Six Steps Lawyers Can Take to Develop Extraordinary Communication Skills

Thirty-four gigabytes. That’s how much data it’s estimated each American consumes daily via all forms of media: TV, newspaper, Internet, radio, you name it. Statistically, this volume of data comprises 100,000 words on average.

These statistics illustrate how noisy our world has become, particularly in the last five to 10 years as emerging technologies place us in the middle of broad communication networks that span the globe.

Recognizing that our world is indeed a very noisy place with essentially infinite data and media messages bombarding us at all times requires that we are highly sensitized to our communication styles if we ever want to be heard and perceived as effective communicators, persuaders and people others seek out.

The Steps to Mastering Communication Skills for Lawyers

Below are six concrete steps lawyers can take to step up their game to communicate effectively. After all, with more than half of a lawyer’s job relying upon the spoken word, perfecting your communication style is a wise investment in your future.

1. Think before you speak.

No, really. Human beings have a tremendous capacity to listen, absorb and respond to messages at a relatively high rate. Because of this, it is very tempting to get caught up in the fast-paced process (depending on what part of the country you live), and instead of actively listening and absorbing your audiences’ messages, you volley back and forth in the interaction, sometimes faster than your mind can compute.

To become a more effective communicator, you must demonstrate a disciplined approach in your oral communications. Before you pop off a quick response, stop yourself to consider the impact of your words, verifying whether or not it is in your or their best interest to respond so quickly. Pouncing too quickly to respond can short circuit the communications process and/or cause you to suffer the consequences of an ill-timed response.

I recommend adopting a 20-second rule. Before you respond, take 20 seconds (at minimum) to consider the implications of your words. Remember, what goes around comes around. You have a choice; make the right one.

2. Consider your audience.

Just as important as it is to be mindful of your words, so too should you be mindful of your audience. The same message is not appropriate for every audience. What do I mean by that? As a practicing lawyer, what you say to a referral source about your practice would be different than what you would say to a client or client contact about your practice. Because we create impressions — and yes, visual images in the minds of our listeners — you must be purposeful and careful of how you relate to your audience with your words. Practice is required to perfect this skill.

3. Listen first and second, then speak.

We have all heard that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Simply put, we do not learn when we are speaking. It is imperative that as professional services providers you actively listen to clients, colleagues, referral sources, networking partners, and so on, to learn how you might support and help them (e.g., business opportunities). Impossible as it is to spew out all the ways we are qualified to “help” others, it is just poor form to do so before understanding what the needs are. Listen up, and you’ll be surprised at what you might learn and the opportunities that present themselves.

4. Mind the communications gap.

Too many miscommunications occur when we “think” we told someone (message sent) but find later either we did not or the listener did not remember it (message received) the way we intended. It matters not where the miscommunication occurred, but rather how to avoid miscommunications. First, refer to tip #1 above: Think before you speak to ensure that you are in control of your message. Second, to become a more effective speaker, it is advised to confirm with your audience that the message received is the message you intended to send.

How do you do this? Ask for feedback, e.g., “Are you with me?” and “Does this make sense?” Adapt these feedback questions to your natural communications style, and you will likely see eyes light up when you speak.

5. Accentuate the positive; look inside first.

When we choose to lead with the negative we often are talking only to ourselves. Nobody wants to listen to negativity, especially when there is so much that is negative coming at us in the media. To become a more effective communicator, check that you are not guilty of spreading negativity to others in your conversations, presentations and in networking situations. The positive approach can be learned via disciplined practice and/or having a pal send you a signal if you go off the “positive” reservation.

6. Make every word count. KISS — keep it short and simple.

Do not belabor a point. Do not offend your audience by offering too many examples when they understand your point in one. Treat words as the golden charms that they are. There is no glory in pontificating your message to feed an ego or to merely fill space. We simply have too many words in our day to waste the excess unnecessarily.

Becoming a more effective communicator requires a concerted effort on your behalf that entails practice and a willingness to adapt to new ways of thinking. Few things have more of an impact than to present your well-crafted message and to be understood through the spoken word across all platforms. Making a presentation to an audience of clients and trade contacts and moving people to action based on your words, that is success.

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