The words we choose

I’ve been thinking a lot of how we talk to one another – the words we choose, or don’t choose as the case may be.  The way that we talk every day – to our co-workers, employees, spouse, children, friends, or stranger in the grocery store – is also likely the way that we talk to jurors.  I’ve had trials that resulted in acquittals where I am certain that the prosecutor’s excessive use of sarcasm and mockery in their closing argument influenced the jurors’ decision.  It’s just ugly.  Then I think about my conversations with that prosecutor outside of the courtroom, and I believe it is just how that person communicates.  It’s a pattern, or a habit, that they have developed and they probably don’t think twice about it.

Maybe it affects the listener in different ways – maybe, there are some of you out there who thrive on negativity, sarcasm, and biting wit; after all, there is no shortage of talk show hosts who have made their fame and fortune cutting others down and playing ‘gotcha.’  I can’t imagine when or where it would be an effective strategy for winning the hearts and minds of jurors.  In law school I was told I needed to grow a thicker skin.  I understood – people will be assholes and that’s just how it is.  I get it, but I still don’t want to harden myself to the world, and I don’t want to believe I have to.  I also never want jurors to see me as an emotionless automaton who’s best attempt at persuasion is to belittle another person.

I’m working on my communication styles in my everyday life.  Sarcasm is the biggest one that I’ve identified, and I am trying to choose my words when I speak rather than fall into the same patterns I’ve grown used to, that I hear around me.

Speak plainly.  Speak the truth or don’t speak at all.  Be real and be genuine.  Keep things simple, whenever possible.  If what I’m about to say has no purpose other than to belittle or hurt someone, stop.  Say something constructive, or say something supportive.  Surprise the listener.

Trial lawyers have to be wordsmiths, and the trial of any case is an exercise in persuasion through effective communication.  When the words that we choose invoke an emotional response, usually a negative emotional response is not going to be the most persuasive.

I’m going to indulge and allow myself to ramble for a moment.  Over the years, I’ve had an ongoing struggle with myself as to how I write on this blog – there are times when I think I have just vomited my jumbled thoughts onto the page without any filter, then I say f*** it and hit publish anyway.  There have been times when entire blog posts were based in sarcasm and negativity.  Then there were moments when I thought to myself, I need to keep my writing professional – two of the reasons I blog are to motivate myself to keep up with caselaw and to write about trial practice, and I should stick solely to those topics.

Other times, writing can be cathartic, I may be looking for feedback from readers, or I might just be working out my own thoughts on the page and then, why not hit the button and publish it.  Why not?

5 Responses to “The words we choose

  • I particularly enjoyed the topic and thoughtfulness of this blog. I would go further and say that we’re not only the words we say, we’re also the words we don’t say. I’m working hard to be more affirmative – give more positive feed back – with family, friends, clients and even opposing counsel – in my communications with them. Most people have real and wonderful qualities that are often not recognized or at least not acknowledged. I try to thank more and be more verbal about my appreciation of those around me.

    Thanks again for great blog.

    • That’s a great point, Mark. For example, we should never miss an opportunity to tell our family that we love them. Today could be our last opportunity. Also, I am terrible about not giving praise where it is due. I’ll think it, and just assume that someone knows I appreciate them, when I should be telling them.

  • Well said Bobby. I feel the same as you. I wastaught in law school that people want to see their lawyer be unemotional and cold. That’s not me. At several workshops you and I have attended as well as TLC I learned it was all right to be who you are. So I went back to just being me and being curious about people and their lives –their story.
    What I have found, whether in front of a jury or in just everyday conversation, is a sincere, “Tell me about that” will usually result in that person telling you their life story and those stories really enriche your life. The other phrase that really seems to help is “Yes, and”

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