Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Importance of Listening

In mediation, there are always at least two stories. The clients' stories are usually told by the attorneys trained to portray an idealized version to enhance their positions. Often, the client feels that something essential or the source of internal pain has been left out or not acknowedged. Perhaps lacking relevance to the issues the attorney wants to focus on, it gets ignored.

A good mediator senses this and draws out the client until the story, pouring from the gut, the spleen, the heart or the head has been said.

By drawing out the hidden story, the client feels they have been heard and is free to move into a realm of clarity when negotiating.

I recently read an article about Obama's tenure as the Editor of the Harvard Law Review where he developed a leadership style based more on furthering consensus than on imposing his own ideas.

"Surrounded by students who enjoyed the sound of their own voices, Mr. Obama cast himself as an eager listener, sometimes giving warring classmates the impression that he agreed with all of them at once."

Another of Mr. Obama’s techniques relied on his seemingly limitless appetite for hearing the opinions of others, no matter how redundant or extreme. That could lead to endless debates — a mouse infestation at the review office provoked a long exchange about rodent rights — as well as some uncertainty about what Mr. Obama himself thought about the issue at hand.

The ability to listen until everyone felt they had been heard (and agreed with) is as powerful a tool for a mediator as it is for an aspiring presidential candidate.

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