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The amazing array of communication technologies at our fingertips allows us to connect with clients, colleagues and resources across the world in ways unknown and unheard of just 10 years ago. On the flip side, many things get lost in communication when it’s not face to face, which presents some new challenges.
Attorneys often play by their own set of rules when it comes to virtual communication. Unfortunately, poor communication habits can become magnified in the high-pressure legal environment — which not only reinforces bad cliches about the profession, but can also disrupt your ability to work efficiently and effectively.
Mastering the art of virtual communication can help you build a more positive image among clients and colleagues. Being a better communicator can also help you rein in your schedule and become a more productive lawyer.
You can do a lot to change misperceptions with small, simple steps — and you’ll find that you get quicker, faster results with a lot less emotional stress. A few simple adjustments can make a significant impact on your working relationships, as well as your practice’s productivity.
1. Always start with a “hi” and end with a “bye.” Many attorneys have a tendency to be abrupt in their communications. Perhaps they’re overloaded with work, or need to get to the next meeting, or truly believe they’re delivering a message in the most succinct, effective manner. Succinctness, however, can be perceived as rudeness. Because virtual communication makes it difficult to establish tone compared to face-to-face communication, it’s important to begin an email with a greeting and end it with an appropriate sign-off. This simple attention couches your messages in a warmer, more palatable context. So, rather than stop to examine your tone or read more into your communication, the reader can get straight to your request. This simple tactic for managing the emotional impact of your correspondence can have a dramatic effect on your staff’s productivity.
2. Take a few moments to think through your message’s composition. Deadline pressure can lead you to prioritize your own time over others’ — and that creates an ideal breeding environment for resentment, confusion and inefficiency. Take enough time to ensure you are not being overly direct, which can rub people the wrong way, or too brief, which can leave others confused because you haven’t shared enough detail. When addressing junior associates, for example, a too-brief message can leave them spinning their wheels or trying to get answers elsewhere because you weren’t clear — a problem that snowballs if they’re too afraid to ask you for more details. The time you invest up front composing a clear voicemail, email or text message can save everyone time in the end.
3. Compartmentalize how and when you access your technology. Attorneys often feel as if they’re on call around the clock, but that’s rarely the case. Many are too attached to their phones and devices, and find themselves responding at inappropriate times. For instance, jumping out of a meeting to tend to phone calls or texts is a time-waster — whether you literally leave the room or check out mentally. Instead of constantly monitoring your inbox, try turning off alerts and checking email once per hour. You’ll be more present for other activities and more productive throughout the day. Setting reasonable parameters for when and where to communicate can allow you to respond more appropriately and take the time to do it well.
Kimberly Gerber is the founder and CEO of Exelerate, a communication training and coaching firm whose clients include Fortune 500 companies such as Starbucks and Fleetwood Enterprises. She has helped countless C-level executives, entrepreneurs, millennials and high-potential employees reach their goals.
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