As of Sunday, my wife Lita are back from our Safari adventure. The route there was Seattle to Dubai. Dubai to Cape Town. Cape Town to Johannesburg. Johannesburg to Maun, Botswana and Botswana to the Safari Camp Mombo. That involves 30 hours of flying time and if this post is not perfectly clear it’s because I still have jet leg.
At the risk of being too repetitive let me take a moment on communications. I spent yesterday on the motion calendar involving a case I’m trying in Seattle July 1st. There are teams of defense lawyers who have filed over one hundred pre trial motions. As I listened to lawyers argue I was struck by what a hard job it is to be a judge or a juror while lawyers drone on. Instead of a focused, to the point presentation, it is too often a presentation which seems to be based on the idea that the more words you use and the longer you talk the better your chances.
Yet, all of the communication research indicates the opposite fact. Why is it when we lawyers know effective communication means keeping it short and simple we do the very opposite? We know the key to effective communication involves using simple, and easy to understand language. We know that when we use words beyond the level of an 8th grade student, when we talk too long, when use include a lot of unnecessary details we don’t help people understand us better. What we do is frustrate them and they resent us for doing it.
Why do we use abbreviations and acronyms with technical or legal jargon and expect everyone to know what we are talking about? Is it because we want to appear smarter than everyone else? Well, it has the opposite effect.
We should work hard at learning to keep our messages short, to the point and in everyday language. We should unlearn what we learned in law school and convey information simply with words that are easy to understand and in an organized fashion. We need to talk a lot slower and a lot shorter than we normally talk as lawyers. I know you agree with me, but do a self check the next time you present something to a judge or jury. Listen to what you really say.
When Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg address it contained only 271 words and 202 of those were just one syllable. It took only two minutes to deliver. When he sat down, the paper reported someone next to him asked: “Is that all?” Lincoln said it was. One reporter called the talk “an insult to the memory of the dead.” Another said: “We pass over the silly remarks of the President.” A third wrote his talk was “flat and dishwatery.” Today his Gettysburg address is ranked among the great literary treasures of history.
Simon and Garfunkel, in their song “Sounds of Silence” wrote these lyrics: “people talking without speaking. People hearing without listening.” That’s our problem. We too often talk with speaking and we more often hear without really listening. Let’s try to learn to focus our communications to short and simple while learning to actively listen to others.