Eye Contact Is a Powerful Listening Tool

Listening is something that happens as much with the eyes as with the ears. Convey your attentiveness and respect for your client by listening with both. The first time you meet a client, be sure to look at him or her clearly and directly, eye to eye. Eye contact is the single most powerful way to communicate care and interest.

It is especially important to maintain good eye contact when your client is speaking. Do not allow your eyes to wander to other things—files on your desk, your computer, your iPad, your cell phone, or anything else. Reinforce how important your client is by focusing your gaze on your client.

Seeing Is Believing

There’s nothing like experiencing something yourself to truly appreciate its impact on others. Conduct the following experiment to demonstrate to yourself just how important eye contact is to make you feel attended to and respected.

Ask a friend to have a conversation with you. As both of you converse, ask your friend to take three different postures:

  1. Facing you, looking directly at you;
  2. With his or her back to you; and
  3. With his or her side to you, not looking at you.

Notice your emotional reaction to each of the three body postures.

When your friend faces you, you may find that you are encouraged to speak and that you feel that what you say matters to your friend. When your friend turns sideways, you may experience frustration and find it difficult to continue the conversation. When your friend faces directly away from you, you are likely to feel ignored and will not want to continue the conversation.

Your friend is perfectly capable of carrying on the conversation politely, respectfully, and attentively without ever looking at you. When your friend takes his or her eyes off you, however, the conversation is ruined for you. Regardless of the fact that your friend can hear you and respond appropriately, you don’t feel that your friend is really listening.

After doing this exercise yourself, imagine how it feels to your clients to be listened to without the benefit of your eye contact. Remember to always give your clients the respectful consideration they deserve by supplementing
your good listening skills with eye contact.

The Fishhook Technique

Although it is important to maintain direct eye contact so that your client feels that you are genuinely interested in what he or she is saying, it can be difficult to keep your eyes on someone for long periods of time. The fishhook technique can help you look at your client directly without making you or the client feel like you are staring.

Look diagonally with your right eye at your client’s right eye (or your left at the client’s left eye), “hooking” his or her eye with yours. This particular type of eye contact can be maintained for long periods of time without giving the appearance of staring. The fishhook needs to be practiced to be done well, but it’s worth the effort because your clients will appreciate your effective listening skills.

Connect with Your Clients
This post was adapted from the Law Practice Division’s publication Connecting With Your Client. In this book, author Noelle Nelson shares persuasive tools for achieving greater client satisfaction through improved communication.

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Law Technology Today
Law Technology Today is the official legal technology blog from the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC). Law Technology Today provides lawyers and other legal professionals with current, practical and innovative content developed by some of the leading voices on legal technology.

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