Everybody makes mistakes and nobody is perfect. No matter how good you think you are at communicating your message or making your point, there’s always going to be someone a little bit more polished and better. Someone who from your perspective, may not have had the same challenging journey that you’ve been handed over the years.
And that’s alright.
We’ve all made mistakes and experienced bruises. Having said that, the very real relationship between bruises and good communication skills hit me during my Saturday morning run at Strands Beach. I was listening to the song “Bruises” from Train’s new album “California 37” (Vine video). Specifically the chorus about “these bruises make for better conversation… we all got bruises.” [audio version of this post here]
Ouch! Sometimes it hurts to tell the truth. The fact of the matter is that we’ve all made mistakes trying to communicate. Some of us have forgotten the words and others froze in fear half way through our presentation. We each have our own stories and unique bruises.
Before I go any further, I want to apologize to you for missing the past two weeks of communication tips. I’ve been engaged in a very challenging and emotional wrongful death trial (details). At its conclusion, we took a much needed family trip up to San Francisco (pics).
I’m happy to say that things are now back to normal and my batteries are fully charged. With this in mind, here are several of my early “legal” bruises and what I did about them to improve my communication skills (hint- you can do the same thing).
My Very First “Legal” Bruises
Beginning way back in 1986, I spent the first couple of years of my practice trying to learn how to talk, walk, and act the way I thought lawyers were supposed to. During my first few trials, every time I tried to use a big legal word that just wasn’t part of my vocabulary or conduct myself in a way that wasn’t me, things just didn’t click and it was hard for me to connect with my judge and jury. This inability to build rapport was obvious to anyone watching.
Even though I was winning my cases, my early years as an inexperienced lawyer left me with mental bruises and a declining level of self-confidence. Because of the lenses I allowed myself to look through, I attributed my wins to pure luck rather than skill. How I was trying to go about doing things just didn’t feel right. There were times when I felt like I just didn’t have what it took to be a good trial lawyer.
The feelings I was experiencing hurt as much as being hit in the face by a brick. Although no marks were left on my chin, on the inside I had new bruises after each hearing before a judge and trial before a jury.
But Then Things Started To Change
But then something happened. I began to study the trial techniques of the best trial lawyers in America. I read their opening statements and closing arguments. I also read their books and watch the VHS videos (yes, I’m talking about a long time ago
What I soon realized is that these guys and gals weren’t getting amazing results because they used big words and spoke in eloquent sentences. These lawyers were winning cases because each and every one of them were prepared, worked harder than the other guy, spoke from the heart and without exception, were just being themselves.
They embraced their own strengths and personalities and kept things real. One of these lawyers even apologized for how bad his closing arguments came across in a book. What read as broken and incomplete sentences was in real life and in a real courtroom completely understood and interpreted by his juries as heartfelt and sincere winning arguments. His juries absorbed his messages like a dry sponge. I know this because this lawyer’s four decades of amazing verdicts consistently reflect this fact.
Once I learned this simple concept (to be yourself and speak from the heart) everything started to click. Everything I did inside the courtroom felt more natural and I was able to connect with everyone much more naturally and effectively. Putting mental band aids on my old emotional bruises and letting them heal made me a better trial lawyer.
The thing is, I would have never taken the time to figure all this out had I not first been bruised. When you take a bruise from being a liability and turn it into an asset, good things will happen. People who embrace their very own unique and special bruises have a bit stronger foundation to move forward than those who don’t. They’re more motivated and have a better understanding of what needs to change to improve the final communication product.
July’s Jury Trial
These past couple of weeks I’ve been engaged in a wrongful death jury trial. I was representing a family who had lost their son because of the gross negligence of the defendant ambulance company and one of their EMTs. My burden of proof was high and the law and facts were challenging.
The law firm representing the defendants had over 800 lawyers and the attorney I was going up against was a skilled litigator and had a well-known and impressive track record of winning cases for his client. His oral advocacy skills were excellent and I had my hands full with the facts, law and opposing counsel’s skills.
Although I stumbled every now and then during opening statement and while questioning witnesses, I always kept things real and moved forward. Even if the jury didn’t realize it, little mistakes I knew I made during trial left me concerned.
Regardless, every day during the two week trial, I constantly reminded myself of all my past bruises and to just do what I do best. To simply be myself and tell my clients’ story while speaking from the heart. Whenever I made a mistake I reminded myself that the jury would know I was doing my best and not hold it against me. To win this case I knew I needed to be honest and transparent with my jury. The last thing I should do is overreach as to the facts, law and damages.
At the same time, I was very conscious of how good the other lawyer was and even shared my concerns to my expert witness.
Now here’s the really cool part and I doubt my expert would mind if I shared part of an email he sent me right after my closing argument. He knew I was concerned and here’s what he wrote…
“Your sincerity and good heart were very apparent today, as well as providing the facts to the jury. It is a pleasure and honor to be affiliated with you on this case. I believe that you hit a home run, and that the jury will make the right decision…”
This was a long trial and I needed to hear these kind words. His timing was perfect. It was nice of him to take the time and share his thoughts.
But here’s the important thing to remember. Notice that his email didn’t remark about the big fancy legal words I used (I didn’t use any complicated medical or legal terms) or my eloquent dialog (it wasn’t) or polished presentation (not so much). He did however mention his perception (also the jury’s perception?) of my “sincerity and good heart.” By the way, it wasn’t an act. I was just being real and being myself.
I’m glad my expert took the time to share his thoughts. It reminded me that having sincerity and good heart are necessary to build rapport and trust with your audience. For all you trial lawyers out there, these elements are what will give you an edge and allow you to hit a home run.
As things turned out, the jury rendered a substantial verdict in favor of my clients. It helped my clients find some small level of closure for the death of their son and hopefully will go a long way to changing how ambulance company’s train their EMTs to restrain and monitor ambulance transports. If you’re interested, you can learn more about this recent case here.
You Can Do This Too
You can do the same thing when you’re communicating your message to a small or large crowd. During your preparation (and yes, you do need to prepare), think about your past experiences and mistakes.
Remember your bruises.
Even more important, take those unpleasant but valuable life lessons and improve upon your approach or material to create a better communication experience for everyone involved. Sometimes all it takes is a slight tweak in your presentation. Other times it may take a major drastic change in how you go about things or your message itself. The point is to remember that when the band aids come off your old bruises, remember to use your experiences to build upon what you are doing so that you continue to improve your communication skills and results.
Remember, we’ve all got bruises and they make for better conversation. Want to be a better communicator? Then don’t run from your bruises. Instead, tear those old band aids off and start hitting your own home runs!
Now go download Train’s new album, “California 37” and enjoy.
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