Archive for The Power of Clear Communication

I like to tell my clients that there are 4 ways to communicate:


Wikipedia defines passive as:

the opposite of active.

We have all met passive people. Initially, they seem quite pleasant, as they agree with practically everything that you say. They seem to just go with the flow. However, they also seem to avoid taking responsibility at all cost. They never seem to initiate any action. You never seem to know how they stand on any issue. Nobody wants to hire a passive lawyer. People want some one to represent them who will actively take charge of the situation and lead them to a solution to their legal problems, allowing the client to (sometimes passively) follow the lawyer’s lead. At first, a lawyer might want to seek out passive clients so they don’t interfere with how the lawyer handles their cases. However, a major problem with passive behavior is that it typically leads to passive-aggressive behavior.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about passive-aggressive behavior:

Passive-aggressive behavior refers to passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to following authoritative instructions in interpersonal or occupational situations. It can manifest itself as resentment, stubbornness, procrastination, sullenness, or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is assumed, often explicitly, to be responsible. It is a defensive mechanism and, more often than not, only partly conscious. . .

The term “passive-aggressive” was first used by the U.S. military during World War II, when military psychiatrists noted the behavior of soldiers who displayed passive resistance and reluctant compliance to orders.

Passive-aggressive behavior can drive you crazy, whether you are dealing with clients, or opposing counsel. On the outside a passive-aggressive person appears passive and compliant, but on the inside they seethe with anger and resentment and look for ways, either consciously or unconsciously, to cause harm or pain to those around them, including you. When asked if anything is wrong, the answer is always “no.” You have to engage in a guessing game to determine what their perceived problem is and how they want you to address it. Because they are passive, they never perceive the problem as something that they are responsible for or that they can or should fix. It is always some one else’s responsibility, some one else’s fault. Passive-aggressive people don’t see it as their responsibility to tell you what the problem is or how to fix it, but they will put a lot of energy into blaming you for not seeing the problem and fixing it for them. You can put a huge amount of effort into this guessing game, as the passive-aggressive individual continues to sabotage your efforts to achieve your goals (or even what you believe to be their goals). The result is confusion, wasted energy and frustration.

Wikipedia has this to say about aggression:

In psychology and other social and behavioral sciences, aggression refers to behavior that is intended to cause harm or pain. Aggression can be either physical or verbal, and behavior is classified as aggression even if it does not actually succeed in causing harm or pain. Behavior that accidentally causes harm or pain is not aggression. Property damage and other destructive behavior may also fall under the definition of aggression. Aggression is not the same thing as assertiveness.

Lots of clients come into a law office looking for “aggressive representation” and lots of lawyers are more than happy to give them what they ask for without discussing with them the true cost of that kind of behavior. Typically, lawyers do not engage in behavior intended to cause physical harm or pain, but many lawyers seem to specialize in inflicting verbal harm and pain. The verbally abusive lawyer is a stereotype in our society. The typical result of this behavior is for the lawyers on the other side to engage in similar tactics, looking for opportunities to inflict harm and pain on the opposing lawyers who initiated this behavior and to inflict harm and pain their clients. The process continues back and forth like a game of tennis.

The problem with this approach is that the parties typically came to their lawyers in the beginning to resolve a legal dispute and this underlying legal dispute is often set aside as the lawyers and their clients focus on new and different ways to cause each other more harm or more pain. The lawyers think that they are happy because they are being paid to do what they do. In reality, the lawyers’ lives are filled with stress and anxiety and a lack of true satisfaction. Over time, the clients increasingly begin to notice the stress and the financial pain that they are experiencing as they pay their lawyers to engage in this expensive tit-for-tat process. The short-term satisfaction that they might have received in seeing harm and pain inflicted on their adversary begins to pale next to the pain that they experience themselves going through the process and paying for the privilege. The vast majority of clients soon tire of the aggression and wish that they could find another way to end their dispute.

On the other hand, this is what Wikipedia has to say about assertiveness:

Assertive style of behavior is to express your own feelings in an honest and respectful way that does not insult people and to stand up for your rights while you know what you say is not the only valid truth. Being assertive is to one’s benefit most of the time but it does not mean that one always gets what he/she wants. The result of being assertive is that 1) you feel good about yourself 2) other people know how to deal with you and there is nothing vague about dealing with you.

My experience in the practice of law has been that being assertive, rather than passive, passive-aggressive, or aggressive, produces a far superior end result for my clients at a far lower cost to them, both emotionally and financially. It also results in a much more pleasant process for me. To me being assertive means to be clear about my expectations from others and about what I am willing to do and what I am not willing to do for others. It also means that I am clear about the boundaries of behavior I am prepared to tolerate from others, while continuing the relationship I have with them. It works with clients, and it works with opposing counsel.

I like to tell my clients that there are 6 billion people on this planet, and I don’t have time to deal with all of them. I like to spend time with people who really like me and appreciate me for who I am and what I do. It also helps if they are excited about life and they stimulate me and challenge me with new ideas on how to make this planet a better place to live. I choose to deal with people who are pleasant, responsible, responsive, and honest. If someone doesn’t fit that description, then I quickly and quietly ease them out of my life. They become part of the 6 billion people I don’t have time to deal with. That, in my opinion, is being assertive, and it works for me. What works for you?

Posted on October 11th, 2007 at 6:07 pm. Filed in Personal, Resources