Recently I participated in a twebinar on the subject of “Listening” where “Two ears and one mouth,” a shortened Epictetus quote was recycled throughout the sound bites and tweets. The entire quote is ““We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” It got me thinking about the ratio of listening to speaking in different types of conversations I’ve observed. Here are some broad strokes of this quote taken to extremes:

When talking for both parties was significantly greater than listening these conversations became very one-sided. Both parties were so anxious to think of their next reply they failed to listen. If two people talk at each other no one hears anything and communication becomes a dead-end. Rarely does this stagnation inspire either party to move beyond the stalemate.

When listening was even with talking the conversation advanced but not with much depth. Answers in these types of conversations reveal that the both parties are somewhat disengaged. They rely on canned answers to keep the conversation at surface level. It’s a nice volley of words but little to no information is exchanged.

When listening was greater than talking, learning was taking place. This works best in the school years where kids are taught to be quiet and listen. Listening is after all a major tool for learning. After listening, students are instructed to go home and do some homework so the lessons sink in deeper. This basic communication dynamic must continue throughout life because it is critical to the learning process.

As business developers, it is even more important to listen twice as much as we speak. We are afterall in a service industry and good client service begins with “How may I help you?” In order to our jobs well we have to listen, ask, and listen again. Our audience wants us to understand their pain and locate areas where we may offer our skills. We can’t make bold proclamations that this CRM must be purchased for the firm or adding a new practice will raise revenue. We have to listen to the clients, the firm, and the marketplace before we can be heard credibly.

Attorneys all too often rush to produce a pitch book for a new client meeting with no due diligence. They are so eager to have a conversation that they forget to listen. Here’s a familiar scenario: “I don’t know if they need labor & employment; I’m a corporate attorney and I got the meeting. Let’s focus on my practice and throw in the general firm description.” Listening begins before the meeting.

In Heather’s earlier post “It’s My Reputation on the Line”, John Dent reminds those in the legal profession to do your homework. That really translates to listen! Listen to the newspaper, listen to our 10-K, listen to our press releases, listen to Google, and listen at the meeting. Please don’t assume!!!

Once the idea of listening becomes second nature to law firms and attorneys, I guarantee you the use of Web 2.0 will increase drastically. Why? Because you can be a fly on the wall and listen to what your audience is saying. You can once again have two ears and one mouth.

What do you think? My mouth is now shut and my ears are wide-open.