Be a Better Attorney By Being a Better Communicator

As an attorney, you’re not paid just to think deep legal thoughts. You have to communicate with colleagues, your clients, opposing counsel and other parties. You might do a better job of it if you follow some ideas from Lea McLeod, who wrote an article for The Muse.

These are the top five suggestions she makes to help her clients communicate:

  • Stop saying “but” and start saying “and”: If you respond to a statement by saying you like the idea, “but…” the speaker will forget you like the idea and focus you your criticism or invalidation of what he said. Instead you could say “and” to state how the idea might be improved or another way to put it into action. It shows you respect the other person, you have an open mind, want to cooperate to work on the situation and you’re there to help, not just shoot other people down.
  • Stick to the facts: Don’t make statements based on assumptions of what you think is happening or why. Your interpretation of the facts could be much different than that of someone else. Without having the facts, skip the commentary.
  • Don’t defend a position: It may be hard to do, but instead, ask questions and try to understand the different sides of an issue. Instead of justifying a situation or position, find out why the other person has a problem with it. Try to understand the other person before trying to make sure you’re being understood.
  • Use silence as strategically as you use words: Conversations can become unproductive because participants are too focused on what to say next instead of listening to each other. Allow moments of silence so everyone can process what’s been said.
  • Actively engage the other point of view: Get an idea of who the other person is before communicating. We all have mental filters, beliefs, assumptions, experiences and cultural influences that shape our points of view. If you understand how you and the other party are the same and different you may be able to communicate in a way that will resonate.

Good communication is talking with other people, not talking to or at another person. You need to find a way through the other person’s internal filters and biases to get your message through. This may take some time and effort but your time and effort in communicating with another will be wasted if you’re just announcing things, not communicating them, because they won’t sink in.

You not only need to determine what message or thought you want to get through to the other person, and how to do it in a way that actually hits home. You want to be seen as helpful and cooperative, not just tossing out biased opinions. You want to be perceived as thoughtful and appreciative of others. Your message will be most effective when it can navigate around all the barriers and defenses. The results will be worth the effort.