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In persuading, remember that people are not always what they appear to be

Jul 24, 2014 In persuading, remember that people are not always what they appear to be

How can we truly know others in a matter of hours, after they already have lived tens of thousands of hours of ups, downs, and middles? We can only intuit so much about what makes a person tick before spending years with them and their acquaintances, mining deeply into their story and experiences. Of course, people are ever-changing rivers, so when we try to get to know them mid-stream in life, they keep changing. What a challenge this all presents to persuading people in court and beyond.

Attaching an initial appearance continuance order to an email, an Alexandria, Va., federal courthouse clerk recenty signed her email with: "Be kind to everyone.  You never know what’s going on in their life…" That always is important to remember when others are giving us a hard time; we have no way to know the sh(t they are dealing with that motivates them to act that way, even though that does not entitle them to act sh*tty to others.

As much as we want to read people, it is not always easy to do, even for the most intuitive people who listen and connect the best. For instance, a few months ago during a jury trial, I waved to two colleagues observing my trial, as I went to the hallway during a recess. They sat stone-faced, not acknowledging me. Two days ago, one of those same two lawyers chatting with some other colleagues in a courthouse hallway repeated several times in front of those lawyers how good a job I did in that trial. Lesson learned: Don’t seek others’ approval. You can’t always know what makes people tick.

Three days ago, I was waiting to cross the street in a crosswalk. I admit that I was jokingly waving at cars approaching the crosswalk, rather than getting exasperated at the one or two that disregarded the crosswalk. A car finally slowed down and I waved sincere thanks, but in the middle of that, my ears tuned in and realized that the entire time he was hurling expletives at me. I watched in wonder, not amused wonder and not in anger, that he would be so angry. Another man crossing the street joked compassionately that the driver must have had a hard day at work. What a great way to conceptualize it, whether or not it was true.

We cannot always know what makes people tick. When we have compassion and understanding for them, we can better connect with, engage and persuade them.

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