A colleague and I were talking about collaboration today. It all started when I said there are 3 essential elements for conversations, especially conversations involving conflict: listening, relating, and collaborating. She doesn't believe that collaboration is always involved though; she thinks that sometimes attorneys just have to break the bad news. But that all depends on your definition of collaboration.
For me, collaborating means working together to achieve a goal or complete a task or project. The attorney-client relationship is, by definition, a collaboration - You've built a relationship working together to resolve or prevent an issue. Even if you're breaking the bad news, that conversation can still be collaborative.
You start out as usual, listening, then relating, and then you begin more interactive discussion. Even if your initial reason for the conversation is to break the bad news, and even if your client's options are exhausted, you can come up with a...
...Communication. We've all had clients who are reluctant to move forward with something. For example, sometimes clients are reluctant to move forward with mediation, not wanting to face the opposing party. That can bring up a lot of emotions, so they may not be at their best or get the best outcomes.
If you preframe, their focus can shift to a feature that makes it more palatable, or at least more tolerable. So, instead of them going into it with negative expectations, they can go in feeling empowered, focusing on something positive to work toward.
A frame, in communication, is very much like you relate to a frame for a picture. Frames contain the content, and they also set the perspective. Where a picture frame might draw out specific colors while others fade, a frame in communication may draw out specific perspectives around the topic while others fade. So, it's a great tool to use in the second essential element, or step, of conversations - relating.
In the world of coaching, I frequently heard "Think outside the box" as being the best way to solve a problem. And I've said it, too. But now I'm reconsidering.
What if the best way to find better solutions is to, first, look within the box?
Communication training, for most of us, is limited. We learn subject, verb, predicate, etc, how to give a speech, and how to write an essay/report. In law school, we may also learn about writing a (not-so) brief and how to make an argument. But there's more to communication than that.
One thing we can learn is feedback. Not just the type where someone may holler at us or send a nasty email, but through subtle, nonverbal communication. How would your practice improve if you used an early warning system, giving you time to respond before things got out of hand? And that's just one listening skill we all have, but may not have developed fully.
There's another listening skill that is gifted to all of us at birth, and yet few of us actually know its...
People like to be kept in the loop, especially when it involves a legal case. There's just something about turning over a big deal to a stranger, you know? So, the question becomes, "How do we keep clients in the loop?"
Clients may not like to make calls for status updates. Sometimes they feel annoyed at having to. Other times they hate to "be a bother." But there are ways to handle this, and following these suggestions for client communication benefits both you and the client.
1.) Set a reasonable expectation for the client.
Say when you hope to know more, and invite them to contact you if they haven't heard from you by then. This does a number of things: 1.) It empowers the client, which can help to put them at ease. And whe a client is at ease, the job has one less complication. 2.) It can be a good trigger. Set a reminder to follow through on the case a few days ahead of when you suggested the client call. Of course, feel free to call ahead of time, too, especially if you...
Imagine you are interacting with a person and you notice something about their nonverbal communication. Maybe they seem aloof, and it's not consistent with your experience of them. That'd be a great time to engage listening skills such as asking questions. Investigate. And if we don't really know that person well, this step becomes all the more important.
We can get a lot of data from nonverbal cues. So much, in fact, that the mind can easily be overwhelmed and need to filter down the numbers significantly as part of its own defense mechanism. It may also make assumptions and sell them to you as fact.
The worst part of this is that our minds may also "freeze frame" the person in that event. We may think, "If they were like that once that's who they always will be." So, it won't just affect that interaction, but may also color future interactions as well. At its extreme, it may even run away with the past: "Is that why that time in college...? And, you know, I didn't think much about...
"Get in front of it." People say that a lot lately. But when it comes to conflict, that may be easier said than done. Yet, it's important for conflict resolution.
You want to keep conflict from growing and requiring more complex conflict resolution efforts. You need to nip it in the bud. That means recognizing the presence or possibility of it as early as possible and taking fast, effective action in response.
One thing you need, then, is to be able to recognize the early warnings. You have to be skilled in observing subtle nonverbal communication and other listening skills. It's your earliest and most accurate information.
You also have to know what to do once you recognize it. You don't want to hit the brakes or stall after you get in front of it. In other words, you need a plan.
I used to really dislike the idea of systems and plans, but they do have a few things going for them. They can reduce decision fatigue and improve consistency. And when it comes to conflict, they can...
Victims have power. They do. It's just not their own. Instead, it belongs to the role - People want to jump into rescue people in that position. And in conflict resolution, it's not an effective position for consistent results.
It's sort of like a person leading by title instead of by character and earned respect. The problem with power by role is that it's finite. As soon as things get messy, this person will land face down in the mud, and when they come up, the honeymoon is over. They'll react by looking back to find the reasons to justify them sitting there. Not only that, but also, like titles, the person must maintain that position consistently, so they can't put the incident behind them.
The point where things get messy can have a different response from a person who acts through personal responsibility. That person will get up and ask how they can close the gap from where they are to where they want to be. They may even turn an apparent negative into a positive. We all have...
"They don't understand!" is a common phrase that I hear in a number of contexts, and unfortunately it often means conflict isn't far away, either in the rearview mirror or around the corner.
I cringe when I hear this because of all that it entails. It implies that the speaker knows what the other person understands, that it's possible the other person could understand, and that the speaker understands the person they're speaking about. But, really, none of those is true.
We can't possibly understand what another person is experiencing. Each of us has different experiences, training, values, beliefs, and other filters through which we see and interpret the world. No two people, including identical twins who grew up together, can really "understand." We can empathize, though.
Before we can truly empathize, though, we have to have something to empathize with. The best way to gain true empathy, then, is through solid listening skills. Sounds easy, doesn't it? But there's more to...
Have you or a client received a negative comment on social media? A lot of people are under the belief that "haters' gonna hate," and therefore attempt to ignore or block them. But is that really the best idea?
If the person isn't already a client, ignoring may be easy. But easy isn't always the best response. Sooner or later, a client will be the hater. And then what do you do? Regardless, a professional response may be the best client relations strategy.
Ignoring or blocking someone is still a statement. A decision not to act is still time and energy spent making the decision. Therefore, it's still an action. And, from what I've seen, most people will end up rehashing it anyway, and may even run it by people. Worse, it's an action based on fear, anger, or other emotions that may not be resourceful. So, the people who say, "Don't waste energy on the haters" may be steering people off course by that recommendation.
And, by ignoring or blocking, you may be missing out on a great...
I grew up around some people who swore so fluently it almost became its own language. They could string them together as if they were prose. I didn't swear until I was 19, though, and I remember where I was when it happened.
In the lounge on my floor in the college dorm, my swear became a newsworthy event. People spilled out of the lounge laughing in surprise on their way to tell others. It was so unheard of that people stood up and took notice. And that can be a good thing at times.
Some conversations just need to be interrupted, and a well-timed swear coming from someone who doesn't swear in place of um's can be an effective way of getting people's attention. It's just unusual enough that someone might do a bit of a double take, wondering if they'd heard right and, if so, what warranted it. Pattern interrupts like that can be a great strategy at times. (I'm not saying it has to be a swear, just that it can be.)
A swear can also be a means of blowing off a little steam. Some people...