These deep relationships will pay dividends years after the first conversation. For lawyers, active listeners are better at witness examinations and voir dire during trial, at connecting with clients, with catching the nuances of office politics, and is critical for developing cultural competence. And for leaders, artful listening contributes to team trust, good decision-making, and fewer unpleasant surprises.
Law school provides ample opportunities to teach students to listen to respond, but it also provides opportunities to train students to artfully listen. Any course that focuses upon developing Legal analysis and problem-solving skills would be well served to include a section on active listening. Specific classes that focus upon relationships, such as client counseling, negotiations, or ADR, are also ripe for an artful listening discussion. Below are some exercises that can be used to practice artful listening.
Have each student sit in a comfortable position and engage in mindfulness, closing their eyes, calming their breathing, and noting their heart rate and physical self. Are they calm and relaxed? Is some part of the body tense or tight? What is going on mentally – is the brain active and scattered or focused and calm? Spend a few moments with the students getting in touch with their bodies and minds using one or more of the following techniques:[x]
Focus on the rising and falling of the breath;
Pay attention to how your feet feel as they touch the floor;
Do a full-body scan, starting at the top of the head and moving to the feet. Note any areas of tension.
Imagine bright, warm sunlight streaming down on you;
Let your mind think about whatever it wants – no judgment
For faculty comfortable with leading a meditation moment, feel free to use the techniques noted above. If you’d like to use an internet video, take a look at the resources available on Headspace.com.
After the students try these methods, have them think about what felt easiest and most calming for them.
Next, have the students think about a difficult or stressful situation. Note how the body and mind react. Now, try to refocus the students back to the state of physical and mental calm they were in previously.[xii] How might they do this in a professional setting while listening to a boss, judge, or client?
Pair all of the students. Ask each pair to arrange their chairs so that they are back to back. One student in each pair will be given a piece of paper with a couple of shapes on it. The second student sits with his or her back to the student holding the paper. The second student should not be able to see his or her partner’s paper, or the paper (with shapes) of any other student. Using only the methods of communication instructed, the second student will attempt to duplicate the shapes on the paper in front of the first student.
The shapes on the paper can be anything (they can be a star inside of a rectangle, a circle overlapping a square, trapezoid, and diamond, etc.). For an example, please see below.
For the first round, the student with the paper with shapes will describe the shapes and instruct his or her partner on how to draw the shapes on their paper. Give the students about a minute to complete the exercise, but explain that this is a one-way communication exercise; the students drawing cannot talk to their partners or ask questions.
After a minute, telling the drawing students to take out another piece of paper and try again. Give them another minute, but this time, it is a two-way communication exercise; allow them to talk to their partners and ask clarifying questions about the instructions they’re receiving.
Once done, have the students show their partners and each other their drawings, compared to the original. The first example (with one-way communication) is usually way off from the original, but the second example (with two-way communication) is usually much closer (comparatively speaking).
This exercise demonstrates how hard it is to understand exactly what someone is saying when they’re speaking to you. It also demonstrates the power of artful listening and the importance of asking good questions to clarify understanding.
[i] John C. Maxwell, Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading 50 (Thomas Nelson 2008).
[ii] See Elle Kaplan, “Active Listening”: The Key to Strong Workplace Relationships, Productivity, and Personal Empowerment, Medium (Aug. 22, 2018), https://medium.com/@ellekaplan/active-listening-the-key-to-strong-workplace-relationships-productivity-and-personal-72650f32da4c.
[vi] Sir Andrew Likierman, The Elements of Good Judgment, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Jan. 2020), https://hbr.org/2020/01/the-elements-of-good-judgment.
[vii] Kaplan, supra note 2.
[ix] Erin Olivo, Two Simple Mindful Meditation Exercises for Teachers, The Guardian (Dec. 6, 2015), https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/dec/06/two-simple-mindful-meditation-exercises-for-teachers.