The most effective communication involves connecting with people on a rational, emotional, and moral basis. Aristotle referred to these three pillars as logos, pathos, and ethos. Humanity has come a long way since Greek times on the many ways we communicate with and influence others. With the advent of technology, it is easy to dehumanize, and truncate not only our message, but the way it is delivered. When people are together, the richness of communication modalities are obvious, as all our senses are potentially engaged—see me, hear me, feel me, smell me, touch me, and some would say, sense or intuit me.
People in the influencing and persuasion business, especially lawyers, must not only be competent across these modalities, but more importantly, must deliberately choose the best ways to interact with clients and opponents to solve problems. Some lawyers enjoy the competition and gamesmanship of confrontation. Many of us do not, and most of us have at one time or another ducked a potentially unpleasant conversation with letters, emails, or texts.
Technology has made us somewhat lazy…we use tools that are convenient and easy. Technology, especially email, allows us to avoid unpleasant conversations, or even allows us at time to be more direct and unpleasant. Emails and texts are great ways to engage the disagreeable and pass the proverbial “hot potato” literally at the speed of light. “I sent an email” can be the ultimate shortcut to CYA (Cover Your Ass) or abdication of professionalism with its express or implicit “it’s not my fault!”
My practice tips can be summarized in an obvious hierarchy of preferred communication choices, although the order may vary as it is adopted to specific relationships or circumstances. Personalized contact is prioritized as the fundamental objective, however.
My communication hierarchy, which honors the speaker being “in” as much as possible, is as follows:
In person meeting or activity
Live Video, Skype, Facetime
Photo or other video, audio message
As corny as it sounds, there is value in looking people in the eye, pressing flesh, and breaking bread together. It reminds me of the old United Airlines commercial where the company owner enters the meeting to pass out airline tickets to his employees, concerned that they have lost touch with their clients.
Recent scientific research has examined the role of Oxycontin as a chemical that is transferred by touch that promotes trust. I participated in two workshops with Professor Paul Zak, a leading researcher in this area, and came away convinced that we have underestimated the power of touch to build rapport, trust, community, and to aide in the resolution of conflict.
Many lawyers also have come to the conclusion that my lifelong friend Greg Rosen, of McQuire Woods expressed as advice for effective representation— deliver to your client the bad news as quickly, and personally, as possible.
No lawyer will finish a career without “losing” a case, position, or transaction, failing to solve a problem or obtaining a suboptimal result. It is in the nature of the business we have chosen. Don’t hide behind technology to avoid what is part and parcel of our work. Choose carefully and wisely the “how” of sharing your message by working from the top of the hierarchy downward!