Do You Want to Be a Better Communicator? Learn from a Trial Lawyer
By Jim Ballidis
Do you wonder how to be a better communicator? From a personal injury lawyer, here are a few ideas that might help.
I have studied effective communication all my career as an injury lawyer. New revelations come to me all the time. This last weekend, I spent four days in a communication workshop that focused solely on internal and external communication – the things I tell myself, and the way I communicate with others. Both are important because they influence the result of the communication.
Today, I am going to talk about internal communication and what I learned.
Our goal in communicating is to gain a result we desire, right? If I want an adjuster to settle a case, I want to communicate in a way that makes the adjuster hear my client’s case, judge it fairly, and pay a reasonable sum in settlement without trial. Effective communication is crucial.
Here is the very important first rule I never paid attention to until this weekend: I have to communicate with myself honestly first. Then I can communicate with others more effectively. Let me explain.
Suppose that I want my children to go to bed at a decent hour. I can be very strict and say “just do it.” That can be an easy solution, up to the point when they start to revolt. You know what I mean – they delay showering, they delay eating dessert, or simply delay going to bed, choosing then to clean up their room or do chores that could have been done earlier. How can understanding my communication with myself help this situation?
One way is to be clear about what I want and why. Then I can try to logically discuss my reasons. Let’s see if this is effective. If I am clear about why I want them to get to bed on time, I can be more clear about what I relay. If I am concerned about their health, they seem tired in the mornings, or I need them to get to bed so I can slow my evening down and prepare for bed myself, I have more to talk about when I speak to them. Most of us think of this as understanding our internal communication, but it is not very effective, unfortunately. My kids do not care why I want them to go to bed. Nor do they care what I think they want. The adjuster, in the example above, does not really care about my motivations and reasons for getting the case settled.
But there is another level of internal communication I could employ. In fact, the game starts here. How can I figure out what they want and why?
I start with asking “What is my outcome?” That is different from what I want. Sometimes this requires more deep understanding, losing the perceived judgment that I already know what they want! I want my kids to go to bed on their own, and I want the adjuster to be excited to close this case, saving his energy for other less worthy cases, but what do they want? When I look at my internal dialogue of what they want, a whole new area of thought starts, one that makes no assumptions.
I know that almost everyone wants to be in some type of control, or make decisions on their own, and not be told what to do. No one likes to be told they are wrong or feel they are being judged. So let’s start there.
I have to ask myself, do I want to engage in a conversation about why the kids are delaying the request every night? Am I open to a discussion or am I just saying “Because I said so.” Is there a purpose to their actions I am not understanding that would give me clues to what they want?
Sometimes, it makes them feel “in control”; that is their want. Maybe they feel that they do not have enough time with me, so when bedtime nears, I can be more fun-loving and approachable. Are they pushing back at a pattern I acquired from my mom called “Go to bed,” or have I been too lax in the past and therefore set my kids up to fail because they do not know when I will be strict and when I will be playful?
If the desired outcome is to have them go to bed on their own, I need to listen closely to their wants, without judgment or assumption of what they will tell me. This will allow them to be in control, to tell me what they are thinking, and open up to the idea that we are trying to communicate together. Sound too lala land? Maybe, but this weekend I spent a lot of time watching it work on all kinds of discussions.
How about communicating with the adjuster? If I want to show him or her I am a power to be reckoned with, or prove to myself how good I am, will that settle the case? Everyone knows that. Instinctively, I have always been able to understand what they need, and want. Now I feel I have a more considered approach. I want to make a connection with the adjuster, find out what they are thinking, discern what they think feels fair, and build rapport to help us do our respective jobs. There is always time for a trial and 12 people to tell us the value of a case, but if it can be settled, it is far better for a client. It is so easy for me to assume I know an adjuster because of 35 years of dealing with them. But if they feel heard and understood, then will they be willing to hear me as well?
I learned this weekend that all too often I make assumptions about the understanding of others, judgments on what they are thinking, feeling, or seeing in a particular discussion. Internal dialogue that frees me of those judgments can be liberating and effective.
As for the kids, I will let you know how it goes in a couple of weeks.
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