From what I’ve seen and experienced, the best trial lawyers and communicators are those people who are sincere, passionate about the topic and speak from the heart. They are true to themselves and don’t put on a false front. What you see is what you get.
Doing these things and acting this way is the best approach I know to earning trust and closing deals in and out of the courtroom. Do the above when interacting with others and you’ll be miles ahead of your competition.
Having said that, sometimes, for whatever reasons, a bit more is required. When this extra effort becomes necessary, good communicators raise the bar and use the “chameleon approach”.
I’m talking about walking, talking, acting and even thinking like the person you’re trying to communicate with. Mirror the other person. Use his or her language, interest and body language.
Remember, you’re not doing this to be disrespectful or lessen the importance or quality of the relationship. Truth be told, you’re using the “chameleon approach” to increase the chances of connecting and developing rapport with others. You are maximizing your first and maybe your only opportunity to build rapport.
Using the Chameleon Approach with a College Football Player as a Client
Some time ago I was representing a football player who had his shoulder badly crushed in an automobile collision. A senior citizen wasn’t paying attention and ran a red light at a high rate of speed. My client was lucky to be alive.
A few minutes after our first meeting, I realized this was the first time the potential client had ever talked to a lawyer and needed legal help. He wasn’t familiar with how our civil justice system worked and I could tell by his facial expressions that he didn’t know the meaning of the terms “plaintiff”, “verdict”, and “appellant”, just to name a few.
What he did know was football. He knew plays, and he knew game plans. To help connect with this potential client and keep things moving forward, we talked football (I played in high school) and shared thoughts and ideas about some of the local college and pro teams. Before long, we each appreciated the fact that we shared many common sports related interests, and a level of trust was established.
I told him a lawsuit is like a long football game. Each decision we make and each document we file with the court is like a play on the football field. It’s designed to take advantage of both the strengths and weaknesses of the other side.
We talked about some court hearings being like a fullback going up the middle for 4 yards and a pile of dust. At other times, getting the judge to rule in our favor on a particular issue was like my client going deep to catch a bomb thrown by his quarterback. At the end of the trial, just like the end of his football games, all that mattered was the final score. He “got it” and to make a long story short, we were able to help him get a big win in court.
Lesson- Don’t try to talk about apples when you’re dealing with oranges. Instead of talking about law and motion, voir dire, and writs of execution, we talked about football and strategy. We each used sports metaphors to clarify issues and develop a winning legal game plan.
Using the Chameleon Approach in Court
Last week in court I was arguing a motion before a judge. The legal issues were specific and somewhat scholarly, so all the lawyers used big words and complicated legal arguments to try and convince the judge to modify a long-standing legal concept. The discussion was focused on the direction case law was evolving and why earlier legal decisions disfavoring the modification of this law were not correctly interpreted by other appellate justices. The situation demanded an intellectual conversation to (1) make our point, (2) impress the judge that we knew what we were talking about and (3) convince the judge that changes were necessary.
Lesson- Act, think and talk like a judge. Use legal ease that he is comfortable with hearing and can use in his written opinion to support the ruling or an order you are looking to obtain. Give the decision maker the information he wants and needs to find in your favor.
Using the Chameleon Approach on the Soccer Sidelines
We had two club soccer games this weekend. Club soccer is pretty competitive at this age (BU14) and what’s really cool about this particular team is that not only are our players all talented, but they and the parents and coaches all get along. It makes for a fun experience on and off the field.
Each morning before the games and while the kids are warming up, most of the parents gather together and chat about soccer, Friday night football, and life in general. Sometimes I stand back and watch how people from all different walks of life act towards and interact with each other. Most of the parents speak English but not all. It’s sometimes a challenge to include everyone into the conversation but when we can, it’s magic.
Having said that, talking about each other’s kids and how they played out on the field usually gets the conversation started. Using well-known soccer terms and talking soccer strategy keeps the ball moving and the conversation flowing.
When I’m standing on the sidelines early in the morning sipping coffee, watching the players warm up and engaging in small talk with the other parents, I keep things low-key, positive and usually steer the conversation towards soccer and sports. Unless I’m asked about one of my cases in the paper, rarely do I talk about the law, my cases, or incorporate difficult to pronounce legal terms into the discussion. First, nobody cares. Second, focusing the topic of our conversations on soccer helps keep everyone interested and comfortable. That’s probably why we all get along so well.
Lesson- Your common bond with the other people on your sideline in life just might be limited to soccer and sports (I’m talking metaphors here). Making sure the conversation includes yesterday’s team effort or amazing cross and goal are what keeps things moving and people smiling. Talking about your problems or job is probably the wrong way to build rapport in this casual weekend conversation.
Using the Chameleon Approach During Lunch
On our way home from Sunday morning’s soccer game, we stopped by Nalu’s Hawaiian Fish Grill to grab some lunch. While standing in line to order, my son noticed a young man sitting at one of the tables waiting for his order to be called. He was wearing a pair of new Google Glass and my wife Lisa struck up a conversation with him. She quickly learned his name was Tony Lee.
I could overhear Lisa talking about Klout scores, social media and Google. Once my son and I finished placing our order, we made our way over. The conversation had progressed to technology and included all the usual buzz words associated therewith. Because of our common interest (thanks to Lisa taking the initiative), we all instantly connected, and Tony let us try his Glass on and give it a test drive (very cool by the way).
Rather than exchanging business cards, communications professional, Tony (@sHecKii) asked me for my Twitter handle (@mitchjackson) and later that day we connected on several of the major platforms. Easy peasy if I say so myself.
Lesson- Who are you talking to? What do they do for a living? When communicating, use terms, conditions and concepts found in the other person’s industry to connect. Everyone will be more comfortable during this first dance, and you can expand upon topics and interest the next time you chat.
Effective communicators can figure out who their audience is and interact with that audience in a way that allows them to relate and build trust. When necessary, they use the “chameleon approach” to maximize their chances of connecting by blending in and fitting into the other person or audience’s world.
The next time you find yourself standing on a thin branch, look around and take notice of your surroundings. Apply the “chameleon approach”, change colors and connect. It may keep you from getting eaten and allow you to communicate another day. Try it, you’ll be glad you did.