Many years ago when I was working 1,000 hours a week and my daughter was very young, I was trying to get her to eat an apple after a busy day at work. She was having none of it. Frustration levels were rising on both sides. Finally, with tears streaming down her face, she blurted out, “I want my parents dead.”
I was unamused. This was intolerable. I told her what an awful crime she had committed. There were raised voices and more tears.
She kept insisting that she had done nothing wrong which only infuriated me more.
After much unhappiness for all concerned, my daughter finally persuaded me that I had not listened carefully to what she had said. She explained that what she had said was not, “I want my parents dead.” It was, “I want my pear, instead.” Apparently, she did not like apples much, but pears were just fine.
When I first started practicing law, it seemed important that I speak a lot in client meetings. The clients were paying a lot of money for every minute that they met with me, and I was certain that they would not feel like they were getting their money’s worth unless I was talking and telling them about all the legal stuff that I knew.
As the years went by, I eventually learned that listening is way more important than speaking. I asked a lot of questions and paid attention to the answers. It was not unusual for the client to do most of the talking before I said much. When it was my turn to speak, invariably what I had to say had more value because I had listened to the client and I understood their concerns and goals.
Of course, sometimes the client’s goals made no sense to me. Like when they preferred pears to apples. And if I thought that their goals created unacceptable risk, I would certainly tell them that. Gently. And respectfully. And then, provided that it was not illegal, immoral, or just plain idiotic, I would do what they said.
If their objectives were any of those things, I would tell them that I was not their guy. But only after I listened to them and made sure that I understood what they wanted. I learned that from my daughter.