June 25, 2018
People want to be heard. This is especially true for people who enter a courthouse for the first time. So, how can courthouse employees make sure all people who walk through the courthouse doors have a positive experience?
The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism’s (Commission) Courthouse Professionalism training is designed to answer this question. The half-day training, called “Walk in Their Shoes,” provides an opportunity for courthouse staff to consider the Court's services from the perspective of a courthouse patron. If a patron is not heard and treated professionally, they will walk away with a sense that the justice system is not just.
On June 8, 2018, courthouse personnel from both Boone and Winnebago counties took part in the training to reflect and improve on their patrons’ courthouse experiences. Courthouse staff kicked off the training with a funny skit that focused on over-the-top behavior by court personnel that led to a patron being confused and unheard.
After the laughter subsided from the parody on courthouse professionalism, the Commission staff debriefed the skit. The group discussed that without a lawyer, most patrons would find the court experience confusing and unjust. Therefore, it is even more important for court personnel to listen to self-represented litigants. It may be the patron’s only interaction with the justice system and an opportunity for staff to influence a positive perspective of the Courts.
Active Listening Leads to Being Heard
Attendees broke down into small groups to discuss how they can deliver the best possible justice to those who enter the courthouse. The overriding theme from the small group discussions was the importance of assuring that patrons are heard. They discussed that there are no additional costs to simply listen to a patron. Active listening was also stressed.
Listening is an active process. It requires shutting out other sounds and being open to what the other person is saying without judgement. It is not about finishing the talker’s sentence or helping them find the appropriate words. Instead, it is about being in the moment and the listener giving their full attention to the speaker. This is not how we typically communicate and therefore why court personnel must try do this with patrons. As national recognized meditation teacher Elesa Commerse says, “This concentrated presence (deep listening) helps us feel valued.”
Think about what a difference it would make if people left the courthouse feeling listened to and valued. It has the potential to increase civility, professionalism, and justice. As the Boone and Winnebago court personnel were asked at the training, ask yourself, “What can be changed in your workday that will improve what you are able to achieve and the justice you deliver to the public?” Court patrons will be glad you did.
If you are interested in scheduling the Commission’s courthouse professionalism training at your courthouse, please contact Professionalism Counsel, Mark Palmer. Find out more about the Commission at www.2civility.org/about/