Attorneys are a varied group of people and just like any group there are some that are more verbally aggressive than others. One of their strategies may be to “psyche you out” by talking tough, telling you what a terrible case your client has or the case has no chance of success. You can respond in kind or let it get to you, neither of which will help you or your client. One example of how to handle this situation came up at the summer Olympics.
U.S. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps officially retired after winning more medals at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio (a career total of 23 gold medals, two silver medals and three bronze medals won in five Olympics). He has been competing at the highest levels for years and has probably dealt with many opponents who may have tried to get him off his game by trying to distract or intimidate him.
His most anticipated race this year was the finals for the 200-meter butterfly, which pitted him against long-time rival, Chad Le Clos of South Africa. Four years earlier Le Clos beat Phelps in the same event at the summer Olympics in London by five one-hundredths of a second.
After that event Le Clos wasn’t shy about speaking in the press about his abilities. He repeatedly taunted Phelps including being quoted in 2015 as saying, “Michael Phelps has been talking about how slow the butterfly events have been recently. I just did a time he hasn’t done in four years. So he can keep quiet now.” A few hours after that statement was made Phelps beat Le Clos’ time (Phelps later said it motivated him to swim faster).
That didn’t stop Le Clos to let his mouth, not his swimming, continue to do the talking, claiming that however fast Phelps would swim, he would be faster. When Phelps was asked to respond, he said, “I’m going to let what I do in the pool do my talking.” While Le Clos was focused on Phelps, Phelps was focused on results. The stage was set at the 2016 Olympic final for the 200-meter butterfly.
Le Clos’ theatrics were on display to an international audience in the ready room prior to the 200-meter butterfly finals earlier this year. Phelps sat impassively while Le Clos shadow-boxed in front of him. Le Clos’ routine continued to the very start of the race. After they reached their starting blocks, Phelps focused on the lane in front of him while Le Clos focused on Phelps, staring at him.
It was not a winning strategy for Le Clos. While he won a gold in London he didn’t finish in the top three in Rio. Phelps won the race and yet another gold medal and title in the 200-meter butterfly, retiring as the most decorated Olympian athlete ever.
There are big talking attorneys out there and maybe you’ve had to deal with them from time to time. If you’re in negotiations or a mediation with the legal profession’s equivalent of a Chad Le Clos, tap into your inner Michael Phelps and focus on the results for your clients not the theatrics of the other attorney. Walk the walk, don’t talk the talk.