Years ago, I worked for a lawyer who had a tremendous influence over my career. He was kind, affable, and gregarious. These qualities were foundations of his personality.
My boss was also smart, tenacious, and savvy, although these qualities were buried deep within a pleasant veneer that may have come off as weakness to some people.
One day, my boss reached his limit and fired off an angry response to a disrespectful letter from another lawyer. Before leaving for the weekend, he asked me to review his response.
My boss was seething with anger as he grabbed his coat to leave the office. When I asked if he wanted me to mail the letter, he said, ”no, I will think about it over the weekend.”
I looked forward to seeing the battle develop. I was enjoying the fireworks: fiery language, confrontational style, and firm limits. After all, I was merely an observer.
When I mentioned the letter the following Monday, my boss seemed to have forgotten what had angered him. He modified his fiery language consistent with his natural, friendly tone. Without backing down, he took a less confrontational approach. The letter accomplished his goals in tone, content, and impact.
No doubt you have all heard stories of salvation through unsent letters. It’s a common theme of every self-help manual.
So, why is it so easy to launch a vicious attack by hitting “send” these days? Some of the loveliest people take on harsh tones in electronic formats. “Likes,” “retweets,” and “forwarded messages” can do as much damage as unfiltered original content.
We should all speak out and take stands on issues important to us. It is important and often necessary. But, doing so is fruitless if we lose our audience through our language, tone, and methods.
As someone in the business of influencing other people’s viewpoints, I suggest the following three step approach to speaking out or taking a stand:
- Identify the problem.
- Propose a solution.
- Explain why the solution has value.
You are right. I am thinking less about our professional lives than our likely encounters with friends, family, and strangers over the next few weeks.
Whatever our political or social views, this approach will improve our interactions and discussions. And, if it delays us hitting the “send” button slightly, we may be richer for it.
We represent people accused of criminal offenses and professional misconduct who risk losing everything. We work to get them their best results and back to leading productive lives.
Call if you need us, or if you just want to say hello.
P.S. My old boss is well into his seventies, accomplished, and wealthy, but he continues to represent people in major cases: zealously, effectively, and with civility.