Managing the Board and Business Expectations Report. Blog – Active Listening

This blog accompanies GCRC’s latest exclusive report from Ann Page – Managing the Board and Business Expectations. Read the full report here.

Active Listening


This topic of managing expectations was the top topic in our GCRC survey and it is the number one topic when I am training, advising or coaching lawyers – so it is a good guess that this is yours too.
As I normally break this down into the following formula – know – like – trust – I have decided to respond to this topic by way of a series of blogs and reports dealing with each of these in turn.

What do you know?

One of the benefits of being an in-house lawyer is ‘knowing’ the business – so how well do you know yours? Can you sum up the main business goals of your organisation in a concise paragraph to your internal colleagues or to external professionals at a networking event? If your organisation is global and complex, then you might want to start with your particular division or main business unit that you serve.

Once you have written this down, then you can answer two key questions:

  • What do you now need to know about your colleagues or organisation?
  • How are you going to plan to fill those gaps with your current work colleagues and the ones you would like to get to know?

In order to manage their expectations, you will need to organise your time to include building those key relationship at Board and the specific business units you actually serve. Please see How should in-house lawyers and legal teams market themselves? By Grania Langdon-Down

Where these relationships are in place, it will be just a case of widening your discussions with them to include some questions to elicit the information you now need.

If you don’t know where to start then use the ‘past, present and future’ approach in your communication. How did they or the organisation get to the present – what are the current challenges/drivers – and how are they developing the business for the future. People generally like to share this information about themselves and their work. Then you need to be really engaged when listening to the answers.

Active listening is a really useful skill not only for lawyers but also for building or deepening rapport. Listening does not imply that you are agreeing or supporting what is being said (or the manner of delivery).

Research shows that writing is the most taught language skill and yet it is only used 9% of the time. Reading is another vital skill but used only 16% of the time. Speaking is used 30% of the time but speaking to engage listeners is not really taught in schools. Listening is the least taught of the skills and yet is used for 45% time.

The difference between active listening and just listening will make a significant difference in learning and retaining information shared by your colleagues.

I have broken down ‘Active Listening’ into the following steps:

  • Putting your mind into ‘receive only’ format by clearing out any internal chatter of ‘to do lists/or judgement’ during the conversation. Another way to look at this is to give your client your full-undivided attention and you will immediately stand out in this ‘distraction age’ as someone they can turn to. Do not try to solve anything or provide ideas at the very beginning of the conversation – let the colleague finish. This is very powerful and cannot be overstated. You know what it feels like to have some one be fully focussed on what you have to say.
  • You cannot be fully present when taking notes – for one thing you cannot see the body language of the person speaking. For the recipient talking to the top of your head is not appealing either.
  • Use your body language to convey interest and encouragement for the speaker to continue. Most of us when speaking watch the reaction of the other person to what we are saying. For example – applicable eye contact, nods of the head, or sounds like ‘hmmm.’, ‘I see’ ‘tell me more’. Clearly constantly checking mobile devices or the clock or other people in the room should be avoided. Once you take your attention of them, they will know.
  • The ‘active’ part of the listening is reflecting back what you have heard – not as a ‘stalker’ but reiterating key messages and information to ensure that you have understood and demonstrate understanding of what you have heard with your ears. Clarifying questions can also be very useful here.
  • Where applicable, reinforcing statements can also be made here where you specifically agree with what is being said. Even if you don’t you can always let the person know you understood their perspective or emotions – ‘I can see why you think that is the case’ or ‘I can hear how strongly you feel about this .
  • For every lawyer who has just had apoplexy because I said you could not take notes then you can now relax. The time for taking notes is at the end of the ‘story/information’ shared. This gives you a further chance to ‘cherry pick’ the specific information you need for your part in the legal matter. If there is no legal matter and it just a conversation about business then to state as this is so important would they mind if you made a note for you records would be appropriate.
  • When you have demonstrated that you have listened and are listening then the recipient is more likely to listen to you. For young lawyers, active listening to ‘elder states people’ in business or legal is a ‘gift’ that they will remember you for.


Rome was not built in a day! Active Listening does take repetition to make perfect; and as a bonus if you practice this at home – relationships here will also prosper!

Any questions/comments on this blog to


Managing External Legal Resources is a specialist website offering strategic coaching, leadership, management and interpersonal skills training for the In-house lawyers. Ann also delivers team away days as well as facilitation process meetings for in-house teams.

The GC Research Club (GCRC) blends social media expertise, a wealth of specific industry knowledge and metrics management into a cost effective approach to creating value, improving productivity and protecting and growing your department’s contribution to company and reputation. We harness in-house legal networks to create value, improve productivity. We help our clients gain the competitive advantage through customer participation, workforce collaboration, and business partner optimisation.

About Ann Page

A Top 100 Lawyer of the Year, Ann is perfectly placed to offer strategic coaching to fellow lawyers, as she has both delivered and received legal services. Her impressive CV over a 30 year legal career includes senior positions at companies/organisations as diverse as Citibank, Crest Homes, Next plc, National & Provincial (now Abbey) and The Co-operative Bank. She is a published book author (‘Managing External Legal Resources’) and has appeared on the professional services TV channel talking on this topic as well as speaking and writing on lawyers’ professional development. Ann has also been involved with the Law Society National Commerce & Industry Group for 15 years in a variety of roles and chaired it for 18-months. Ann is Head of Business Affairs for the Institute of Paralegals, has trained with the Coaching Academy and also holds a HNLP certificate in coaching as well as being an NLP Master Practitioner.
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