Listening is a key skill
Listening is a is a core skill in all counseling and communication models and is a learned skill which can be enhanced (even for those with some natural skill). There are many excellent listening models, although most seem to miss one or more important elements. The Conflict Science Institute has developed a client counseling listening model specifically for lawyers and therapists based on conflict and relationship science principles.
CSI’s model, Integrative Listening, seeks to identify all of the relevant elements of listening. It incorporates and harmonizes ideas from listening theories such as active listening, reflective listening, motivational interviewing, nonviolent communication, and mindfulness theory. It also incorporates ideas from biopsychosocial models of human functioning such as Interpersonal Neurobiology, social science research, psychology, attachment theory, and human development science.
CUP of COCOA RNV – the top level elements of listening
- Reflect (on self and other)
- Nonverbal awareness
Elements of listening
The 10 elements in CUP of COCOA RNV are top level terms. Each element involves additional related concepts. For example, being open involves being inviting, without presenting barriers, nonjudgmental, and giving up our own agendas.
As master therapist Bonnie Badenoch said, “Agendaless presence is not an a passive role.”
Caring is the milk of human kindness
Many listening models put empathy as a top level term. While empathy is powerful tool, a focus on it can be problematic if the professional can’t “feel into” the client’s problem. Empathy is also a confusing term because it is defined many ways. (Empathy is also a potentially dangerous tool if it leads the professional to lose professional distance. CSI Equipoise concept describes this problem and how to avoid the danger.) Care involves concepts such as empathy, compassion, sympathy, perspective taking, warmth, normalizing, and having unconditional positive regard for the client. It also involves kindness.
CSI includes Care as a top level term because it captures the essence of the other related terms, is a primary source emotion (explained in the Equipoise article), and is one of the top three things which client research has identified is what clients most want from their lawyer or therapist.
At the core of Integrative Listening, and the Integrative Client-Centered Model (ICCM), is a recognition that most people don’t include certain types of information in their information processing and communication. At the same time, most listeners don’t recognize what information is being excluded or over-relied on. Some people rely on just a few facts and also the intensity of their feelings. Some people rely more on what seems like a coherent set of facts but not their or others feelings, or contexts and rules that might also be relevant. (In attachment theory and information processing terms, this is sometimes called the defensive exclusion of information or the defensive inclusion/over-reliance of information.)
Sometimes clients come to a professional to solve a problem. They have been trying to solve their problem with a certain pattern of information processing which excludes relevant information. From the client’s perspective, all they can see is that the other party is not understanding them. “If only they could see…. I need you, Mr. Professional, to help them see it the right way!” They can’t see that they are in fact not including all the relevant information. The other party might also be defensively excluding information, and that the two parties are simply relying on opposite sets of information and have excluded opposites types of information. These client often assume the professional can solve their problem their way, because of an assumption the professional has better persuasion skills. The reality is that the “problem” is a function of information processing bias. CSI’s Conflict Model explains these biases in more detail.
Being heard and feeling safe
It might be that the lawyer and/or client can achieve the client’s goal with coercion and persistence. It might also be that, if the professional can “hear” what information is missing, the professional can find a way to help the client open up and consider additional information. The client might be able to consider additional facts, rules and contexts and become able to see the problem in a new light. But, for the client to be able to do this, they must feel fully heard and safe.
As explained by many models of human functioning, and by CSI’s Conflict Model, information processing bias is a function of learned response to managing danger. (Danger itself is a complex topic.) The more a person subjectively feels the problem is related to subjectively perceived danger, the more rigid their information processing patterns tend to be.
Feeling heard leads to a sense of feeling safe. When people feel heard, they gain a sense that someone is in their corner and willing and able to help them.
The next time you feel deeply heard, reflect on why and how being heard makes you feel. Does it help you to relax? Does it help you put your defenses down? Does it help you feel ready to open up to hearing something new? Does it help you be able to finally hear and consider someone else’s advice, or information and perspectives you hadn’t considered before?
The next time you listen to a client’s story pick one or more of the 10 elements of CUP of COCOA RNV and utilize it more than you ever have before. As clients tell you their story, they will almost always be missing some piece of information or context. See if you can identify what is missing and what the challenges are to having an effective communication between the two of you. See if you can allow and foster the client to fully tell their story before you make any attempt to respond. And then, in the way you respond, see if you can be mindful to what the client is sensitive to and move the conversation forward.
Listening is a first step
While an enhanced listening skill is a powerful communication tool for professionals, knowing what to listen for and knowing how to help a client move to a new understanding of their issues are additional goals in the counseling process. The Conflict Model and 6-Step Change Process Model are two other CSI techniques to facilitate these professional goals.
Listening for Lawfighters
Listening skills and an understanding of conflict psychology are a powerful combination for Lawfighting™ skills. These allow lawfighters to hear what is not being said in client stories, and in cross-examination.
CSI offers training programs in listening, client communication, conflict psychology, and Lawfighting™ as an advanced course.