How Understanding Is Your Superpower

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It’s magical to feel understood.

The people who understand us become influential figures in our lives.

We assume the people who understand us know the way forward. When someone tells our story (making it clear they know us well), we follow their advice.

That’s why, when we read a diet book and realize the author knows our pain, understands our frustration, and appreciates our struggle, we believe that she also knows the solution to our weight problem.

The author told our story so we bought the solution.

Knowing the problem means you know the solution

Like I said, we believe that people who can articulate our problem also know the solution.

That’s what happens when we read a money management book and get the eerie sense that the author has been listening to our internal dialogue, secretly monitoring our credit card accounts, and noting our fears, doubts, and anxieties.

The author must, therefore, know the solution to our money problem. The next thing you know we’re paying for everything in cash, counting money into separate envelopes, or snowballing our debt.

The author told us our story and we accepted the solution.

It happens when we read a business book, too. We get the sense the author must have been a fly on the wall during the last conversation with our office manager. He understands our inability to hold others accountable and our frustration over the lack of clients.

Certainly the author knows a better way to run our business.

If they understand us (and our problems) so well, they surely know the way out, right?

Unfortunately, just because someone knows our problem, it doesn’t mean they know the solution–but that doesn’t really matter.

Knowing the problem (even if they can articulate it well) only means they know the problem, not necessarily the solution. We know this logically.

But most of us don’t let logic get in the way. We want to be understood. We want it so much that when it happens, we bestow upon that person all the answers, no matter how irrational that sounds.

This is how it happens

When someone understands us (even via a book, article, or website), we feel known. Our existence is validated.

Most importantly, we belong. We feel accepted. We feel like there might be a solution to our problem.

By understanding us (and demonstrating their insight), they empower us. We’re no longer the only one struggling with the problem.

We get excited about attempting a solution. We become energized to take on the challenge. We start to trust that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

The person who understands us becomes the person we trust to help. We start to believe they couldn’t possibly understand our problem this well unless they also know the solution.

So when we come out of the darkness of feeling misunderstood and alone, we believe we’ve found our guide, our guru, and our path to bigger and better things.

How to help others feel understood

Do your clients feel understood so well that they assume you must have their solution?

Do you bring that feeling to your potential clients? Does it happen when they visit your website? Does it happen when you speak at the Rotary club? Does it happen in one-to-one meetings, and at consultations?

Do you tell your clients’ story in a way that makes them feel understood?

Chances are you already know your clients’ story. But you may feel that it’s their job to tell the story and your job to provide the solution.

They have questions, you have answers, right?

You don’t want to waste their time retelling their story. That’s why most lawyers’ websites, for example, are all about solutions, answers, and action plans.

That approach would be helpful if they were ready for answers. But they don’t yet trust you enough to believe your solutions.

Here’s how to help your clients feel understood…

1. Listen for the story

Prospective clients tell their story constantly.

They tell it at consultations, in unsolicited emails from your website, in questions at cocktail parties, and in meetings after they retain your services.

They talk about who said what, to whom, and how it felt. They explain what happened in excruciating detail.

Unfortunately, we often don’t listen because we’ve narrowed our focus to what’s legally significant. We discount their feelings and focus on the facts of the case.

We don’t have to go far to hear our client’s story. It’s right there in our office.

2. Know it like it’s your own story

The story has to feel authentic to be powerful.

You can’t fake it.

You’ve got to feel it like it’s your own.

In fact, many of the best storytellers – whether they’re lawyers, authors, filmmakers, or others – have lived the story themselves. The pain they describe is their pain. They’re willing to reveal the agony and be open and vulnerable.

The story you tell needs to feel real. It needs to go deep. It needs to touch the heart of the listener. It needs to connect powerfully with the pain.

The story doesn’t need to match in every way, but it must get down into the emotional underpinnings at the root of the problem.

3. Tell the story over and over

You’ll only get it right if you practice.

The business books you’ve read (the ones that leave you feeling known) are the result of many attempts to get the story right.

The author listened to those living the experience and then told the story.

The author listened some more, and then told the story again in speeches, articles and one-to-one meetings.

The story was refined over time until it was just right. Then the book began to take shape. You may be reading the second, third or fourth iteration of the story.

The story is rarely right the first time. Keep practicing.

4. Listen for “Exactly!”

When the listener responds with “That’s exactly the way I feel,” you’ve nailed it.

That reaction tells you the listener feels understood and that they trust you have the solution.

When you hear the word “Exactly!”  you’ll know the magical power of understanding is kicking in.

5. Keep refining the story

The client’s story is never finished. The refinement and the repetition never end.

You’ll spend your career getting it right, but still allowing it to evolve as times change.

You’ll keep telling it, over and over. It never stops.

Your ability and willingness to tell the client’s story – to make your client feel understood – is the key business driver.

It’s the path to building trust, to persuading prospective clients to adopt your solutions, and to attracting more and better clients.

Getting better at solving problems is important, but refining, practicing, and improving your ability to tell the client’s story is the skill that grows the business.

Don’t be tempted by solutions

It’s tempting, especially with our legal training and background, to approach all problems with a solution. That’s logical. We’re problem solvers.

But solutions are useless if we haven’t built trust.

Clients won’t use our solutions until they feel understood.

Pushing advice in a meeting before the client feels understood is pointless.

Publishing a page of answers to frequently asked questions before the reader knows we appreciate the problem isn’t helpful.

Giving a speech that rushes to the answers before acknowledging the challenges is putting the cart before the horse.

We’re not going to be successful unless we spend our energy expressing the client’s story – demonstrating that we understand – before we push the solutions forward.

Clients won’t be receptive to your solutions until they feel understood. Only then will they do what you suggest.

Are clients ignoring your advice?

So many of my peers complain about clients doing things contrary to their advice.

Clients sign things, do things, and say things they’ve been told not to sign, do, or say. Lawyers hang out in coffee shops commiserating about clients who won’t do what they’re told.

“Why did they ask for advice if they weren’t going to follow it?” we ask.

They will follow your advice only if they feel understood. Instead of giving quick advice, slow down and reflect their story. Use their words, express their pain, speak the emotions, and let them know you get it.

Do this everywhere, all the time. Listen for them to say the magic words (“That’s exactly how I feel!”) before you give them advice.

It’s only in that “Exactly!” moment that they’ll be ready to hire your firm, and follow your advice.

Growing your business is about understanding

It’s easy to spend a lot of money on marketing. You can buy ads, websites, leads, and more.

But all of your money is wasted if it doesn’t tell the right story and elicit the “Exactly!” response.

Most lawyer marketing talks about the lawyer and the law firm. It gives advice and information. It names problems and offers solutions.

But it doesn’t make people feel understood.

It doesn’t touch hearts.

It doesn’t give the client the sense of acceptance and belonging that opens them to your solutions. They don’t feel the secure enough to accept your advice and create change.

Growing your business is about letting prospective clients know you understand. Telling them their story makes that happen.

When you articulate their problem, they exclaim “Exactly!” and they hire a lawyer. That lawyer is you.

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