If you’ve been playing close attention, this blog has been a bit quiet of late. Indeed, it’s probably the longest stretch between posts in the 11 years I’ve been doing this.
It’s not for lack of ideas.
Rather, after many years of spouting off (which, after all, is the underlying purpose of the blog), I found myself desiring to do a lot more listening. Listening to employers. Listening to my colleagues. Listening to other lawyers. And the only way to do that was to really stop writing for a while.
I don’t profess to have been original in this aspect.
I’ve admired a blog from afar that preaches this exact point — Listen Like a Lawyer by Jennifer Romig. Just a few weeks ago, she highlighted the International Day of Listening — and the theme for this year of “Listening — even when you disagree.”
But it’s really so true. In employment law, listening can help employers and employees find common ground. Or, at least a better understanding of their respective positions and avoid lawsuits.
Yes, there’s the obvious examples of the claims of sexual harassment, but there also a whole host of other issues that arise in the workplace because one party isn’t doing the listening.
Take, for example, an employee’s performance. Sometimes, an employer will ask us for advice on a termination; the employee hasn’t been performing well and we want to terminate her performance. One of my first questions to the employers is: What have you communicated to the employee and what does she understand?
A few times I’ve heard — Well, I think the employee should know we’re not happy.
That’s where some employment lawsuits get formed. They can be forged out of misunderstandings. Or they can be forged with the employer hasn’t communicated well with the employee and hasn’t listened to what the employee has to say.
And it goes both ways too. No one likes hearing criticisms of their work; has the employee been listening to what you have been telling her?
It’s easy for all of us — in the mad scramble that we deal with on a day-to-day basis — to just try to plow forward. To think we know what’s best. Or to shut ourselves off from learning.
But listening provides one way for all of us to break through the background noise that seems ever present with smartphones, social media, and e-mail.
What strategies for listening have worked well in the workplace? And do they help you as an employer address employee-related issues?