Home » Blog » Persuasion » Empowering others to your side through door-opening, non-confrontation, no legalese, and absence of threats

Empowering others to your side through door-opening, non-confrontation, no legalese, and absence of threats

Fairfax County/Northern Virginia criminal defense/DWI defense attorney pursuing the best defense, on persuasion through seeking help

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How many times have you gotten your way non-confrontationally and without expecting it? It may be as simple as arriving for a restaurant reservation, being told for the first time that sportsjackets and suitjackets are required (who wants to eat at such places in the first place?), replying how much you had been looking forward to eating at the restaurant with all its great reviews, and being offered a sportsjacket from the restaurant’s backup collection?

Why did the foregoing scenario work to your favor? You were non-confrontational. You showed your vulnerability rather than your fangs and claws. You made no threats. You gave the restaurant a win-win choice, where no matter the restaurant’s answer, it does not need to fear losing face.

Watch what happens when a customer storms overbearing into a store in a tourist town and demands to know where the nearest watch repair shop is. The responses are more likely to be “I don’t know” or “I don’t live near here, so would not know” (even if the speaker does know), versus if the customer had entered politely, waited until an employee is free, and said: “I have a small problem…” or “I was hoping you could help me…” With the latter two phrases, the employee has been empowered to choose between politely and honestly replying ignorance to the answer, or to take the time to help find the answer, starting with the simple option of asking the question to other colleagues and friends. I will share that when an overbearing person cut into an ice cream shop line on Christmas eve last year demanding that the sole, overworked employee tell where the nearest Starbucks was, I intentionally did not speak up to say that one of the two mentioned locations, four blocks away, was already closed; the overbearing person then walked out without even thanking the employee.

How does a criminal defense lawyer jibe taking the above type of  vulnerable help-seeking approach with persuasion while looking strong for his or her clients, and coming across as a force to be reckoned with in dealing with opponents? Of course, timing, balance and strategy are everything, and the above approach sometimes is needed. Take for instance great trial lawyer, and my teacher from the 1995 Trial Lawyers College, Gerry Spence’s admission to jurors that he is afraid of making a mistake that might let his client down. At first blush, that might look like too much weakness shared. However, if a lawyer genuinely has a fear and does not share it with the jury, the jury might recognize that the lawyer has something to hide, and may not trust the lawyer, as s/he drags around the concern like a ball and chain attached to the ankle. If the lawyer shares his or her key fears or other concerns, those fears can evaporate from the lawyer’s shoulders so that the lawyer is no longer in the position of dragging them around like a ball and chain.

Gerry Spence gives a great example of empowering others to help a lawyer’s client, by transcending legalese, through simply and nakedly asking for help, as with a role playing where a judge initially denies a lawyer a court date postponement:

“’Could you help me,’ the lawyer said at last [after the great teacher Josh Karton kept prodding the lawyer to cut out legalese and any tentativeness]. The judge was silent for a moment, almost as if he couldn’t think of what to say. Finally he said, ‘See my clerk, counsel. Perhaps he can find a spot week after next.'”

People are not inspired by those who are downers brooding about what to do if rain comes tomorrow. Nor are they attracted to those with saccharide grins promising the world when they have no intention on delivering even a crumb on the promise. A good persuader needs to be real and honest while keeping a realistically optimistic viewpoint. I can persuasively ask for help in a powerfully good-natured and appreciative fashion without coming across as a weakling

Credibility is key to persuasion, and one is clearly being credible when honestly inviting and empowering another person to help find a solution to a problem — at least where the asker can be relied upon to appreciate the help, rather than abuse it — whether that be inviting a prosecutor to offer an alternative path to reaching a criminal defense lawyer’s goal, addressing a client’s complaint about the lawyer’s approach with the client and the client’s case, or admitting to a judge that the lawyer’s back is against the wall with a scheduling conflict and the lawyer needs help.

The person seeking help, also needs to show implicitly or explicitly that s/he will help back when help is sought. To do otherwise is greed, and people are not interested in helping greed.

Asking for help is related to offering to collaborate with opposing lawyers, judges, and others involved in the case. It is a matter not only of affirming that common ground can be found, but that the lawyer is willing to do legwork, research and preparation — even sometimes on a massive scale — to help get there.