Several years ago, a famous, extraordinarily successful trial lawyer sent me a book called How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Over the years, I taught trial advocacy at courses the lawyer organized. He drew the students; ordinary lawyers like me helped teach them.
In his letter accompanying the book, the lawyer’s message was that Carnegie’s principles are our stock and trade as trial lawyers. We are well-served to follow them as we select jurors, interact with courtroom personnel, and question witnesses.
It seemed like an odd comparison. But, this lawyer has won hundreds of millions of dollars in jury awards and successfully defended scores of people charged with serious criminal offenses. It’s worth considering his advice on anything related to a court proceeding.
I suspect most of you have heard of or even read How to Win Friends & Influence People. It’s been in print since 1936. Carnegie’s courses were the precursors to the ubiquitous online self-help courses available today.
I have been thinking about his ideas after seeing Tuesday’s debate and reviewing responses from all sides to the news that President Trump tested positive for the coronavirus.
In Part One, Chapter 1, Carnegie discusses the impact of criticism, complaints, and condemnation. His basic conclusion is that these approaches are “futile” and “dangerous” because they make people defensive and cause “resentment.” They cause us to lose the benefits of relationships.
Principle 1 is “[d]on’t criticize, condemn, or complain.”
The problem is that none of us progresses without constructive feedback. Plus, we live in a world where we respond to messages, texts, and posts in seconds. We hit the thumbs-up or heart instinctually.
Can we always be so careful?
At trial advocacy trainings, students conduct mock trials. They select juries, make arguments, and examine witnesses. They pay to have more experienced lawyers critique their presentations so they get better and offer a greater service to their clients.
The general method of instruction is to (1) highlight the favorable aspects of the presentation, (2) offer feedback about parts that did not work so well, and (3) suggest ways to improve.
Thanks to my high school typing teacher, I am a fairly competent typist on the computer, but my children make fun of my approach to typing on my phone.
I use one finger, which often means hitting the wrong letters. Before hitting the send arrow, I erase the wrong letter and retype the correct one with the same finger. And, I use punctuation, which exasperates my boys.
Inspired by the current political climate and ever-present fear that those same children will say something stupid and irrevocable in a text or on social media, I am offering my amendments to Principle 1.
If you have to “criticize, condemn or complain,” consider the following:
(1) Try to find something favorable to say first.
(2) Fashion the response as constructive feedback, instead of an attack.
(3) Type with one finger. It takes longer. You may decide you have nothing constructive to offer before you hit the arrow.
We are criminal trial lawyers. We represent people accused of criminal offenses 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. Just a reminder, nothing you type goes away.