Denver Bar Association
June 2010
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Telephone Doctor — Be a Better Listener

by Nancy Friedman

What’s the difference between hearing and really listening? A lot. Here are some customer service tips that will be invaluable to you, your staff and your clients.

1 Decide to be a better listener. That’s like an attitude. You can really decide to be a good listener. It’s a decision. Will everything be of interest or value to you? Maybe not, but not listening might be dangerous. So, make a mental decision to listen better to those you talk with, especially if you have asked them a question and they answer. You need to LISTEN to them.

2 Welcome the customer on the phone or in person; in business or at a social event. We need to make the person feel welcomed. That in turn helps make you a much better listener. Be obviously friendly when you’re talking with a customer. And it’s got to be sincere. Most folks can tell when you’re not. So, bring a welcoming phrase to the table and use it to make the customer feel as though he or she has found a long lost friend.

3 Concentrate. This is not the time for multi-tasking. And today, we can all turn to the left or right and catch someone texting and probably having an in-person conversation, as well. One of these things will be in trouble. We simply cannot do two things well at once. Your concentration must be on the customer, again, in person or on the phone. Do nothing else but listen.

4 Keep an open mind. Why do we need to do this? I’ll tell you why. There are some of us who think we know what the other person is going to say before they say it and so we interrupt or interject our comments before the customer can answer. That’s not keeping an open mind. That’s interrupting. Some of the time we’re right and we do know what the person will say. But it’s important to put your teeth in your tongue and not interrupt. By keeping an open mind you’ll gain more information, as well.

5 Give verbal feedback. Talking with someone and not acknowledging what they’re talking about is very frustrating for them; especially on the phone, because we don’t even have body language to check out. A few "I see," "That’s good," "OK," "Interesting," and a few other words and phrases like that help the person feel as though you’re listening and listening well. In person, you have the ability to nod and smile and they can SEE your expressions. However, on the phone, we need verbal feedback. And be careful we’re not saying the same word over and over. Like OK, OK, OK, OK. That’s boring to both of you.

6 Take notes as you talk. And yes, even in person. That’s perfectly acceptable! Taking notes and letting the person know you are doing it is a sign of great interest. I do it all the time when I’m on the phone. I tell the client, "I’m taking notes so we can refer to them later and so I don’t forget what you’re saying." No one has ever said, "Don’t do that." Most say, "Good, that’s super!" Taking notes so you can refer back is a big compliment. Don’t forget to do it.

Reprinted with permission of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training, St. Louis, Mo. Nancy Friedman is a speaker at association and corporate meetings, including the National Association of Bar Executives and at the St. Louis and Missouri Bar Associations. For more information, log on to the Telephone Doctor® website at or call (314) 291-1012.

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