I’m Right…….Right?

 In Office Practice is Life Practice, Practicing Law and Life

Not everything I do as an attorney  translates well into my personal life. When listening to the other side in an arbitration or trial, I am busy trying to figure out how I can prove that they are wrong and that my position is right.

Being a good advocate does not always serve me as a husband. Growing up with a father who was an attorney and owned his own business definitely had its advantages. In 6th grade I worked at my dad’s office and I made enough money to buy my dream bicycle. I delivered papers to the courthouse where I met the judges, their secretaries and bailiffs. Dad’s legal secretaries even helped me with papers for school, did I ever need that help.

But membership is not always filled with advantages. I learned how to argue well. I knew how to make my point the central issue. In law school I remember a professor saying, “The person who defines the issue wins the argument”. While that worked extremely well in my law practice, it had serious downsides in my marriage.

“What I am looking for is what I’m going to find” – whoever said that, saw a simple yet profound truth about life. I ran head on into it in my marriage. Whenever there was a disagreement or misunderstanding, my automatic response was to argue my point. This approach affected what I said and heard.

For a number of years Jan would say in response to whatever my “good defense is a strong offense” comment was, “Stop making this argument all about you. It’s not. I want you to just listen to me”. I honestly tried to believe her, but everything I heard her say told me it was not true. How she put up with me I have no idea. I must have been a real “peach”.

Only through her infinite patience did I finally get it. I knew deep inside that what she was saying had to be true. She is a smart gal. I know she always has my best interest at heart. But my brain just could not comprehend it. I spent a number of years trying to hear what she was saying and not what I heard her say. When I felt my being “right” translator activate I would literally say to my self “she’s not talking about you. Just be quite and listen”. It was ridiculously hard to do.

Then one day while walking down the stairs, a light bulb the size belonging in a lighthouse, went on over my head. It’s not about “being” right, it’s about “seeing” right. It’s not about proving my point, it’s about understanding what she is saying. By George, I think I got it!

I know. I know. You’re thinking….. “Well, duh. It took you that long to figure this out?”. Well, yes it did. All the training I got growing up, in law school and work, ingrained being “right” into my very being. It took a long time to retrain myself.

I would like to tell you that I am perfect at it now, but that would be a lie. I am, however, a lot better. Not only did learning to hear right have a wonderful effect on my marriage, but on all the important relationships in my life. It’s amazing what I hear when I am not listening to be right. The difference between listening to being right and hearing right was life changing for me.


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  • John

    Yup. One of the reasons that we have a profession where a huge number of the people in it are unhappy and report that they wish they had chosen another career is that we teach and prize “listening to gather ammo and then prevail with it” which necessarily cancels out “listening to understand.” Forming connections with others requires both listening to understand and sharing your real self, making yourself vulnerable. While lawyers are generally not considered to have bad professional settings, in a real sense many lawyers work in fancy factories where they are constantly exposed to toxic chemicals–produced internally in response to the amygdaloid stress response cycle, which has a host of health consequences.

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