You’re always communicating with someone: colleagues, staff, clients, opposing counsel — and that’s just at work.
These conversations are both similar and different. There’s always another person, and you’re always talking about something. But the person, the subject, the circumstances are highly variable.
The question is, how do you get measurably better at something that happens all the time but never quite the same way?
The answer is to be deliberate about your interactions with other people. Pay conscious attention to what seems to work well, or not, over time, and try to do more of the former and less of the latter.
If that sounds daunting or unwieldy, that’s probably because you’re thinking on too grand a scale. “All conversations with clients,” for example, is amorphous and huge as something to measurably improve.
It’s also likely that you don’t have a clear idea of what constitutes a “good conversation” with someone. What does that look like? What do you want it to look like?
Moneyball at Work
Have you seen the film “Moneyball”? Or read the book? It turns out that winning at baseball is a lot like winning at conversations.
The premise is simple: Use data to identify the key contributors to the desired outcome; develop the relevant capacities; and incentivize and support the practice of those capacities.
In baseball, it turns out the single-biggest predictor of games won is on-base percentage. The more a team gets on base, the more runs they score and the more games they win. (At the time, this ran counter to baseball’s historic focus on things like home runs, hits versus walks, even a player’s personality as a predictor of confidence.)
Notice that “games won” is amorphous and huge as something to measurably improve. There are so many factors that go into any baseball game — too many to list or count — and yet, focusing on a few simple, significant factors can lead to significant, measurable improvements. (You’ll have to watch the film or read the book to see just how much improvement.)
Moneyball Your Networking
It’s easy to apply this premise to the interactions in your law practice. A natural place to start is with your networking. Think about it this way:
- What’s your desired outcome?
- It’s probably not to close a new client at a cocktail party; more likely it’s to start a conversation with appropriate targets with whom you can follow-up in more detail later on. (See “How to Introduce Yourself” by Mike O’Horo.)
- How do you make that outcome more likely?
- Probably not by running through your CV or summarizing your recent cases; more likely it’s by finding common interests that can form the basis of a deeper conversation.
- How do you incentivize that outcome?
- Probably not by focusing on annual revenues or even your client list. Instead, give yourself a metric like “one coffee meeting per networking event,” and count the effort a success if you make that connection. (If you do that once a week for a year, that’s 50 new opportunities!)
Pay particular attention to what works in step two. What kind of questions lead to the discovery of common interests? (The short answer is open-ended questions.)
At your next networking event, introduce yourself to five people using a different opener each time. At the end of the event, think about what worked and start there at the next event.
Try it for six months and see what happens.