Brene Brown is a PhD research professor at the University of Houston in the graduate College of social work. Her area of research involves relationships between people. She studies vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame. She has published about these subjects: http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&page=1&rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_27%3ABrene%20 She also has a blog(http://brenebrown.com/) and has TED talks as well. She confirms what I believe about the essential need of plaintiff attorneys to be totally authentic and to be truth tellers about themselves and their cases if they want to be great trial lawyers.
In trial we are trying to create a bond with the jurors. We want to show them that we are members of “their tribe” by identifying a common belief or value. We know that we like people who are like ourselves. We tend to trust those we identify with. This common identity involves creating a relationship with the jurors.
The similarity of Dr. Brown’s work and our profession is that she studies relationships. Her research about relationships shows that it starts with us and how we see ourselves. What interferes with the ability to make a connection with others is a belief we are not worthy personally or professionally. She makes the point that in order to have connections or relationships with other people we have to let ourselves be seen – “really seen. That involves being willing to be vulnerable to rejection or pain.
Why don’t people feel worthy? She says it most often is due to a feeling of shame that makes us believe we aren’t worthy. We are unwilling to accept us as we are because we think we should be perfect. We need to accept the fact we are not perfect.
In her study of people while doing the research she found that people with a strong sense of connection had one thing in common which was a sense of courage. The courage to be themselves with all their imperfections. She suggests that we have to have the compassion to be kind to ourselves first, before we can be kind and connect with others. Her research showed that we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. That involves acceptance of who we are.
She also found that people who could make connections with others had authenticity. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were. That involves being honest about ourselves and that means vulnerability. One thing people in good relationships had in common was that they fully embrace vulnerability. They didn’t see vulnerability as being comfortable. They recognized it was uncomfortable. But, they talked about it as being necessary. They were willing to be vulnerable. The willingness to say I love you first. The willingness to do something where there are no guarantees that you will get a good response in return. The willingness to invest in a relationship that may not work out. They all believed that this kind of vulnerability was fundamental to being a whole person and to have connections with others.
She argues that people avoid this kind of vulnerability by trying to numb emotion, but it can’t be done. She says that the attempts to protect against vulnerability include trying to make everything that is uncertain, certain. She argues that religion for many has gone from a belief in faith and mystery, to certainty. This involves an attitude of: “I’m right and you’re wrong so shut up.” A similar reflection of this is the absence of political dialogue. In politics today, there is no gray area, no middle ground and no area for compromise. It is all either right or wrong period.
Vulnerability means exposing oneself to the possibility of being wrong or rejected, but it is a requirement for connections with others. Dr. Brown says that when we have the courage to be vulnerable, we believe we are enough just the way we are. Because we start from a place that says “I’m enough” we stop pretending, we stop using devices to numb the truth and we become kinder and gentler to the people around us because we are kinder and gentler to ourselves.
So, what has any of this got to do with plaintiff’s trial work? Everything. The need for authenticity, vulnerability and honesty is essential to greatness as a plaintiff’s trial lawyer. For example, one of the fundamental teachings at the Spence Trial College is the need to drop all of the artificial walls we create around ourselves to protect against anyone finding out who we really are. They teach the need to be truthful about ourselves and our case with all of the imperfections of both.
Being real is the first step in winning a case. Why? Because we all have a strong sense of knowing when people are being totally themselves and truthful. We also have an internal antenna that alerts us to people who are guarded and giving slanted information. When that happens we don’t trust the other person and distrust what they say. When we perceive that the other person is not trying to hide behind a mask and is willing to show us who she or he are, with their imperfections, we are likely to trust them. When we trust someone we accept what they say as being credible.
In a trial with six to twelve people studying us and what we say, it is virtually impossible not to be discovered as either authentic and truthful or not. First impressions are lasting impressions. From the moment the trial begins we need to show our real selves and be truthful. A trial lawyer who projects to the jury an unguarded and totally authentic person coupled with honesty and truthfulness about their case is someone we trust.
But, here’s the rub – to do that requires being willing to be vulnerable and being willing to be vulnerable requires courage. A trial lawyer who does that makes him or her as well as their case vulnerable. Being vulnerable means you and your case might be rejected. But, there is no other choice if you want to be the best you can be in representing your client. It takes courage to be vulnerable in front of a group of jurors you want to impress. You want everyone to think you’re perfect and a great lawyer so to let your guard down and really be yourself as well as sharing the imperfections of your case with the jury requires courage.
Brene Brown says: ” Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness contrary to conventional wisdom.”
Many profound truths are simple to state. It takes courage to be vulnerable in front of a room full of strangers when you want to impress them in order to persuade them. Yet the truth is that unless we are willing to be vulnerable we are not going to be great. So, in the end, it comes down to the reality that if we really want to be great plaintiffs lawyers doing the best possible job for our clients we need to be willing to be vulnerable through truth and authenticity.