Do you want to be an influential communicator and captivate hearts, minds and brains in these times of short attention span and information overwhelm?
Our Quantum Leaps Mastermind Group is sponsoring a free teleseminar "The Art and Science of Influential Communication" on June 16, 2010 at 8:30pm Eastern time (you can also get the link to the recording later if you register).
Click HERE to learn more.
Next time you talk to someone, watch for the following seven common listening barriers that block a good conversation flow and may cause misunderstandings:
1. We join the conversation with predetermined attitude and assumptions about the other person or the subject matter to be discussed. Good conversations have the power to create new shared meaning and understanding, but it is only possible if we are open enough to consider those new possibilities. So many people use conversations just to reiterate their own positions on issues. Little is gained with such approach. Instead, join a conversation with an open mind and desire to learn something new. Listen with curiosity and without bias.
2. We are so preoccupied with our own thoughts that we are unable to listen attentively. Maybe, we are distracted by something unrelated to the topic of the conversation, or we are busy developing our own response and miss what’s being said. It's not easy to pay focused attention to the other person's words. Our prefrontal cortex, the brain region implicated in planning complex cognitive tasks, decision making, and moderating correct social behavior, is easily overwhelmed. We can process just about seven pieces of information in our conscious mind at any given moment. It makes it impossible to attend to several things simultaneously that require our concentration. We have to train and discipline our mind to listen actively and push any other distracting thoughts aside.
3. We are completing the other person’s thoughts and jumping to conclusions. How often do we hear something and say to ourselves: "Oh, I know where she is going with it." We attribute ideas, motivation, and intentions to others that they may not have. This leads to misunderstandings. This is especially true if we have known the conversation participants for a long time. We feel like we know what they will say. Patience pays off in conversations. Let the others finish their thoughts and don’t assume you already know what they are going to say.
4. We engage in selective listening. It occurs when we listen only to what we want to hear. We like to be right, and our minds like consistency. We don’t feel comfortable when something upsets our belief system. It's easier to ignore that information. The downside is that we can't learn from others or collaborate effectively. To overcome the habit of selective listening, paraphrase or mirror back what you hear to ensure you understand other points of view. Engage in conversations with people who you know will disagree with you and learn to discuss your disagreements respectfully. Encourage different opinions with the intention of considering them thoroughly and learning from them.
5. We feel too tired, anxious, or angry to listen actively. Our brains run on glucose. The glucose levels drop when we are tired, so we no longer have the energy to think clearly. When we experience strong negative emotions, as when we are angry or under stress, the glucose goes from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala in the limbic system of the brain, responsible for the emotional control and memory of our emotional reactions. The amygdala triggers the "fight or flight" mode. As a result, our mind "freezes," and we either launch verbal attacks or withdraw from the dialogue. Strong feelings and emotions affect our listening, reasoning and judgment. If the parties feel overwhelmed, a better strategy is to take a break from the conversation.
6. We don't pay enough attention to body language and supersegmentals, such as intonation, rate of speech, emphasis, or tone. We can focus not only on what's being said, but also on what's not being said. The supersegmentals and body language give away clues about people’s emotions, feelings, stress levels that provide additional information that may not be expressed in words. To be an active listener, you have to be a good observer too.
7. We are in a hurry. We don't have time to listen and can't wait for the other people to finish their thoughts so that we could get on with our business. People will sense that you don't really want to listen to them. If you find yourself always trying to control the pace of conversations, talk too fast, or urge others to get to the point, try to consciously slow yourself down. Find a better time to talk. A conversation is not a race to the finish line.
Are you tired of hearing the same story told by the same person over and over again? Chances are you also repeat yourself and may not even know it. Dr. Nigel Gopie and Dr. Colin MacLeod of the University of Waterloo, in Ontario study destination memory - remembering who we have told things to. It turns out that our destination memory is weaker than our source memory—remembering the person from whom we have received information. That's why we repeat our stories to the same audience.
The researchers explain that our poor destination memory may be due to the fact that we focus more attention on ourselves and the delivery of the message than our audience.
The New York Times article "Story? Unforgettable. The Audience? Often Not" by Benedict Carey discusses the findings of their experiments:
In one experiment, they had 60 University of Waterloo students associate 50 random facts (a shrimp’s heart is in its head; 8 percent of men are color blind) with the faces of 50 famous people, like Madonna, Wayne Gretzky and Oprah Winfrey. Half of the students "told" each fact to one of the faces, reading it aloud when the celebrity’s picture appeared on a computer screen. The other half read each fact silently and saw a different celebrity moments afterward.
The students then took a memory test. They chose from face-fact pairs: those which they remembered from learning a fact, and those they remembered from reading facts out loud in the first phase of the study. The students who simulated telling the facts did 16 percent worse on the test than the students who were fed the facts while seeing celebrity faces.
Understandably, our destination memory becomes even worse when we tell intricate and detailed stories that require more focus. However, if we want to improve the accuracy of our destination memory, we can remind ourselves whom we are addressing by saying the recipient's name.
Various studies have explored the link between the ability to use more than one language and improved cognitive function and thinking. Now, for the first time, the research team appointed by the European Commission conducted an analysis of scientific literature, European and international, on this subject during the period of May 2008-June 2009 across all 27 EU Member States plus Norway and Turkey. The findings are described in the report "The Contribution of Multilingualism to Creativity" [PDF].
The inventory of research-based publications covered the following five hypotheses.
The Science Daily article "Brains Benefit from Multilingualism" quotes David Marsh, specialized planner at the Continuing Professional Development Centre of Jyväskylä University, who coordinated the international research team behind the study:
"The research report brings forth six main areas where multilingualism and hence the mastery of complex processes of thought seem to put people in advantage. These include learning in general, complex thinking and creativity, mental flexibility, interpersonal and communication skills, and even a possible delay in the onset of age-related mental diminishment later in life," Marsh relates.
One of the central cerebral areas highlighted in the research report is the one responsible for memory function. People rely especially on the short-term memory when thinking, learning and making decisions.
"It is obvious that enhanced memory can have a profound impact on cognitive function, says David Marsh. -- This may be one reason why the multilingual shows superior performance in handling complex and demanding problem-solving tasks when compared to monolinguals. They seem to be able to have an advantage in handling certain thinking processes," March continues.
It was assumed earlier that differences in the brain would only occur if a person is bi- or trilingual, that is with a very high command of different languages. The recently published research suggests, however, that changes in the brain's electrical activity may occur already in the beginnings of learning a new language.
Perhaps, it's time to add learning a new language to your 2010 resolutions. It seems that the benefits are there regardless of whether you learn to speak it proficiently.
Related post: "Learn a language in 2009 and improve your brain"
How do you deal with difficult people? Are you bothered by conflicts, rejections, or negative opinions of others? Most of us are. Somehow, it's hard to stay detached and let go. Some of us spend much time reflecting on past conversations, thinking of what was said, and how it was said, and what it meant.
I notice how my 4-year-old daughter is learning her social skills. When she comes back from her playschool, she now likes to talk about who her friend is and who isn't, and who is "mad" at whom. Their friendships and preferences come and go, and their little disagreements and disappointments with one another are easily forgotten. It's all light-hearted at this point. Interestingly, it is in this tender age, before our cognition is fully developed, when we form many of our subconscious brain maps and beliefs. And as we grow, these subconscious beliefs may make it more difficult for us to forget, forgive, and move on.
The good news is that we can change our reactive patterns. We cannot control other people's behavior, so the best approach is to learn to manage our own responses. It becomes easier if we understand how our brain responds to perceived threats. Because so many of our beliefs are subconscious, as adults, we may not even be aware of what pushes our buttons and why. We may just notice that we become defensive, stressed, or self-critical. If the brain recognizes something as a threat, it activates the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system of the brain, responsible for the emotional control and memory of our emotional reactions. The limbic system can process something as a threat even before the stimulus reaches conscious awareness, triggering the "fight or flight" response. Our body is then flooded with cortisol, and the decision-making and rational parts of the brain shut down to mobilize our resourced for the attack or retreat.
In addition, the brain evolved to be sensitive to status and authority, i.e. how we look relative to someone else. As a result, we tend to worry about what others think of us.
Sometimes, just understanding these "quirks" of the brain and becoming aware of what's happening to us in the moments when our buttons are pushed can be helpful. Reframing the situation to lessen the threat is also helpful. We can change the brain's processing of our usual triggers if we consciously choose a behavior different from what we tend to do. In other words, we can create new neural pathways in the brain with better responses. So, once we become aware of what's happening, it helps to switch our mind to something that produces positive emotions fast and can reward the brain with the "feel good" molecules, like dopamine. The quicker we can replace the negative reaction with a positive one and the longer we can sustain the positive, the easier it will be for the brain to rewire itself.
Next time you have to deal with negative reactions, difficult people, or explosive situations, start practicing this "reframe-switch-sustain" approach. A similar process was used by psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder patients and described in his book "Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior." The consistent application of his neuroplasticity-based technique helped the patients improve their OCD symptoms and caused the corresponding physical changes in the brain, which were confirmed by brain scans. This practice can also help us with our everyday worries and anxieties.
Finally, it's good to remember that our brains are social and mirror emotional responses. We have the power to manage our own reactions and help others step out of their trigger points if we engage with love, kindness, fairness, and support.
According to Wikipedia, "[a] subliminal message is a signal or message embedded in another medium, designed to pass below the normal limits of the human mind's perception. These messages are unrecognizable by the conscious mind, but in certain situations can affect the subconscious mind and can negatively or positively influence subsequent later thoughts, behaviors, actions, attitudes, belief systems and value systems."
A new study by a UCL team led by Professor Nilli Lavie provides evidence that people are able to process emotional information from subliminal images and are better at detecting negative subliminal messages. ScienceDaily reports:
In the study, Professor Lavie and colleagues showed fifty participants a series of words on a computer screen. Each word appeared on-screen for only a fraction of second – at times only a fiftieth of a second, much too fast for the participants to consciously read the word. The words were either positive (e.g. cheerful, flower and peace), negative (e.g. agony, despair and murder) or neutral (e.g. box, ear or kettle). After each word, participants were asked to choose whether the word was neutral or 'emotional' (i.e. positive or negative), and how confident they were of their decision.
The researchers found that the participants answered most accurately when responding to negative words – even when they believed they were merely guessing the answer.
"There has been much speculation about whether people can process emotional information unconsciously, for example pictures, faces and words," says Professor Lavie. "We have shown that people can perceive the emotional value of subliminal messages and have demonstrated conclusively that people are much more attuned to negative words.
Professor Lavie explains that there are evolutionary advantages to responding quickly to subliminal negative information because those emotional messages may have helped us avoid danger.
Cheryl Stephens, of Building Rapport, the plain language blog, is a leader in the field of plain language communication, and provides training and workshops to clients all over North America. She is making a guest appearance today promoting her new book, Plain Language Legal Writing.
Lawsagna: Your work is in the area of plain language. Can you tell us about that? What’s plain language all about?
Cheryl Stephens: Plain language is writing, or any language, that is clear and understandable, so that it’s easy for people to get — and use — information that is important to a person's life.
Lawsagna: What kind of information?
Cheryl Stephens: Well, think of anyplace you’ve seen legalese in your own life: contracts, regulations, waiver forms and releases, even the agreement you have to sign whenever you install software or sign up for something online.
Lawsagna: And you’re saying those things don’t have to be written in legalese? Isn’t the law inherently complex?
Cheryl Stephens: There is no reason that legal language — language regulating legal rights and duties — has to be incomprehensible. It can be made plain enough for its intended audience.
Plain legal language is being written every day. Those who defend out-dated, poorly-written gibberish on the grounds of its complexity should be embarrassed.
Lawsagna: What other common arguments against plain language do you hear?
Cheryl Stephens: People say it is "talking down" to people or "dumbing down." I have learned that real experts have internalized and integrated their special knowledge to the point where they can talk of it in simple language—without any mystery. Anyone who can't do that, and complains about being asked to "dumb it down," is a pompous ass.
Lawsagna: If few lawyers and few clients like to read legalese, why do you think we continue to see it? What is the biggest barrier to the wide use of plain language?
Cheryl Stephens: Lawyers need to develop new writing habits. That is all. Once you have learned to write legalese and you have done it for years, it is ingrained in your thinking patterns.
I have been working at plain language for 19 years, and still, my first drafts often follow traditional legal phrasing and sentence structure, and I have to think twice about word choices.
So make that two things: develop new writing habits, and allow yourself enough time for each writing project to do it right.
Lawsagna: Are there any risks of using plain language?
Cheryl Stephens: Depends who does it. A person who is not well-versed in the law, in general, should not write contracts. But many organizations think they can write their own plain language contracts. I do not advise it because there have been lawsuits resulting when an amateur's rewrite changes the substantive content. Lawyers better do it.
Lawsagna: In our fast-paced world, people look for easier and faster ways to process information. Internet and social networks have changed the way we read, aggregate information, and collaborate on projects. What is the relationship between plain language and Web 2.0?
1. Plain English is the language of the Internet, and W3.
2. Plain Language favors the use of standard grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I am not sure those standards are respected by Web 2.0 (btw, can you define that in plain English?).
[Lawsagna: It looks like people are still debating the meaning of Web 2.0. According to Wikipedia, which is an example of Web 2.0, “Web 2.0 is a term describing the trend in the use of World Wide Web technology and web design that aims to enhance creativity, information sharing, and, most notably, collaboration among users.” So, can we say in plain language that Web 2.0 refers to the use of web technology and web design to promote creativity, information exchange and collaboration among users?]
Lawsagna: Do certain practice areas use plain language more than others?
Cheryl Stephens: Family law, juvenile law, criminal law, immigration -- for individual practitioners.
Banking and consumer law for institutions (but not by their choice).
Lawsagna: Do you have any suggestions for someone who wants to find a lawyer that uses plain language?
Cheryl Stephens: No, my suggestion is to lawyers: advertise that you provide service in plain language—if it's true.
People are always asking me for a referral to a plain language lawyer in a particular practice area in a specific geographic area. I send out an email asking my contacts if they know of someone. This is always anecdotal. To my knowledge, only major Australian law firms have pushed their plain language skills in their marketing.
Lawsagna: In your book, you talk about visual aids. Could you explain their function in legal writing?
Cheryl Stephens: Charts, graphs, maps. These are increasingly being used as schedules to laws, by-laws, and contracts. For any legal matter that a firm handles regularly, the firm should (have an expert) develop some graphical resources for client use. These reinforce the message in your text.
Also, you have written on your blog about the different learning styles of students. People have different information-processing styles, too. So the more variety you use in correspondence, the more likely you are to get the information across.
For example, if clients are missing important appointments, consider using three tactics in future:
1. Send a clear, simple letter that ONLY confirms the appointment (and has no substantive material).
2. Include with that letter a page, or appointment card, showing:
* the calendar month with the date checked,
* a clock face with the hands set to the appointment time.
3. Have your receptionist call the day before to confirm the appointment.
It may seem like a big hassle, but it will work.
Lawsagna: What do you need to know to write in plain English?
Cheryl Stephens: We have a process which takes into account the reader's interest, reading skill, and need for the information. It is an elaboration of the classical approach to writing effectively.
By the way, we now talk about plain language instead of plain English, because the ideas apply to communication in any language. Whatever the language, the aim is clarity and usefulness of the information.
In English, a number of shortcuts and guidelines have been developed to help the person who is not a writer by profession. Most of the US state laws requiring plain English set out some of these as requirements or measurements of plainness. In Canada, the laws tend to demand qualities like "clear" or "readable" and so on.
Cheryl Stephens: It’s a contest to rewrite a section of the U.S. Copyright Act — both to rewrite it as the law would look in plain English, and to write a clear explanation for the general public.
Lawsagna: What are you trying to accomplish with this contest?
Cheryl Stephens: I want to show the difference between legal drafting and legal writing. One task is to redraft the legislation in plain language, and that’s a specialized skill. Not every lawyer needs to know how to do that. But the other task, to explain the law in plain language — that’s a skill every lawyer does need.
Lawsagna: And that’s what your new book is about?
Cheryl Stephens: Yes. I wanted to write a simple but complete guide for lawyers who want to make their writing clearer.
Lawsagna: Well, I think you’ve done a great job. Can you tell us where we can learn more about the book, and about the contest?
Cheryl Stephens: Yes, there’s a web page for the book. PlainLanguageLegalWriting.com, and there’s a link to the contest on that page as well.
iMantri is a new social networking site for people who offer and seek mentoring:
"Whether you want to be a mentor or a mentee, iMantri allows you evaluate your competencies, help find a suitable mentoring match, provides a framework and facilitates mentoring interactions."
I am about to explore this site more. Shifting Careers has a nice review of this application. (Here's the link to my post on "How to find a mentor.") I think Web 2.0 has a great potential to foster mentoring relationships. What do you think? Can you see a social networking site as a platform for lawyers to seek and offer mentoring? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this high-tech approach? I'd love to read what you think.
VizThink Conference '08 will take place on January 27-29, 2008 in San Francisco. Even if you cannot attend, you may want to visit the conference website and check out a number of available podcasts and webinars on the topic of visual thinking. They also have a blog and a wiki with additional content.
"VizThink is gathering visual thinkers from all corners of the world to create the first global community dedicated to the use of visualization in all forms of learning and communication."
Online Education Database has a list of “150 Resources to Help You Write Better, Faster, and More Persuasively.” The list is organized according to the following categories: Almanacs, Business and Legal Matters, Citation Styles, Dictionaries, English Language Skills, Genres, News Digests, New Media Resources, Organization, Professional Organizations, Rhetoric, Toolboxes, Writing Services, Writing Skills, Writing Software. You will want to bookmark it.
Questions are the power tool of learning. They drill through the surface into deeper layers of meaning and understanding. They shape and guide our thinking. Asking good questions of yourself and others is an important skill of life-long learners. It is even more valuable than knowing the answers because answers frequently change in our fast-paced world. How do you make your questions more powerful?
What are your favorite powerful questions?
Orientation Series: 21 Steps to Becoming a Better Learner:
Step 1: Setting your learning objectives
Step 2: Taking an inventory of your skills
Step 3: Taking an Inventory of Your Learning Tools
Step 4: Finding opportunities for cognitive apprenticeship
Step 5: Determining the "IIQ" of what you read
Step 6: Choosing helpful books for law students
Step 7: “The Three 'P's of Performance” in Action
Step 8: Tapping into your social networks
Step 9: Identifying your learning barriers
Step 10: Finding your sources of motivation
Step 11: Managing your energy
Step 12: Focusing on how you think
Step 13: Mastering informal learning and professional development
When I was teaching ESL many years ago, I did the so-called “DIE” exercise with my students. The exercise highlighted the effect of our own experiences, backgrounds and culture on our analysis of events. The acronym “DIE” stood for “Description,” “Interpretation” and “Evaluation.” The students read written descriptions of various situations and were asked to give their opinion of what they read. The next step was to tear apart the factual description of a given situation from its interpretation and evaluation. The description focused on the facts. The interpretation revealed how the students made meaning of what they read. The evaluation was about their judgment, whether they considered something as good, bad, moral, reprehensible, etc. As a final step, I challenged the students to come up with different interpretations and evaluations of the events.
I think the usefulness of this exercise goes beyond cross-cultural training. The exercise offers a good way to reveal our own blind spots and become more empathetic. Next time you find yourself in a disagreement, try the “DIE” exercise and see what underlying assumptions it brings to light.
What does authenticity mean to your legal practice? A few blog posts made me think about this question. First, Guy Kawasaki’s post “The Top Ten (Sixteen) Lies of Lawyers” offers a client’s perspective on the true meaning of some of the phrases commonly used by attorneys. Second, Joanna Young of Confident Writing has been focusing on the authentic quality in writing in several articles, including her recent post “Word power at work.” So, what does authenticity mean to lawyers? I’d love to read what you think.
Learning how to handle rejections is not something we look forward to, but it is something we must master as a prerequisite for our lesson in success. Maybe, you didn’t get the job you wanted, the firm didn’t extend you an offer after your summer internship, or you didn’t close the deal with the coveted client. You are certainly disappointed, perhaps, angry and resentful. How do you move beyond these negative feelings towards a more productive and brighter future?
You’ve probably heard a lot: “Don’t take rejections personally.” And you understand it to be true when you think rationally, but even our rationality is bounded, and so the rejection hurts nonetheless. Take time to experience your feelings of hurt, anger, or self-doubt. As many of you know, I am a big fan of yoga and meditation, and I think these practices offer a safe environment to explore your negative emotions without acting on them. Experts suggest taking a pause in your activities when you realize that feelings overwhelm you. Whether you decide to sit in meditation or do yoga, focus on what’s going on inside you as you breathe in and out. Psychologists believe that labeling emotions actually helps neutralize them, so go ahead and name what you are feeling and notice any tightness or other sensations in your body. Now, visualize a place or a person that would invoke a sense of love, peace, safety, gratitude in you. Pretend you are in that place or with that person, and you breathe in the energy of love and acceptance and breathe out the resentment and anger. Try this exercise and see if it helps you shift your mood.
Once you’ve achieved a calmer state of mind, focus on what you can learn from the situation. Whenever you can, get some feedback from a representative of the employer or another insider you trust, but do it in a tactful and professional way. You may find out that the rejection has nothing to do with you and is a result of bad economy, changed plans or other factors outside your control. Sometimes, rejections mean that you and your potential employer are not a good match. Think of why it may be the case. Examine your own work style and values and think which work environment is the best fit for you. Rejections can truly be blessings in disguise even if we may not see them that way for a while. On the other hand, if you discover that you lack certain qualities that are important to employers, treat it as an opportunity to improve and grow professionally. This is your early wake-up call. Make a plan for how you can develop those desirable characteristics. No matter what your particular situation is, you can always learn something about yourself and other people that can help you become a better lawyer and a better person.
Whatever you do, don’t burn bridges. You don’t want to do anything on the spur of the moment that can tarnish your reputation. Don’t start any communication when you feel upset. Don’t disparage the firm or the people who work there. The same people can move to a different place of employment, you may have to meet them in court or at the negotiation table later. In addition, as salespeople would tell you a “no” doesn’t really mean that. You may get an eventual “yes,” and it may turn out to be a bigger and better “yes.” The lesson is to foster good relationships, which can bring you more opportunities.
When you attend business meetings, dinners and other social functions, you want to make the best impression possible, don’t you? The knowledge of business etiquette may help you feel confident in social settings and ensure that people are comfortable in your presence. Do you introduce the more important person first? What do you do with your napkin if you are called to a telephone during a business meeting in a restaurant? If you share a cab with a business client, where should you sit?
At the website of Louise Fox Protocol Solutions, you can take the "EtiQuiz" to test your knowledge of etiquette, learn about “Top Ten Etiquette Blunders,” and get some tips on how to look and act your best.
Finally, if you do business internationally, check out the resources at Executive Planet. This website offers guides to international business culture and etiquette in over 35 countries.
What images does your mind conjure up when you hear different languages? Even if we don’t speak the language, we often have an opinion about it. We may like how it sounds, we may even have our favorite words in that language. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about her love for Italian in her book Eat, Pray Love: “Every word was a singing sparrow, a magic trick, a truffle for me.”
We may not share the same excitement about professional languages – a jargon rarely invokes fuzzy feelings – although the wine lingo, for example, is not bad at all: “reserve,” “vintage,” “bouquet,” “tannins,” “earthy,” “oaky,” “jammy.”
What comes to mind when you hear “legal English”? Boring? Stuffy? Confusing? Fine print? I think legal English has an image problem. If you were hired as an image consultant for legal English, what changes would you propose? Maybe, the new legal English style should be precise, crisp, logical, structured, fluid, self-explanatory, direct, balanced, respectful, truthful. What do you think?
I plan to do a research project on persuasion and publish my observations here as I go along. It comes from my general interest in the topic of change. I’d like to learn to be more persuasive. I also want to be more aware of what persuades me and why. It’s a broad topic, I understand, so I’ll tackle it in bits and pieces. Right now, I am developing a roadmap for my project. Here are the categories I have so far:
If you have any thoughts on the topic or suggestions of books, resources or other aspects of persuasion I should look into, I’d love to hear them.
For now, I’ll leave you with a few quotations:
"When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and true maxim that 'a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.' So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great highroad to his reason, and which, once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing him of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause is really a good one."
- Abraham Lincoln
"Persuasion is often more effectual than force."
"In order to learn one must change one’s mind."
- Orson Scott Card
"He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that."
- John Stuart Mill
"Let him who would move the world, first move himself."
You can find stories everywhere if you care to look. Why should you care to look for stories? Stories are a great sense-making tool. Stories are like a good meal. They have just the right ingredients to whip up a meaning. What did you have for dinner yesterday? Whatever it was, you probably wouldn’t want to eat the ingredients that went into your meal separately. How about a spoon of sugar, a 1/2 cup of water, followed by some flour on a slice of a tomato? I don’t think so. But when you mix them up in the right order and add some labor and love, the result is something fabulous and perfectly edible (let’s hope) that gives you both nourishment and pleasure.
Similarly, you don’t want to consume unrelated pieces of information. Stories add coherence and substance, and as you know by now, we learn through linking and association, so stories are good for learning. They make you guess what’s to come, and our brains like to solve problems. Good stories, just like good food, speak to various senses: they make us see, hear and smell things in a good, healthy way, and we remember things better when all of our senses are engaged. Finally, stories make us emotional, and when we get joyful, sad or mad about something, it stands out in our memory. So, look for stories around you because they help us make sense of the world.
How do you know what you clients really need or want? ABA Inside Practice offers “Keys to Understanding the Needs of Clients and Prospects” in an excerpt from The Lawyer’s Field Guide to Effective Business Development by William J. Flannery. The author talks about seven categories of needs and the ways to discern them in a conversation with your client: active needs, visionary needs, latent needs, ego needs, organization or company added-value needs, job needs and implied needs.
What do you do if one day your client decides to question your motives? What if a client accuses your firm of running up the billable hours? How do you respond? David Maister addresses such incidents in his article “Integrity Impugned.” (Hat tip to International Lawyer Coach Blog). There is a lot of good advice in the article from how to figure out the reasons behind the client’s actions to what to say in response. For example, if you need to buy more time to analyze what was just said, you can reply: “That’s interesting. Could you say a little more about that?” I like this recommendation because it can be used in a variety of situations.
How do you go about figuring out your clients’ needs? How do you respond if somebody questions your motives?
Stephanie West Allen of Idealawg and Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz have teamed up to launch a new exciting blog – Brain on Purpose. It explores the implications of neuroscience for the field of conflict resolution. It’s a must read for anybody who deals with conflicts as part of their professional life. And who doesn’t? The recent post "There's a great future in [neuroplasticity]. Think about it. Will you think about it?" makes you ponder how much control you have in shaping your own brain. Our brains develop new connections with every choice we make. If you let others make those choices for you, you may end up with a brain shaped by your clients, co-workers, relatives, friends, even strangers in a grocery store. It makes me wonder about the challenges the legal profession faces when it comes to the brain neuroplasticity. How do you stay compassionate and empathetic without letting your clients’ problems get to you? Can you use combative trial tactics without harming your own brain and the brains of others who come in contact with you? Do you feel more responsibility now that you know that your actions may affect somebody else’s brain? When does the adversarial turn into adversity?
Want to know what happens to your brain in law school? Read “Law Students: Create A Well-rounded Life” by Stephanie West Allen and Jeffrey M. Schwartz in The Complete Lawyer.
You’ve probably heard the saying “to begin is half the work.” It is also the hard part of the work. Have you had trouble starting a thing or two? What is a good way to begin something? In Let’s begin (Part I), I gave some tips on how to get yourself ready to cross the start line. Today, I want to talk about the importance of finding common ground as the first step in many initiatives. What we have in common with one another can be used as glue to make all the pieces of our project stick together. How so? Let’s look at some of the contexts where you can use common ground as your beginning point.
Can you think of any other situations when finding common ground is a good way to begin?
Don’t be afraid to express your affection in writing. You may gain health benefits if you do so. New research indicates that writing about affectionate feelings for family and close friends can reduce cholesterol.
In two 5-week trials, healthy college students were randomly assigned either to experimental or control groups. Participants in the experimental groups wrote about their affection for significant friends, relatives, and/or romantic partners for 20 minutes on three separate occasions; on the same schedule, those in the control groups wrote about innocuous topics. Total cholesterol was assessed via capillary blood at the beginning of the trials and again at the end. Participants in the experimental groups experienced statistically significant reductions in total cholesterol. Control participants in the first study experienced a significant increase during the same period, whereas those in the second study did not. Cholesterol changes were largely unmoderated by linguistic features of the writing produced in the intervention. Potential therapeutic implications are discussed.
Floyd, K., Mikkelson, A. C., Hesse, C. & Pauley, P. M. (2007) Affectionate Writing Reduces Total Cholesterol: Two Randomized, Controlled Trials. Human Communication Research, 33(2), 119-142.
See PsyBlog for more discussion.
Do you suffer from a “presentension”? It is a condition that tends to manifest itself when you are about to give a speech in front of a group. When all eyes are on you, you begin feeling the warmth of their welcome literally, as if you were transported into a sauna, still in your business suit. So you sweat a little…or a lot. Then you mind goes blank. We are not sure why it happens, but it may be a result of the telepathic abilities of your audience. The information leaves your head and goes directly into theirs. So there you are, standing in front of a bunch of people, and you have nothing to say. They, on the other hand, already know everything that was part of your presentation. So they watch you suffer and think: “What new can you possibly tell us?” Then just as you are about to open your mouth and ask” How are you today?” the air gets sucked out of your lungs and a big hot potato rolls up your throat, turning your mouth dry. It’s really hard to give your speech if you have a “presentension” attack. But have no fear. You can find out the ways to alleviate the symptoms in Guy Kawasaki’s post “Speaking as a Performing Art” and its follow up “Bite Your Tongue: Eight More Ways To Improve Your Presentations.” The tips are the result of his collaboration with Doug Lawrence, who is a professional singer and speech coach. There are many similarities between speaking and singing, so learning about how singers control their performance can be beneficial to all of us. Who knew that biting you tongue literally (and gently) could help your dry mouth: “Opera singers use this all the time to release saliva which moistens your mouth.”
Most of your interactions, I am sure, are cordial, pleasant and productive. But for those rare occasions when you come face-to-face with a difficult, negative, or annoying person, here’s a blueprint for your actions and reactions.
First of all, how do you spot trouble? Chuck Newton warns of the “Six Personality Types You Should Avoid.” Meet The Loafer, The Weasel, The Bridegroom, The Psycho Killer, The Replicant, and The Future CEO.
What assumptions do you harbor when you develop your relationships with people? Here’s a list of principles that will help you build better relationships from the Lifehack article “Other people are not broken…” by Adrian Savage.
How do you deal with negative people in a positive way? Catherine Pratt offers some tips on “How To Deal With Negative People” at Life With Confidence. Do you know the type who always criticizes everything? I’ve heard of a good neutralizing phrase when you talk to those people. Ask them: “Do you have a better idea?” While you are at Life With Confidence, also check out “How to Kill Fear When Dealing with Aggressive People” by Peter Murphy.
Here’s a secret about annoying people. They are annoying only so long as you let them annoy you. Take that power away from them! The Chief Happiness Officer Alexander Kjerulf tells you “How not to let annoying people annoy you.”
How do you keep your cool?
"When a filing is prescribed to be filed with more than one of the foregoing, the filing shall be deemed filed as of the day the last one actually receives the same."
Department of Justice regulation
Confusing legalese is a barrier to regulatory compliance, according to the experts on the use of plain language and representatives of small business who testified before the House Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs. I can understand that. It is difficult to comply if you don’t know what the regulators want from you. The above excerpt from a regulation is just one of many examples of confusing and ambiguous legal writing highlighted in the hearing.
To find out more about the hearing, read “Hearing Highlights Confusion Caused by "Legalese" in Regulation” from OMB Watch:
“There was also consensus that using plain, easily understood language could reduce the burden of regulations on both federal agencies and regulated communities.”
Here is one possible way to rewrite the confusing sample above:
"We consider a filing to have occurred when all those who must receive the filing receive it." (From Testimony by Annetta L. Cheek, Vice-Chair of the Center for Plain Language).
Many problems can be avoided or resolved easier if you are good at managing people’s expectations. We may want many things in work and life, but because we know that we can’t get them all, we are sensitive about things that we expect to get. That’s our compromise, so to speak. I may give up X, but I better get Y. If you know how to lower or raise people’s expectations, you have an influence over their levels of happiness, satisfaction, appreciation. I don’t suggest that you manipulate people by setting their expectations low on purpose. I believe in honesty and respect when dealing with people. After all, trust is essential in serving professions, such as law, but it is also fragile. On the other hand, you should not promise what you can’t deliver. But you already know that. Let’s look at a few scenarios when managing expectations can save you a lot of trouble.
You get an assignment from a partner. You think you understand what the partner wants even though you are a bit fuzzy on a few points. You think you will figure it out once you research the question more. You don’t want to ask for clarifications now because you don’t want to look incompetent. “What if I am supposed to know that?” your inner critic says in a reproaching kind of voice. You go ahead and do your research. One hundred billable hours later, as you are talking to the partner again, you are told that you answered a wrong question.
The lesson from Scenario 1 is that in order to manage expectations, you need to know what they are. To be clear about your task or the process to be followed to solve the problem, ask questions and repeat the essence of what you heard in your own words to make sure you understood correctly. Fire the inner critic.
You get an assignment from your boss. The task is clear. As you go about your business, a few complications arise. You think you can handle them on your own. You don’t want to bother the boss with minor details. The inner critic says, “The boss will never give me any serious work if I can’t handle this.” Before you know it, two hundred billable hours later, the complications snowball into a major disaster.
The lesson from Scenario 2 is that you must keep the channels of communication open. Good bosses know how to stay on top of things without being a micromanager. But if it’s not your boss, the burden is on you to make a call when something needs to be brought to her attention. What you want to do is to have a plan ready how you would handle the situation. That way, you are not complaining about a problem, you are offering a solution. And fire the inner critic.
You get an assignment with a deadline. You need to coordinate with John Doe, who has an important role in the project. No problem. You think you will be ready in time with your part and so will John Doe. Unfortunately, John Doe has a family emergency. You think you can still finish on time when John Doe shows up in the office on Monday, so you don’t let anybody know that the deadline may be compromised and you don’t reschedule any meetings. “They will kill the messenger,” admonishes the inner critic. John Doe is not in the office on Monday.
The lesson from Scenario 3 is that sometimes you have to deliver the bad news. Nobody likes to miss a deadline, especially an important one. But things happen, and if you keep communicating with your team and your clients, you may be able to renegotiate the deadline, which is better than missing it. So, fire the inner critic.
Do you have your own scenario?
With the approach of the summer, many of you are heading to your first legal internships. Do you remember the first time you looked at the blue ocean glistening in the sun? You are thrilled and mesmerized by its power and magnitude. It’s alluring on a sunny day and frightening when the skies turn dark. The waters are treacherous if you don’t know how to swim, and what you don’t see can hurt you, but swimming in the ocean is exhilarating. Are you ready to swim with the big fish? Here’s is your survival kit.
Kathleen J. Wu offers her insights in the article "Rules Summer Associates Should Live By":
“Even if the firm isn't ladling work on your plate, try to find some way to get something substantive out of your time at the office. Everybody knows that law school teaches you next to nothing about the everyday reality of being a lawyer. We learned the law in school, not lawyering. So spend your summer watching lawyers.”
Finally, here's “Law Blog News You Can Use: An Associate Etiquette Lesson” with the focus on table manners.
While this canine case reported by Stephanie Francis Ward in the article "Canine Case Is Doggone Tough" for the ABA Journal eReport may seem humorous to some, it is a serious matter for the lawyer who serves as a guardian to a 13-year-old golden retriever named Alex. The dog became the subject of a custody battle after the death of his owner. As unusual as this representation may seem, there are some perks: the lawyer and the dog get along quite well and complaints to the state bar are unlikely.
Need a course in dog communication? It turns out that dogs wag their tail to the right if they are happy to see you and to the left when they are frightened, according to Italian researchers. Rossella Lorenzi reports the findings in "Happy dogs wag tail to right":
“Professor Giorgio Vallortigara of the University of Trieste and team describe these ‘striking asymmetries in the control of tail movements’ as another example of how the right and left halves of the brain control different emotions.”
I'll go to see what my dogs want to tell me.
What are the chances that in your practice, you will represent a transnational corporation, take an assignment at a foreign office of the U.S. law firm, advise international clients on the U.S. law, outsource legal work to lawyers in India, help American retirees to settle down in Mexico, or devise an estate plan for foreign nationals with assets in the U.S.? You may think that you have a local practice, but in today’s economy, more and more of your business and individual clients choose to trot the globe. Are you ready to travel with them? If you need help, the following resources can be your guide across cultures:
Pamela Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation gives advice on "How not to be a cultural knucklehead in a global business world."
Lynn Gaertner-Johnston of Business Writing addresses pitfalls of cross-cultural communication in her post “Do You Like My Dressing?”
Janet Moore offers great advice to lawyers across borders at her International Lawyer Coach Blog. If you are considering a study abroad program, read the post “Study Abroad Opportunities for Law Students,” which has a list of helpful websites. The blog also has useful information for foreign lawyers in the U.S.
I always look forward to Anne Fox and Dr. Laurent Borgmann’s podcast ‘absolutely intercultural!’ which deals with intercultural issues in creative and engaging ways.
The current edition of Law Practice is online now. It covers many important topics for young associates. Here are some of the articles:
“The Smartest Marketer Around: What New Associates Should Know About Marketing” by Allison Wolf. If you want to be a partner one day, start developing the business owner mindset from the start. Do you know what it takes to run a successful legal business?
“Perfecting Your Elevator Pitch” by Catherine Alman MacDonagh and Beth Marie Cuzzone. Will your “elevator pitch” pass the "so what?" test? Learn how to make it succinct, memorable and unique.
“Being a Good Boss: Dos and Don'ts for Working with Your First Assistant” by Paul McLaughlin. Should you introduce your assistant to your clients? Can you share your personal problems with your team? How often should you give feedback to your assistant? The article answers these questions and many more.
“The Art of Making Rain: Seven Steps That Give Associates an Edge” by Lawrence M. Kohn and Jill Rose Kohn. You didn’t think you were going into sales when you graduated from law school, did you? The sooner you start building a foundation for rainmaking, the better your chances are to become one of those powerful connectors that everybody wants to know.
“The Culturally Savvy Associate: Top Three Tips for Moving Up in a Global Economy” by Janet H. Moore. These days, even if you don’t want to practice international law, chances are that your practice is going to be affected by it. Can you spot international issues? Are you comfortable working in multinational teams?
“Associate Technology Challenges: A Snapshot of Need-to-Know Applications” by Browning Marean. There's life beyond LexisNexis and Westlaw. What decision analysis tools would you like to use? Are you ready for electronic discovery?
Do you want to know how to avoid fallacious reasoning and evaluate arguments? Check out Stephen’s Guide to the Logical Fallacies created by Stephen Downes. It is an impressive collection of fallacies with the names, definitions, examples and ways to prove that the fallacy is committed.
What are the mechanisms of abstract reasoning? Those of you who are fans of linguistics, cognitive science or neuroscience may enjoy the interview that George Lakoff gave to Edge. The interview starts off with the following observations from his new book “Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought” co-authored with Mark Johnson:
"The mind is inherently embodied. Thought is mostly unconscious. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical."
He goes on to explore the role of the body and brain in human reasoning:
“Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical, based on metaphors that make use of our sensory-motor capacities to perform abstract inferences. Thus, abstract reason, on a large scale, appears to arise from the body.”
Law Career Blog offers job hunting advice for 3Ls and recent grads. I like the suggestion of being proactive, flexible and creative in your job search. Some students buy into others’ vision of how things should be and adopt the victim’s mentality when things don’t turn out that way. How do you make the best with what you have? It takes courage, creativity and consistent work. You begin by valuing what you have to offer because if you don’t value yourself, you can’t show your worth to others. Take the challenge and write your own life story, don’t let others write it for you. The upside is that you can learn so much more about yourself and your true aspirations in the process. I suggest you sit down and make a list titled "Here's why I am so awesome!" Place this list where you can see and read it often. Strive to add new things to it each day as you go about your search for business.
Do you want to know nine essential characteristics for making partner? Inside Practice offers an excerpt from "Making Partner: A Guide for Law Firm Associates" by John R. Sapp. Among those characteristics are “Maturity: You are in control of your life” and “Entrepreneurial attitude: You think like an owner rather than an employee.” Now is the time to start working on those skills. And if you already possess them, maybe you don’t need an employer. Build A Solo Practice, LLC will help your to plan your own business venture.
Here are a few nuts and bolts of networking. Business Writing teaches you How to Ask a Stranger for a Favor and offers Great Tips for Email. If you want advice on phone networking, listen to Escape from Cubicle Nation podcast Networking tip: Use the phone! Finally, is your body language congruent with the words you speak? Read about 18 ways to improve your body language from The Positivity Blog.
Happy hunting and gathering!
Do you want to develop your spatial intelligence and learn to think visually? How about attending Visual thinking school? It’s free, there is no formal enrollment or registration, and you don’t even need to leave your desk to do it. This online curriculum, developed by Dave Gray, includes mini-course modules such as Introduction to visual thinking, Visual communication, Visual vocabulary, Visual thinking tools, Visual thinking spaces, Sketching, Sings, symbols and icons, Information design, Visual mapping:
"This site is different every time you visit: it's continuously updated via live feeds from the web to bring you the best and most delicious images and links available: visuals to inspire, examples to follow, books to read and things to do, designed to stimulate your imagination and visual thinking."
Need a break? Check out 71 Optical Illusions by Michael Bach. They are very intriguing.
Learning how to reason by analogy is one of the most important objectives of legal education. But you certainly don’t have to be a lawyer to use analogy in your thinking. In fact, whenever we encounter a new situation, we start searching for some familiar elements in it to give us an indication what to do. In law school, you have to build awareness of what is going on in your head when you reason by analogy. In other words, you deconstruct the process. Generally, when you reason by analogy, you take the following steps:
To test yourself, do Analogy Exercises by Peter Suber. For some practice in pattern recognition, try Brain Workout for Your Frontal Lobes from SharpBrains.
Annual reports are usually not a fun read, but the annual reports of Berkshire Hathaway may be an exception. Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, writes his annual reports in a direct, witty and engaging style. So it is not surprising that he wrote the Preface to “A Plain English Handbook: How to create clear SEC disclosure documents” for the US Securities and Exchange Commission. His advice is good for any type of writing, not just annual reports:
One unoriginal but useful tip: Write with a specific person in mind. When writing Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report, I pretend that I’m talking to my sisters. I have no trouble picturing them: Though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them. My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed. To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform.
No siblings to write to? Borrow mine: Just begin with “Dear Doris and Bertie.”
For more writing lessons from Warren Buffett, check out Away With Words.
Do you know what book holds the record of being the longest book ever written in the world? It is Yongle Dadian - "The Encyclopedia of Yongle Emperor's Reign in Ming Dynasty.” It took 4 years for 3,000 scholars to finish the compilation of 11,095 volumes and 22,877 chapters in 1408. The encyclopedia has an estimated 370 million Chinese characters.
As to much shorter but surely no less important Bluebook, check out "Introduction to Basic Legal Citation" by Peter W. Martin. It has good information on legal citation, which you may want to read if your goal is to join a law review or write for one.
If you want to streamline your legal research and writing, CiteIt! may be the right choice for you. It is a software that automatically formats legal citations according to The Bluebook or The ALWD Citation Manual, inserts properly-formatted citations into your word-processing document, creates a table of authorities and makes it easy for you to store, search and organize your legal research. You can download a free trial version.
If you must write a research paper for any course or journal that uses MLA, APA or Chicago style, Slate Citation Machine is a free simple-to-use online citation tool to reformat a citation to the style you need.
Finally, here is a good compilation of resources for writing a research paper from St. Ambrose University Library. This is how I found the Thinking Page, which offers information on improving organizational and individual thinking.
What colors do you like? How do different colors make you feel? Colors affect us emotionally, mentally and physically. If we pay attention to how we relate to different colors, we could use them for our benefit. Here are some tidbits about colors and their meanings.
Red is associated with energy, passion, strength, danger, power. It represents “emergency” in the field of medicine, “hot” and “danger” in engineering, and “loss” in finance. Red has a great emotional impact. Use it when you need to energize yourself and prepare for action. Red is often used for “Buy Now” and “Click Here” buttons in web ads to prompt people to make quick decisions.
Orange is associated with enthusiasm, stimulation, creativity, joy, warmth. Orange is an attention-getter. Use it to stimulate your mental activity and appetite.
Yellow is associated with sunlight, happiness, intellect, inspiration, energy. Use yellow to cheer up or stimulate your curiosity. It excites the brain and aids perception and memory, so it is good for learning.
Green is a color of nature. It symbolizes freshness, renewal, growth, safety, tranquility. Green represents “money” and “profit” in finance and “safety” in engineering. Green will help you relax. It promotes the feeling of peace and harmony.
Violet is associated with luxury, mystery, creativity, independence, nobility, spirituality. Use violet if you want to feel inspired and creative.
Blue is associated with stability, calmness, trust, confidence, security, order. It represents “reliability” in the business world. Blue is a soothing color, it promotes mental relaxation. Use it if you seek clarity and better ways to communicate something. It is also known to slow down metabolism and decrease appetite.
White is associated with coolness, purity, lightness, innocence, cleanliness. Use it if you want serenity and simplicity.
Black is associated with power, formality, elegance, sophistication, mystery. Use black when you want to create the impression of strength and authority.
How about taking ColorQuiz, a free five-minute personality test based on color psychology?
Finally, visit this site if you want to know more about color therapy.
Life is full of contrast. We don’t always like it, but the contrast keeps the current of life flowing, forcing us to change, adapt, move forward. There is no “hot” without “cold." The balance of sweet and sour gives flavor to our food. We can’t feel joy unless we know sadness. Sometimes, the only way to discover what makes us happy is to experience what makes us unhappy. How can we harness this power of contrast and bring more momentum and clarity to our everyday routines? Here are a few things to consider:
How else can you use contrast to your benefit?
Here’s one more skill that law students will probably have to master on their own: how to present information in a visual way. It turns out that lawyers differ from the general public in the way they learn and communicate. According to the Attorney Communication Style Study conduced by Animators at Law, attorneys are 10% more likely to be auditory learners, 4% more likely to be kinesthetic learners and 14% less likely to be visual learners than the general public. 61% of the general public learns visually, 53% of practicing attorneys are either auditory or kinesthetic learners. (Thanks to Idealawg for pointing me to this research).
What do these results mean to law students and lawyers? On one hand, if you happen to be a visual learner (that’s still 46.9% of practicing attorneys), you may be at disadvantage in law school, which emphasizes verbal and auditory skills, but you have an advantage when you communicate with your clients or jurors. On the other hand, non-visual learners need to adapt to the preferred visual style of their audience. (Here’s a link to my previous post on how to communicate “on TAP”: topic, audience, purpose.)
How do you communicate visually?
You can use charts, graphs, pictures, slides or draw on a whiteboard. Check out a Periodic Table of Visualization Methods for ideas on how to visualize information. Another good resource to engage you spatial intelligence is the information aesthetics blog.
Pay attention and “mirror” the language patterns of visual learners. They may say phrases, such as “I see…,” “Imagine that…,” “Look at it this way.” If you are an auditory learner, you are likely to use phrases, such as “I hear…,” “That sounds good.” Kinesthetic learners may say: “I feel that…”, “Can you grasp this concept?”
Interestingly, when people interpret metaphors, they make connections across senses in the cross-modal areas of the brain where information from touch, hearing and vision comes together to form abstractions. Jaron Lanier explores the relationship between images and sounds in "Jaron’s World: The Meaning of Metaphor" for Discover.
Finally, if you need an excuse to play video-games or simulations once in a while, now you have it: you are developing you spatial skills to be a more versatile communicator. Here’s a long list of free online flash games.
If you were to compete in the USA National Memory Championship, you would first have to memorize 99 names and faces in 15 minutes and recall them in 20 minutes. Next, you would memorize an unpublished 50-line poem in 15 minutes, followed by a series of random digits, an arbitrary list of words and a shuffled deck of playing cards. How do you think you would do? It turns out that best competitors in the world can memorize a deck of cards in less than a minute. Joshua Foer describes these exciting memory battles in Forget Me Not: How to Win the U.S. Memory Championship.
Some of the methods used by the competitors originated in the ancient Greece. In his historic overview of the "science of memory" in Mappa.Mundi Magazine, Carl Malamud tells the story of the poet Simonides of Ceos, who witnessed the destruction of the banquet hall where he sang his poem just minutes before the collapse. Simonides was able to reconstruct the guest list by visualizing the exact location of every guest at the table. This visualization technique became known as the “memory palace.” First, you choose your “memory palace”, which can be any place or route that you remember well. Next, you place your thoughts or images that you want to remember next to the distinctive points in the rooms of your palace or along your route. Those points serve as memory hooks. When you need to recall the material, you mentally walk through the palace and “collect” the pieces of information that you left at each distinctive point. You can use this technique to memorize a presentation or a legal argument, for example.
What if you have trouble memorizing people’s names? Play The Name Game and learn 8 tips on how to remember people’s names from memory expert Frank Felberbaum. Then test his advice at the next networking event.
What memory techniques do you like to use?
It’s Friday, get ready for the happy hour. What’s on tap? Not what you expected, I am sure. Save your energy for St. Patrick’s green beer tomorrow. Today, we are talking about a different kind of TAP – the one that you must remember to turn on when you are about to write something important. This TAP stands for “Topic,” “Audience,” and “Purpose.” In other words, before you write anything, you need to be clear about the topic of your writing, you need to know who your audience is, and what purposes your writing is going to serve.
Topic. Some writing assignments in law school include a specific topic, so you won’t have a choice in the matter. However, if you need to write a research paper or a student note for a law journal, you will have to choose what to write about. Here are some factors to consider when you choose a topic:
It is better to select a narrow topic than a broad one. If your topic is too broad, you run a risk of not being able to cover it with adequate depth. The research may be too extensive for the time constraints you are given. However, if your topic is narrow, you are more likely to uncover everything there is to know about it. If after your research, you realize that you need to broaden it a bit, it is going to be easy to do. Most likely, your research will reveal some additional areas that you may then decide to include in your topic.
Audience. Who is your reader? It is very important that you know the answer to this question as you start writing. Writing is a way of communication. The writer is responsible for its effectiveness. When you know your readers, you can make assumptions about their knowledge base, education, interests. The structure of your writing, the explanations you provide, the level of formality – all depend on your target audience. Lawyers write for fellow members of the bar, judges, juries, clients, public at large. Can you think how their writing can be different depending on which group they target?
Purpose. Every piece of writing has a purpose. If you keep a journal, you write to express yourself. In law school and law practice, you write to communicate, inform, persuade, create a binding relationship. If you write an essay in response to an exam question, your purpose is to demonstrate your knowledge of the subject. A single writing piece can serve multiple purposes. As you compose and revise your draft, keep in mind what you want to accomplish with your writing.
Learning has the potential to change people. As people change, so do their relationships with others. Sometimes these relationships change for the better and sometimes for the worse. Today’s round-up is about the emotional intelligence and people skills that we all need to master our relationships.
The first people to notice the changes in you are the people closest to you: your spouse, significant other, your kids, your close friends. Even if they want to be supportive, the change can be hard for them to accept. Pamela Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation offers great insights about relationship transitions in the article When you change, all your relationships change. One of her tips is to “communicate clearly and frequently with those around you about the changes that are going on in your life.”
Maybe, you sense that something is amiss in your relationship, but you can’t quite figure out what is going on with the other person. Would you like to learn how to read people? Life Training – Online offers the series on How to Read People. It will show you how to develop the mental mindset of the “effective people reader,” how to master the techniques and how to determine if somebody is lying to you.
You can’t read people unless you listen actively to what they are saying. Inside Practice offers the excerpt on how to “Connect with Your Client through Active Listening” from The Successful Lawyer: Powerful Strategies for Transforming Your Practice by Gerald A. Riskin. You must be able to hear not only the facts, but the emotions as well.
What if you hear anger? Can you deal with it? Here’s a piece of advice from a Buddhist monk at ProBlogger.
What do you do if somebody tries to put up barriers to your progress? Listen to John H. Johnson’s lesson of success: “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even.” Belief in yourself and perseverance are the best answers to those who doubt you.
There comes a time in our career and personal life when we need to apologize to others. It may not be an easy thing to do for a lawyer. We are trained to assign blame, not to accept it. Cheryl Stephens of Building Rapport shares the results of her research on the subject of apology in Apology – the Unknown Universe. Brad Shorr of Word Sell offers tips About Writing Letters of Apology.
Finally, Dr. Tammy Lenski talks about a neat mood-visualization tool – MoodJam. It is a free service provided by the MoodJam Research Group in the Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. It allows you to visualize your moods in color strips. You can then share your moods with those around you to let them know when you are safe to approach and when they should stay away.
Have you ever wondered why a line of a TV commercial can be stuck in your head for years without any effort on your part to memorize it, but an important legal rule may elude you right when you need it most? Can legal concepts be presented like ads in a magazine? Consider how certain notions applicable to advertising can be used to make the content of your outline more memorable.
Do you want your outline to work like an ad?
If you want to ace presentations, you need to get familiar with the work of Edward Tufte, Professor Emeritus at Yale University, where he taught courses in statistical evidence, information design, and interface design. The New York Times called him “The Leonardo da Vinci of data.” He has written numerous books on information design, including his new book Beautiful Evidence. I just received a brochure about his upcoming one-day courses "Presenting Data and Information." It may be a good investment in the development of my spatial intelligence. Edward Tufte’s website also has a moderated forum, Ask E.T., where he answers questions and leads discussions dealing with information design. Check out the Grand truths about human behavior or Advice for effective analytical reasoning for some thought-provoking commentary.
We’ve all heard the saying: “Actions speak louder than words.” I wonder if sometimes, the opposite is true: can the words we speak reveal more about ourselves than we care to admit? Sometimes, the choice of words signals inner beliefs that may be holding you back. Does the way you talk about money reveal a conscience of abundance or limitation? Does your language support the image you want to project or takes away from it? Do you appear confident in front of others, but insult yourself privately with negative self-talk? Becoming fully aware of your own word choices is not easy. I’d like to cut down on the use of the verb “try,” but I am sure, it slips in more often than I notice. Asking a person close to you to listen to how you say things and give you feedback may be a good way to start. What words do you want to eliminate from your vocabulary? What would your Best Self say?
Are you looking for a summer internship or a job? Do you contemplate a career transition? If so, here is a round-up of some tips and tools that can help you in the process.
Each of you has had a variety of experiences in you life that have helped you to develop certain skills that are valuable to your potential employer. But when time comes to prepare your resume or answer questions at a job interview, you may not remember this valuable information. This inventory list will ensure you give yourself credit for all the wonderful things you have accomplished in life. It has two parts: Part I discusses “Sources of Evidence That You May Possess Skills, Experiences, and Attributes of Interest to Employers” and Part II lists “Skills, Experiences, and Attributes You Have That Might Be of Interest to Employers.” It’s a good check list to go through and make sure you are not forgetting anything important. And you may be surprised at how much you already know. Also, if you need to add some action to your resume, check out Bloom’s Taxonomy Verbs.
Do you need help with job interviews? Lifehack discusses a new tool – InterviewTrue - which allows you to practice your interviewing skills virtually. You can customize your interview by choosing from the database of 1000 questions from the leading companies. You record yourself with your own webcam as a virtual interviewer asks you questions. After the interviewing session is over, you receive a transcript of your interview. You can watch the recording to evaluate your body language and analyze your responses in a transcript. The InterviewTrue site has a demo and a free trial option.
Here’s another interesting way to play out your interview scenario. It comes from the area of the Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). As you do the exercise, you visualize the desired behavior and build confidence.
As you network for success, don’t make The Ten Biggest Networking Mistakes, described by Harvey Mackay. Instead, focus on developing the Seven Habits of Successful Rainmakers, shared by Sara Holtz in The Complete Lawyer.
Last week I wrote a tip bit about the importance of looking at a situation from different perspectives. Later, I received this photo via email, which seemed to be a perfect illustration of how a choice of perspective defined the outcome. It was taken by photographer George Steinmetz for National Geographic Magazine (you can download the image as wallpaper from the National Geographic website, look under Week 4).
Do you notice anything special about this photo? Spoiler:
The actual camels are the tiny white lines on the ground. The large black silhouettes are shadows. This is a view from the top.
When you are making a decision, do you like to look at a situation from multiple angles? If you want to test yourself, try solving The Riddle of Three Hats offered as an assignment for the Harvard Law School course CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion (when you see the syllabus page, scroll dow n to the “Assignment”). The ability to consider a problem from multiple perspectives is part of critical thinking. Whatever we are dealing with, we bring our own biases, prior knowledge and experiences to the table. They can cloud our judgment preventing us from seeing the complexities and nuances of a situation. Engaging multiple perspectives helps to illuminate our blind spots. How do you develop this skill?
Start with identifying all the parties whose interests may be potentially affected by the situation. When you read a legal opinion, you are given the names of all the interested parties. The real life cases are not always straightforward. If you don’t recognize a potential interest, you may miss an important issue or problem that can surface down the road.
After you have your list, look at each party one by one and brainstorm what issues and interests each party brings to the situation. You may decide to use a wheel layout similar to the one in this post to record your observations. You can then give your wheel a mental spin to evaluate how each party is related to each set of issues/interests.
Whether you plan to litigate, negotiate or mediate, you can benefit from the multi-perspective approach.
alphaDictionary.com. Warning: don’t go there unless you have a strong willpower or nothing to do. You will get happily lost among pages and pages of information – some serious, some fun. You can practice International Tongue Twisters, check out the Glossary of Useless Latin Phrases or a list of more than 250 words that speakers and writers of English often confuse (false cognates).
The following entry is from The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce (1911):
Once Law was sitting on the bench,
And Mercy knelt a-weeping.
"Clear out!" he cried,"disordered wench!
Nor come before me creeping.
Upon your knees if you appear,
'Tis plain your have no standing here."
Then Justice came. His Honor cried:
"Your status?—devil seize you!"
"Amica curiae," she replied—
"Friend of the court, so please you."
"Begone!" he shouted—"there's the door—
I never saw your face before!"
The Word Detective. This is an online version of a newspaper column that answers readers’ questions about words and language. It is informative and humorous at the same time.
Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tips for Better Writing. It is a free podcast. Five minutes of grammar a day keeps grammar snobs away. (Actually, the podcast is about once a week.)
OneLook dictionary. I like its reverse dictionary feature. If you describe a concept in a few words, a sentence, or a question, you will receive a list of related terms. Using this feature, you can even cheat on crossword puzzles by typing in some letters and wildcards.
Multilingual Legal Glossary from Vancouver Community College. You enter an English term, choose a target language and get the equivalent term in that language with the plain language definition and a list of related words. The languages offered are Chinese (Simplified), Farsi, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Vietnamese.
An English Pronouncing Dictionary with Instant Sound. You enter a word and listen to its proper pronunciation.
The Visual Thesaurus. It is an interactive dictionary and thesaurus. You type in a word and get a visual representation of related words and concepts. Roll over a term on the word map to see its definition and examples of usage. You can also listen to an American or British pronunciation of a word. You can try a few words for free but to use it continuously, you need to buy the program or subscribe to the service.
Pseudodictionary. A dictionary of words that can’t make it to other dictionaries yet: concocted words, slang, web-speak, colloquialisms. Try typing in the word “law” and see what comes up.
The Ridiculous Business Jargon Dictionary. This one is a dictionary of business jargon that you don’t want to use.
A list of law-related dictionaries at alphaDictionary.com. It offers brief descriptions and links to various online dictionaries, such as Plain English Dictionary or Legal Terms or Harvard Law School One-L Dictionary.
Generators of silliness:
Official Seal Generator. This site will help you generate an official seal, like the one you see in this post.
The Advertising Slogan Generator. “The Law is Mightier than the Sword.” That’s what I got when I typed in “law.”
Post-It Note Generator. As the name suggests, it generates post-it notes when you enter the text.
Buzzomatic Memo Writer from alphaDictionary. If you don't like to write, let your computer do it for you. You will create some buzz.
Image Chef. You choose a template, enter your message and get a customized image.
OK… enough of fun. It’s time to go about my serious business.