Last week I wrote a post that discussed the first two sections of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” covering the fundamental basics of dealing with people and 6 ways to make people like you. I hate to say it, (but you know it is true), at times lawyers can be a bit socially awkward. As such, this is one book that could definitely help us out and which every lawyer should read.
This week I wanted to focus on the third section of Dale Carnegie’s timeless classic, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. Section three of this book deals with how to win people over to your way of thinking – a quality that is very much-needed in the legal profession.
How to win people to your way of thinking
There are twelve subsections in this portion of the book.
- You can’t win an argument. Have you ever had a disagreement with someone and you just absolutely, positively, knew that you were right and the other person was wrong? This frequently happens to lawyers, who argue and disagree with people on a daily basis. Outside of court or when negotiating on behalf of a client, it is important to remember that you cannot win an argument. No matter how hard you try. If you win the argument, you still lose, and if you lose the argument, you also lose. So if you find yourself in a social situation where someone makes a comment that you know is wrong (and you are not legally bound to argue on behalf of your client)… say nothing.
- Never tell another person they are wrong. There may come a time where someone tells you that you are wrong. And if you find yourself in a situation where you are challenged by another person, and you know that they are wrong, it is important that you don’t come right out and tell that person they are wrong. So how then do you deal with this dilemma? Mr. Carnegie provides a simple solution – begin by acknowledging that you yourself may indeed be wrong, and then ask the other person to “examine the facts.” The exact language that is suggested by Mr. Carnegie goes like this, “I may be wrong. I frequently am. Let’s examine the facts.” By approaching the other person in this manner, they are immediately disarmed and open to the possibility of the flaws in their statement, but they will ultimately reach that decision on their own, not because you pointed out their flaws.
- If you are wrong, admit it. This goes against every law of human nature – especially for us lawyers, but by admitting that we have made a mistake, and telling the other person all of the derogatory things about yourself that you already know they are thinking, then you will develop in the other person a forgiving attitude. So, for example, if you are late to an appointment, make sure to apologize profusely, and let the other person know that you have inconvenienced them, etc. My experience in taking this approach (whether due to my tardiness, or some other misgiving) has endeared me to a number of clients who might otherwise resent my faults.
- Begin in a friendly way. If you have a difficult request of someone that you don’t know well, or perhaps are not on good terms with, it is important that you “grease the wheels” a little bit before you make your request. It is much easier for a friend to help a friend than for a stranger to help a stranger. So before you call up that attorney on the other side of your case to make a huge settlement demand, make sure you have made an honest, sincere effort to befriend them first. There is one pitfall with this approach, you must honestly want to make a friend out of this person. If you don’t, they will see through your technique as just another method for you to get from them that which you want – and it will fall on deaf ears. The best way to avoid this is to be friendly to everyone you meet. Then, you won’t ever have to worry about acting “fake” just because you need something from a person.
- Get the other person to say “yes”. There is a psychological effect to an affirmative response. When talking to people, the sooner and quicker you can get a listener to say “yes”, and keep saying “yes”, the more prone they are to continue to agree with you. This is an effective and often used technique by skilled trial attorneys when cross-examining witnesses in the courtroom. The key is to find things that you and the other person agree upon and then build upon that foundation of affirmative responses to lead the person where you want them to go.
- Let the other person do the talking. There is nothing novel here. Everyone knows that when you come into contact with others, you should let the other person do the majority of the talking – but how many of us actually put this idea into practice? If there is one thing that people love, it is the sound of their own voice. When dealing with people, let them talk and express themselves to you. They will come away from the conversation feeling better about themselves, and in turn, you.
- Let the other person feel that the idea is theirs. I’ll be honest, this has been a difficult tactic for me to put into practice, but I keep working on it. Mastering the art of letting others feel that your idea is theirs is important not only for dealing with prospective clients, but also when dealing with staff at your law firm. I have successfully used this approach when attempting to get buy-in from staff for a new piece of software or when implementing a new system. Here is a quote from the book that perfectly sums up this idea:
“So the sage, wishing to be above men, putteth himself below them; wishing to be before them, he putteth himself behind them. Thus, though his place be above men, they do not feel his weight; though his place be before them, they do not count it an injury.” Lao-tse, Chinese Sage
- Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view. As I review this book, I continually feel as if I should tell you that if there is one thing you get out of this post, this should be it… The eighth way to win people over to your way of thinking is yet another of these nuggets. How often we meander through life thinking primarily of ourselves and our own self-interest, with so little thought to the needs and concerns of others? Having kids has greatly opened my eyes to just how important it is to see things through other people’s perspective. When one of my children is having a tantrum or crying about something, sometimes all it takes to calm them is to try to figure out what they want, and then give it to them. The same is true with other adults. When dealing with others, especially prospective clients and staff, do all you can to figure out what it is that motivates them and their choices. What do they want and need? If you can provide the solution to what motivates them, you will be successful beyond your dreams.
- Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires. If you are looking for a phrase to diffuse a tense situation and eliminate feelings of ill will, here is one from Dale Carnegie, (and I’m paraphrasing a bit here), “I don’t blame you one bit for feeling the way you do. If I were you, I would no doubt feel the same way.” Whenever you feel attacked (as can frequently happen to us – we are, of course, lawyers), stop a minute to calm yourself down. Try to use the eighth strategy above to see things from the other person’s perspective. Then, in your response, be as kind, courteous and understanding as you can be. I’ve tried this with several clients on a number of occasions and you would be amazed at the impact it can have.
- Appeal to the nobler motives. This is a tactic that frequently comes up when a client has not paid their legal bill. How many times do clients tell us not to worry, that they are “good for it”, but then we never hear from them again? When dealing with these clients, don’t threaten them, while at the same time reminding them of their legal obligation and what consequences will befall them if they refuse to pay (i.e. a lawsuit). Instead, remind them that you agreed to work with them because you knew they could be trusted to pay their bill. You can mention that you don’t work with people who you don’t believe will pay their bills. Essentially, remind them, with tact, that you sized them up as morally superior, and that if they fail to pay this bill, you will have been wrong in your judgment.
- Dramatize your ideas. It can be difficult to “dramatize” legal services, but one way you can do it is to go all-out on issues of client service. Do things that no other law firms in your area would even consider doing. One way to do this is to send your new clients a “shock and awe” package. This could be a folder of information containing CD’s, books (preferably one written by you), and other information about how your law practice works and how you will serve your client. I GUARANTEE that no other lawyers in your area will be providing this level of client service.
- Throw down a challenge. This is a tactic that will work best as a tool to motivate your employees. Everyone loves a game – and there are endless ways to use a challenge to motivate your employees. The key is to make the game public (i.e. list the leaders on a big whiteboard in the break room), and to give a reward to the winner that makes it worthwhile. Not only will the winner get public recognition, but they will also be rewarded financially.
Next week, I’ll be going through the last section of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” which deals with how to be an effective leader.
Have you put some of these strategies into play in your own law firm? How did they work out? Feel free to comment below. I’d love to hear from you.