Communication is an essential quality in all legal professions. Lawyers are expected to be experts who can counsel clients. They must persuade other people to accept their arguments and recommendations. Luckily, the skill set needed to speak more convincingly is not limited to just those in the field and we can draw on tips used in various professions, including sales, customer service, recruitment and marketing. We even use persuasion in our personal relationships, often without even noticing the powerful effects of our words and behaviour.
The most important factor in becoming more persuasive is practice. As a law student, you have extra-curricular opportunities that can stretch your communication skills. For example, many CU students enjoy mooting. This is an exercise in persuasion where participants are given a hypothetical court hearing, analyse a problem and present a solution. Debating and mock trialling are other popular ways to flex your argumentative muscles.
Confidence is another key factor and this underpins all of these techniques. In fact, most of our communication is conveyed unconsciously through our body language. This can give away our true feelings, whether to a witness, defendant, client or another legal professional. Controlling our body language can help reinforce the persuasiveness of your message.
Many people use techniques from neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a school of communication and psychology from America in the 1970s. These include embedding commands in your language and restricting the choices you give people. For example, a simple version is asking a child if they want an apple or a banana to avoid giving them the option of choosing sweets. Whilst followers of NLP claim that it can even control people’s minds, it is important to not use obvious tricks that alienate your audience. Just being a little bit more aware of what your body is doing and the tone and speed of your voice can be very useful.
Indeed, it is worthwhile getting out of the mindset of persuasion as trickery and treating others like puzzles that you must solve. You should build relationships with people because you appreciate the value you can give them as well as what they can give you. The trust this builds can help when you need to get them on your side. This also means, though, that you shouldn’t jeopardise the relationship by aggressively over-selling your point if it looks like it is going nowhere. Sometimes listening is just as important as talking.
Persuasion is about winning the heart and mind of your audience. This means that appealing to rational facts and arguments is not sufficient in many cases. The marketing industry has taught us that connecting with people’s emotions and telling them stories are the most powerful ways of influencing them. This applies to business communications as people will warm to human personality more than a robotic manner.
Understanding people’s motivations is also very important. If you think about how you can pre-empt their objections, you can prepare solutions and build them into your argument. This can be very important in such an analytical profession and is far more important when speaking than writing.
Once you have persuaded your audience, it is important to ensure that they follow through. This means that you need to present a case so powerful that they will take action and lead them easily through the process of modifying their behaviour. This requires that the message you give them is clear and has been internalised. One great way of getting people to act on what you say is giving them a personal stake in the outcome. You may even have to demonstrate that you have had to face some personal sacrifice to get them to do what you suggest. However, if you build a great relationship with a person and make a genuine connection, you will be surprised at the effectiveness of these techniques.