“You're short on ears and long on mouth.”
The above words are attributable to legendary actor John Wayne. Now, even if he just recited the words, the visual and audible image of John Wayne—hip cocked, head held at a confident but inquisitive manner, looking strongly into the eyes of the recipient of his words—creates a strong message for most of us. And, let’s not kid ourselves, most lawyers love the sound of their own voice and fancy themselves the most important person in most situations. We all went to or are in law school. We all remember the gunner (or we were the gunner): that obsequious annoying person who, in every class (right or wrong) always seemed to be talking. The Duke was talking to all of us when he uttered these words.
Fast forward to any place or time in your legal career, and the gunner still exists and/or you are still the gunner. I cannot say it as well as Stephen Covey, the author of the wildly successful (non-legal) book The 7 Habit of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change who said:
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Cast in our own terms, many times when a lawyer is quiet, he or she is not really listening. Instead, the lawyer is formulating his or her next statement. You can often tell when this happens because when the lawyer speaks, the words that come out of his or her mouth tend to not be responsive to the most recently made points.
Why, you ask, am I blogging about this topic? Diarrhea of the mouth is such a common character flaw of lawyers that most people just learn to work around it. But this is something we can’t work around any longer if we hope to be relevant in our current climate.
Nothing quite sums up the feelings of anger and frustration this lack of listening brings better than Aerosmith’s classic Janie’s Got a Gun. We are living in a local and global world of violence. A world where those who feel unheard can easily arm themselves and commit acts of violence to be heard. Talking more and louder than the next person, without listening and hearing, has brought us to a 2015 where mass shootings, gun violence, and terror attacks have become as common as the sound of the gunner’s voice in first- year torts class. As lawyers, we need to be a part of the solution. We need to assist and facilitate conversations that will hopefully heal the wounds that are driving more and more men and women to react violently and murderously when they are not being heard.
We need to aspire to be something more than our own egos. If we as lawyers can learn to listen and hear, we can help others to listen and hear, and then, hopefully, we can start moving people—one conversation at a time—toward civil discussions instead of violence. Calvin Coolidge said: “It takes a great man [or woman] to be a good listener.” So, let’s lengthen our ears, shorten our mouths and become great people!