How to Influence Potential Clients, Employees and Judges

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The dentist slipped. The drill hit my tonsil. The whole thing happened in an instant.

Yep, the drill slipped and pierced the tender flesh in the back of my mouth, down in my throat. It sounds as horrifying as it felt. He had been pushing hard on the tooth in the far back part of my mouth. He was in an awkward position.

The only acknowledgment of the episode was when the dentist said, sort of casually, “We’ll have to put in a stitch.” In fact, it took a few stitches to patch up my throat. I was stunned speechless by the entire episode. How did this happen?

The dental staff acted like it was just another day at the office. Nobody seemed stressed except me.

The dentist never apologized, never asked if I was okay, never acknowledged what felt like a mistake to me. He acted like the drill hitting my tonsil was normal. He was working on my molar (the left mandibular third molar, in case you’re wondering). It’s the tooth all the way in the back, and he mentioned that working that far back was tricky.

I have no idea if what happened was an expected risk. All I knew was that the dentist seemed not to care.

You either influence others or you fail

I got a new dentist after that catastrophe. The tonsil stabbing was a first, and nothing like it has happened since, thankfully.

Sure, the dentist was generous with the pain killers and wrote two prescriptions. Prescribing some narcotics solved the immediate problem, but it was pretty clear that I was just another casualty of his approach to dentistry. Nobody seemed interested in my problem. I was heavily medicated, but that didn’t really make me feel any better about what had happened.

I wish influencing others was as simple as drugging them into submission. But that’s not an approach we can count on if we want to succeed as lawyers. Our words are the only drug we’re legally allowed to prescribe. Sometimes words are not enough.

Lawyers need to change people’s minds: jurors, judges, other lawyers, our staff, and especially our clients. We need tools to make that happen. We’re constantly searching for tips, tricks, and techniques. In fact, I’m a big fan of Influence by Robert Cialdini. I’ve probably given away a thousand copies as gifts.

Our quest for insight into persuasion is never satisfied. Tips, tricks, and techniques are helpful, but frustratingly insufficient. We need something more. No matter how many books we read, seminars we attend, or videos we watch, we’re disappointed with the results.

You need people to follow your lead

We need cooperation, participation, and engagement from other people. Sometimes I wish that wasn’t the case. But it’s our reality.

We’re influencers. Sometimes we’re influencing a client to hire us. Sometimes we need to influence a decision-maker to rule for our client. Oftentimes we need to persuade other lawyers to work with us on an outcome our client seeks. Frequently we’re busy struggling to get our employees to do what’s necessary to help us do all of the above.

Our daily efforts to influence others start with getting the kids dressed at 6 AM, and end with negotiating which video to watch before bed. The middle of the day is a muddle of influencing many folks, and it’s exhausting. Sometimes it makes me wish I could just relax, lie down in the dentist’s chair, and get stabbed in the throat. Just kidding.

You’ve already got what you need

We don’t need tips, techniques, and tactics. We’ve already got what we need.

The most powerful influencing tool exists inside you. It’s somewhere in the center of your chest. It’s beating as we speak.

There is no more powerful tool for influencing others than caring about them.

When you really care, you’ve got influence on steroids. There is no tool, technique or tactic that compares to the power of caring deeply for another person.

But the caring must be real. It can’t be faked, and there’s no magic trick that will help you conjure caring out of thin air. It isn’t something we can learn in Cialdini’s great book.

The power of caring is unmatched.

This simple behavior changes everything

Caring isn’t hard to convey. In fact, it’s quite easy to demonstrate–that is, if you really do care.

I sat through thousands of meetings with potential clients. My job was to convince them to hire my law firm. That typically meant handing over a credit card and authorizing me to charge them many thousands of dollars before I did any work for them. It was tricky.

I had meetings with prospective clients about whom I didn’t care. They frequently decided to hire someone else.

I sometimes had meetings with prospective clients about whom I cared deeply. They triggered something in me. I remember one who reminded me of my brother. My lifelong affection for him transferred over to his doppelganger. I cared. The client hired me quickly.

At some point, much later than it should have happened, I noticed the connection between my level of caring and my conversion rate. I was pretty surprised because I thought everybody was impressed by my impeccable suit, shiny shoes, and effervescent personality. I assumed they’d automatically know I was the best lawyer for them to hire.

Once that insight kicked in, I started seeing it in other relationships as well. Employees I cared about were more engaged, energized, and likely to do as I asked. I even saw the pattern in my interactions with judges and other lawyers: the more I cared about them, the more responsive they were to my requests.

Maybe my failure to see all of this earlier was one of the elements of humanity they beat out of me in law school? Or maybe I just somehow missed this lesson somewhere along the way?

Don’t tell them–show them

While there’s no magic pill I can give you to make you care, there is one way you can make it more apparent (not just to clients and employees, but to everyone) that you do.

How do others know you care? It’s simple, really. I don’t do it nearly often enough.

The fastest way to demonstrate caring is to listen. Give the other person your full attention. Focus on them. Pay complete attention with all of your body and brain.

It’s not easy.

I’m an interrupter. I’m always thinking while the other person is talking. I’m getting ready for my turn to talk. I’m not really listening, since my brain has already moved on to what’s coming out of my mouth next.

What’s the rush? I have no idea. I could choose to wait and do my thinking after listening. But that’s not generally the way I’m wired.

It’s time to rewire.

Listening is the demonstration of caring. Why does it work? Because you care enough to stop thinking and start listening. Caring can’t be faked. It works because it’s real. Care enough to slow down and listen. Listening is what caring looks like in practice.

The shortcut is that there is no shortcut

Caring is easy. It’s built-in. It’s included in the base model: you.

Mostly we ignore our caring. We get jaded. We’re rushing through the day. We’re turning everything into shortcuts so we can survive.

But too often, our shortcuts turn around and bite us. The shortcut turns out to be the long way around. In our quest to find an easier approach, we end up slowing ourselves down, getting unsatisfying results, and being frustrated by the host of other people we need to influence.

Caring is powerful.

Some of us look at the new law school graduate and snicker at their naïveté. We see their passion, and know it will be worn away by the day-to-day. But it’s hard not to be inspired by the energy of their caring. It’s powerful. It warms our hard, jaded old hearts.

They care. They’ve got it right.  We need to let caring back into our hearts too–it’s the secret. It’s what others want to see when they decide whom to follow. We need folks to follow. Caring is influence. The quick tip for today? Care.

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