There is an old saying: “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” While raising three teens, I use this phrase often to highlight to my children they are likely to get what they want using sweetness (kindness) rather than acidity (rudeness/inappropriate tones). In a world of strong opinions, a rush to judge, instant expectations and the anonymity of social media, I fear we may be forgetting this important communication tool. (In the legal world, there are certainly times to be brash or utilize the “junkyard dog tactic.” I am talking about the other 90% of how we communicate with our colleagues, clients and the world around us.)
Many of us have seen the recent press around the Paul Hastings Associate Guide and how the tone of the message became the focus rather than the actual message of what is expected to be successful in Big Law. Sean Marotta from Bloomberg Law wrote an excellent follow-up article on how the firm could have delivered a very similar messages but been much more effective with a different tone.
Communication, managing expectations, tone and understanding the final recipient of the work product come up often in our client interviews. These are areas where lawyers truly shine—or cause a client relationship to end in disappointment.
The Paul Hastings messages were intended to deliver clarity on managing expectations, an incredible gift if delivered the right way. Consider these six tips the next time you want to be sure your message is being delivered in the most effective way:
- Have clarity on what outcomes you are trying to accomplish. Sit in the recipients’ (clients, associates, colleagues, opposing counsel, mentors, mentees) shoes and reread or repeat your message. Ask yourself if it is truly delivering the right message for the result you want to achieve.
- Ask how your clients prefer to communicate. Far too often we communicate in our preferred way versus how our clients and colleagues would prefer to do so. Email and texting have become the easy default, and yet sometimes a telephone call or personal visit would save substantial time and get us to the right place faster.
- Tone Matters. Don’t let an important message get “lost in translation” or completely missed because the way in which it was delivered outshined the message.
- If in doubt, sleep on it, work out or drink water. We are not at our best when we are tired, hungry or stressed. If you have to deliver important messages or difficult feedback, make sure you are doing so from the best version of yourself.
- Silence frustrates and confuses people. It’s better to communicate early and often. James Clear offers this important reminder. Sometimes we need more time to think, process or research, but you must manage communication to be effective.
Maya Angelou summarized it best: “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The next time you are communicating to a client or colleague, pause and reread what you are sending. Ask yourself if you are delivering the message in the tone that will be most effective and helpful.