Have you ever noticed how hard it can be to get people to listen?
Have you ever had a challenge getting your point across, even when it was about something of critical import?
In conversations with lawyers in private practice and in-house counsel I frequently hear about the difficulties they run into advising clients and colleagues on alternative courses of action, or risk prevention measures to take.
It is so easy for important advice to be discounted because the lawyer is seen as not getting the big vision, or being too risk averse, or creating unnecessary roadblocks.
Next time you need to provide a client or colleague with an insight they may not immediately welcome try using this three-step approach to getting your point across, I call it the “3As”.
Step One: Active Listening
It was Steven Covey who decades ago famously wrote: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Your first step is to listen for what’s important to your client or the colleague you are working with. What are their goals? What are their concerns? What action do they wish to take and why?
The key to active listening is to be curious and to use questions to draw out all the relevant information.
Step Two: Align:
In step two, align, you communicate your understanding of their perspective and show your support. In this crucial second step you indicate that you align with their goals and demonstrate your understanding of their ideas.
It can be tempting to immediately speak to the risks and problems but this is the mistake that most often results in failed communication. Most often, people need to know they were heard, and that you are aligned with them before they are open to hearing about problems and risks or other options for consideration.
Step Three: Alternative:
In step three you present your alternative viewpoint.
When it is time to raise an objection or highlight a risk, use the word and to introduce your viewpoint. Using the word “and” strategically builds on what was already expressed and adds to it.
Avoid using the word but which acts as an eraser of everything that was said before and thereby positions what you have to offer as a replacement for, or as better than what said by others. This can trigger your listener into rejecting what you have to say before they think it through.
Another strategy you can try in this last step of presenting alternatives is to offer recommendations. Recommendations are assertive but not overbearing. Note the subtle difference between these two phrases:
“Given these risks my advice is for you to seek a written agreement before proceeding. “
“Given these risks my recommendation is that you seek a written agreement before proceeding.”
Putting this 3A approach into action:
Think back to the last time you were frustrated by not being able to get the client to hear your advice, what happened? How could the 3A approach have aided you in getting your point across?
Use this three-step strategy of active listening, alignment, and presenting alternatives next time you have an important point to get across. Notice what is effective in getting you heard.
Adapt this strategy to your own communication style and learn how to make it work for you.