Ever had a discussion and it just feels like you’re getting nowhere?
Of course you have – everyone has. Sometimes people will just wilfully ignore something that they don’t want to hear. It’s part of the human condition. Someone will have done it to you and, doubtless you will have done it to someone else.
When the other person is your client, however, you know there are going to be problems!
Unfortunately, legal work throws up many situations where a client won’t want to hear what you have to say:
- Your case has no prospects of success
- I really need your response to my letter
- You aren’t mitigating your losses
What if there was a way to break through the barriers? A few techniques you could use to give you the best possible chance of being understood?
You could do far worse than try some of these…
Get a better idea of what you’re trying to say
A quote which is frequently misattributed to Albert Einstein is:
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough
There’s a kernel of truth in this, even if the great physicist himself didn’t say it.
Consider the points you are trying to explain to your client, break them down. Write them out. Look at each point in turn and think about whether there is any unnecessary fluff in your message. If there is, then…
Simplify your message
Know what to leave out and what to keep in. The better you understand the point you are communicating, the easier it will be to identify the useless. If there are words which do not help to convey your message, then take them out.
For this reason, there’s no point including unexplained legal jargon when communicating with a client. It doesn’t make you look clever, it makes it look like you’ve missed the point of your message: to communicate something; to be understood. Your client knows which of you is the lawyer. You do not have to prove it by using needless frippery.
Good lawyers aren’t defined by the size of their Latin vocabulary. They’re defined by the service they provide to their clients. Part of that service involves effective communication.
Legal terms still have their place. They are very useful for clearly defined meanings. But if you are not absolutely certain your client will know that meaning, you are better off conveying your message without the term.
Consider your method of communication
It may be an obvious point but the nature of your message can vary dramatically depending on the form of communication you use. Naturally, this leads onto the question of whether you are using the best possible method of communication to help your client to understand your point.
A lot of face-to-face communication is non-verbal. People pick up on body language and tone of voice, often subconsciously.
Here are some things to think about when choosing your method of communication:
- People find it harder to tell whether someone is lying to them over the phone. One reason is the lack of visual clues given by body language. Your tone of voice can also be more easily obscured, perhaps a poor phone connection or background noise.
- Email is notoriously bad for conveying tone. Many sentences have the potential to be interpreted ambiguously. What would you think if you received an email which read: “I’ve already explained how important this is.”? You might be tempted to read it in a tone of frustration and see it as a criticism. Whereas actually it may be intended as a neutral statement of fact.
It is useful to bear these things in mind when you are preparing to communicate with your client. When your options aren’t limited by practical considerations, consider which method gives you the best chance of being understood.
Tailoring the content of your communication
Think about the client with whom you are communicating. What are they like?
You might not always know, but if possible consider:
- The language (and the complexity of language) that they will understand
- Their intelligence
- Their educational background (note that this is not the same as intelligence)
- Their potential emotional state. When clients approach a lawyer, it is often a difficult time for them.
- The information you have previously given them. Do they have enough information to fully understand your point? Are they aware of pertinent information you have already provided? Do they remember it?
Taking these into account could mean the difference between getting through to your client and causing dissatisfaction with your service.
What techniques have you found to be useful when communicating with a recalcitrant client?
Is there anyone you know that would benefit from reading these tips? If so, please share it with them.