George R.R. Martin wrote:
“Politicians were mostly people who’d had too little morals and ethics to stay lawyers.”
Politics—particularly presidential politics—has a way of bringing out divisive opinions. But if we look at the history of presidents in the United States and reflect on the campaign tactics, surprising victories, and candidates on the other tickets, there are some powerful lessons that we can apply to furthering our legal careers.
Lesson 1: Make Others Feel Important
Pop quiz for all of you associates out there: in a meeting, who is more important to please, a client or your firm partner?
Great politicians and presidential candidates have the ability to make others feel as if they are the only person in the room. This ability to communicate, build a positive connection, and create a personal rapport results in dedicated followers, who feel that they know the candidate on a deeper level.
Lawyers need to strengthen this ability to have more candid and productive conversations with clients, fellow counsel, and members of the jury. Although connecting and building rapport is much more of an art than it is a science, there are proven ways to improving this ability:
- Eye contact with those you are communicating with
- Complete focus on your audience
- Deep listening and demonstrated interest in what they are sharing
Simple in theory, but though to practice consistently while having a natural conversation. The key to mastering this skill is to pay close attention to your audience’s response. You need to strike the proper balance between listening to respond and listening to listen. Sometimes you need to be listening with your ears—and sometimes, with your mouth. In litigation, you might have to anticipate a response to know what you will say next—but in a conversation, remember you are not trying to raise any objections. The main goal should be truly comprehending the other person’s side.
If you feel like your communication skills are already pretty on point, I challenge you to enhance this skill by paying attention to the language your audience is using. What words and phrases are they using to describe their issues? Why? If you can pick up on the language they use and mirror their phrasing to them, it demonstrates that you are listening. When people feel listened to, people feel as if they are important.
And the answer to the question above: remember, your client is always the most important person in the room.
Lesson 2: Posture and Position
Think about presidential portraits and images. What is unique about American presidents is that even though none of them are wearing crowns on their heads, they are posed in their portraits as if they can support a crown. Their posture is straight, and their gaze is lifted. Whether they were actually confident and imagining themselves walking around with a crown is one thing—but the perception of confidence from their physical posture alone is undeniable. The mere position of their office affords them a certain air of confidence.
You might not be able to manufacture confidence, but you can certainly present confidence when speaking with a few simple posture tricks. Maintain an aligned spine and good posture by printing you are wearing a crown and that a piece of string is pulling you up from the very tip of your head. Actors and politicians alike who are “pulled up” walk with purpose and lift their heads as if wearing a crown, giving the appearance being grounded, competent, and compelling.
People are highly perceptive and pick up on physical cues during interactions when others are present and engaged. Presenting yourself as confident gives the impression that you are confident in what you are communicating. Those who listen will sense your confidence in your position, and be more likely to listen and agree. Exuding grace and competence instills a sense control, which means that listeners can lean back and simply receive your arguments.
Lesson 3: Smile for the cameras.
Smile, point, wave. Smile, point wave. If you have watched political candidates or presidents on television, you have most certainly seen at least one politician “smile, point, and wave.” The best politicians do this to engage a crowd, look friendly, and appear widely supported by their adoring fans. They smile, look at a distant audience member, point at them, and wave. It is as if they are saying hello to a certain member of the crowd after spotting them in a sea of other people because they have a personal connection with them.
Now, I am not recommending that lawyers walk down the hallways of courthouses and their firms smiling, pointing, waving, and kissing babies. But I am suggesting a subtler approach that is just as effective:
Maintain eye contact—and in a large room or large group, directly address a section or group by looking in their direction. This someone the impression that you are looking at them, personalizing your message to them. In exchange, you are likely to be better received and have a more engaged audience.