Do you Tango or are you more of a breakdance kind of person? Does your future dance partner like to follow or lead? (click here to listen to the podcast version)
If you’re going to do the communication dance, why not walk out on the dance floor with the confidence and flare of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire or maybe even Michael Jackson? They sure made dancing look easy. But here’s the deal, behind the scenes before they ever walked out on stage to perform before a live audience, they did their homework, prepared and practiced.
So what in the world does dancing have to do with communication? Well, before I answer that question, let me share a story that will help you choreograph your next presentation.
Dancing on the Telephone
Not too long ago I spent about 20 minutes on the phone talking with opposing counsel about our daughters running high school cross country. During the last couple of minutes, we also discussed and settled a large personal injury case. That was the purpose of our call but by design, it certainly wasn’t what I focused on.
During the call, we each enjoyed talking about our kids and by the friendly tone of our conversation, I know we both welcomed the opportunity to chat about things other than the facts of our case. After all, it’s just human nature to share common interests and passions. That’s what connects all of us.
But here’s the thing. The direction our conversation initially took—heck, even the start of our professional relationship, wasn’t simply a random event. It happened because when I first found out who opposing counsel was going to be, I took the time to learn her dance moves. I made an effort to find out if she enjoyed the foxtrot, waltz or even the country swing (what I grew up doing in Tucson, Arizona).
Our professional relationship and the final dance performance we shared over the phone happened because I cared enough about the process and my client to do all I could to learn what dance moves opposing counsel preferred and, once we got out on the dance floor, whether she liked to take the lead or follow.
Are You Researching the Other Person’s Dance Moves?
Think about this for a moment. Why do athletes and teams scout the opposition and watch film? Why do singers practice a song over and over before taking the stage in front of a live audience? Why do successful authors and bloggers pound out page after page of rough drafts before sharing their final work with the world?
They do this so they can get things right. They do this to present the best possible product available based upon their desired needs and available time. You only have one chance to win the game or wow your audience. You want to do everything you can to make sure this happens.
Make Smart Investments in Learning Your Partner’s Moves
In the above example, I spent some time on the other lawyer’s website and then on Google learning more about her. I INVESTED about 20-30 minutes learning more about this person and focused on looking for things we had in common. I wanted to know what her interests were and what passions she had. I wanted to know more about the other person and not so much the other lawyer. I wanted to find out and understand what dance she enjoyed and the last time she performed it.
I checked the major social media platforms and found pictures of her daughter running cross country for one of the local high schools. I also noticed she was already following me on Twitter (I wasn’t aware of this but will save this “twist” for another post).
My teenage daughter joked that I’m “creeping” when I do this. I guess that’s a phrase some teenagers use when one of them spies on someone else’s social media platforms.
That’s not what I’m doing. What I am trying to accomplish is to learn more about people who will make an impact on my life or my client’s life. In the case of practicing law, to learn all I can about the people who directly affect my case and have an influence on the results I get for my clients. The same people who help me pay for my teenage daughter’s monthly car and insurance payments. It’s all good and someday she’ll understand.
Back to My Dance with Opposing Counsel…
From our first interaction, I made a point to incorporate into our conversation the fact that I wanted to get out of the office early to watch my daughter run in a high school cross country meet (this wasn’t a line. I really did).
During subsequent conversations, I mentioned and we talked about several other hobbies and interests we apparently both shared. During our year of litigating together, I think we both honestly looked forward to chatting with each other because it wasn’t always about our case. Sure, we always took care of business but our conversations always seemed to migrate to another subject like running, high school cross country and yes, even lawyers using social media.
Look, when it comes to doing the communication dance, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being prepared and doing your homework. What’s the alternative? Leaving things up to random events and luck? Sure, some of us are pretty good on our feet and great at winging it but seriously, why take the chance? This is especially true if you’re representing someone who is counting on you to bring your dance moves to the negotiation table.
Don’t Fake It. Be Real and Get Prepared
Care about the other person’s interests. If you try and fake it you’ll end up stepping on his or her toes and nobody appreciates this.
My conversations with this lawyer and the various dances we did over the past year were honest and genuine. But truth be told, this probably only happened because one of us took the time to learn the other’s dance moves and then over time, genuinely incorporate these moves in to the ongoing dialog.
Maybe we would have eventually hit it off anyway. Maybe we would have eventually stumbled upon each other’s mutual interests. I don’t know. I’m glad I took the time to make sure it DID happen.
The day before this final telephone call took place which allowed me to seal the deal, I did a quick Google search on this lawyer and using the advanced search feature, narrowed it down to search results for just the past week. I learned that her daughter, who ran for a different school, had just done extremely well in a big meet.
That same week my daughter was running for her own high school in a high school cross country invitational in Hawaii and so we didn’t participate in the local event. Anyway, with this information in hand (and by the way, I was genuinely excited for how well opposing counsel’s daughter did), I started off the phone conversation talking about this exciting news. Eventually, she asked about my daughter and we chatted about how nice it must be to travel to Hawaii to run with a few other girls from her team while dad and mom stayed home working to pay the bills. We laughed, talked about sports and eventually towards the end of our conversation, settled the case.
Take Time to Learn the Other Person’s Dance Moves and Then Practice, Practice and Practice Some More
The take away from this post is, just like in sports and the arts, that it’s always a good idea to take the time to practice and do all you can to succeed in your negotiation and sales efforts. Take time to learn more about the other person. Do everything you can to maximize the opportunity to learn about each other’s interest and passions. Then, one step at a time, slowly and honestly incorporate them in to your communication dance.
Remember, when it comes to making a point or closing a deal, it’s not about you. It’s about developing rapport, helping the other person and providing him or her with a benefit. The same thing applies out on the dance floor. The better you make your partner look, the more fun you’ll have and the better you’ll both dance.
Understanding this concept and CARING ENOUGH about the deal or transaction to make time to research and practice your communication dance is what separates most successful communicators and deal makers with everyone who wishes they were successful.
So the next time you’ve got to put on your communication dance shoes, first take time to learn more about your future dance partner. Find out what makes them bounce up and down and gracefully glide across the dance floor. If you do, I promise your time will be well spent and the two of you will smile the next time you take hands and walk out on to the communication dance floor together.
Note: When I first started practicing law and building my law firm practice, learning these kind of details about the other person was almost impossible to do. There was no Internet and Google, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin were just a twinkle in someone’s eye. It was a hassle driving down to the library to do “research” and so most of us didn’t.
Today, you have access to more information on your desktop or smartphone than all the world leaders combined 20 years ago. Why not use this information to accelerate the relationship building process and to be more successful in business and in your communication efforts.
Mitch Jackson has been a trial lawyer for 27 years and is a 2013 California Litigation Lawyer of the Year (CLAY Award) and 2009 Orange County Trial Lawyer of the Year. When he’s not trying cases, Mitch uses social media to help attorneys become better trial lawyers and to show everyone (not just lawyers) how to communicate more effectively. His law firm website is JacksonandWilson.com and his communication tips blog is MitchJackson.com