You need a tool like a tire iron or a lug wrench to change a tire. The tool you need to change the other party’s mind is language. The skillful and proper use of language can mean the difference of settlement or continued litigation. Using any tool properly requires knowledge and practice.
As your client’s attorney you need to make your best efforts in seeing that if your client chooses to settle a legal dispute it be on the most favorable terms possible. There is always give and take, but the end result should meet your client’s needs. That will require changing the other party’s mind about possibly several things so be prepared.
The other party’s opinions and positions may be firmly held perhaps due to emotions more than facts. In addition we’re psychologically wired to be consistent, to stay the course and prove to ourselves how logical and reliable we are. Some may fear changing an opinion would be showing weakness or fear, not logic or intelligence.
Here are some phrases supplied by The Muse that might help….
Don’t obsess over yourself, your client or how the two of you think. You are right and the point of the discussion is to prove that your proposal is the best result for everyone. As correct as this may be using this approach may result in a lot of “I”, “me”, and “you” being used which isn’t an effective persuasion technique.
Use more collaborative language. Talk about “we” or “us” instead of “I” or “you” because it’s a subconscious reminder that you’re both in the same boat, both trying to find the best solution to a shared problem. It also sounds less divisive, accusatory and demanding which helps facilitate a productive discussion.
“This will work because…”
Place most of your emphasis on why your proposal will work for the other party. Don’t focus on why their position won’t work. As a lawyer you’re trained to poke holes in the other party’s position and you may do it so often you may not realize you’re doing it. The more time spent being critical will likely only result in more tension, arguments and hurt feelings.
Avoid being so negative and channel your time and energy into explaining the benefits of your position to the other party. Pointing out all of the positives will give you a much better chance of changing the other party’s positions without any hard feelings.
If you can, demonstrate with supporting evidence why the other party should change their position. Arguments that use specific examples are much more persuasive than those only using vague terms and general assumptions. Follow up on your position with examples of how, if an agreement is made on your client’s terms, the other party will benefit.
- What could be accomplished by the party if his or her time, energy and money aren’t spent litigating the dispute?
- What could the party do with the money being offered?
- What will happen if the party doesn’t agree to settle, rolls the dice at trial and loses? (Most people are more inclined to take actions to avoid losses than achieve gains.)
Add these phrases to your verbal toolbox and try to use them in a way that results in your client driving off into the sunset with that flat tire of a lawsuit behind them.