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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

September 23, 2016
Question

Words. Words. Words.

answer
Julie Q. Brush

The longer I’m in the professional world, the more I appreciate the power of words. Choosing the right words. Saying the right words. Writing the right words. Mastering this skill is part art, part science and just a touch of poetry.

Lawyers are in the business of words. When engaged in the practice of law, they assign heightened meaning and importance to words because professionally, a lot can be…and often is at stake. So words are pursued with great care: An exercise with an acute cognizance of cause and effect.
But when the hat of counselor is removed, this careful consideration can diminish. And words…or lack thereof, can be fueled and heavily influenced by emotion. Why is this so? Because emotions can be messy and difficult to manage. And the chords that are struck every day, impact how we behave-and what we say. So a different story emerges. A more human story.

Asking for a raise, experiencing disappointment/anger, promoting one’s accomplishments, proposing a counter offer, describing a strength/weakness, explaining a termination. Whatever the situation, finding the right words to navigate these professional waters can be challenging because of the human emotions involved.

We’ve all been there. A misunderstood email blows up into greater conflict. A babbling response kills a candidacy, asking for “more” comes off as greedy and entitled, an impulsive outburst jeopardizes a friendship – All situations that could have vastly different outcomes just by using different…words. 

I receive numerous inquiries from candidates and clients seeking advice on the appropriateness of topics, “asks” and communications. And my counsel is always the same: You can communicate any thought, question or feeling you’d like. But it is HOW you communicate that is key. What you say and how you say it. So how does one choose the right words? Below is an approach that will help hone your remarks.

Write More.

Writing is one of the best ways to expand your vocabulary as well as your understanding of words and the contexts in which they are used. Writing makes a person for thoughtful and forces him/her to choose the words that most accurately communicates thoughts, opinions and feelings. So take the time and write more. It need not be a blog or weekly column. It need not be seen by anyone at all. A journal, a story or periodic musings, whatever inspires you to put pen to paper.

Slow Down.

We live in an age of instantaneous everything where everyone is traveling at the speed of light. So professionals rarely slow down…enough to reflect. Some of the worst communication and word selections come from professionals who act impulsively or don’t take the time to organize their thoughts and prepare properly. So take your pace and slow it down. Way down.

Think. 


Emotions can cloud judgment. Fear, anger, frustration, impatience, elation, low self-esteem and apathy. These are a few common feelings that block a professional’s ability to choose his/her words wisely when communicating. So take the time to process and think about how you feel. And think about the perspective of others involved in your dynamic. By thinking instead of reacting or winging it, you’ll be clearer and give yourself the opportunity to consider others, organize your thoughts…and your words more effectively.

Write It Down.

Sometimes the written word looks different on paper than in your head. It can also spur on more feelings and thoughts. So whatever situation you encounter, write down your responses, pitches, messages, asks, rebuttals etc. beforehand. Then take a breather and revisit with a fresh pair of eyes. A little distance will provide you with new perspective that will influence your words…for the better.

Practice.

You can pick all the right words, but with a poor delivery – you’re toast. Whether communicating in person, by phone, Skype, text or email, practicing and editing your message is essential. So practice out loud and often until you feel rock solid.

Use A Soundboard.

If you are unsure of your words, ask a friend, colleague or family member for their take. A second opinion never hurts and can provide a valuable reality check.

Words are powerful tools. They are among the most important tools we have in career and in life. So dedicate the time and make the effort to master the skill of getting it right…word for word.

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