When the going gets tough …
“Be nice, until its time to not be nice.” These words, as you may recall, are from the movie Road House, as spoken by Patrick Swayze in his role as Dalton, the quintessential barroom bouncer. As a lawyer, who was also at one time a bouncer, I wholeheartedly concur with this advice.
I’ve noticed a number of lawyers try to posture themselves as an intimidating figure whenever they expect a fight. This is generally a mistake and, all too frequently, it makes them look ludicrous. Real fighters don’t try to look like Schwarzenegger in the Terminator. Take Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris for example. Both of these men are well-respected fighters and, not coincidentally, very nice guys.
Jackie Chan doesn’t seem like much of a threat to anyone with his boyish charm, until it is too late for the aggressor. Chuck Norris just can’t hide the fact that he is friendly and helpful. Chuck is the kind of guy who will drop you on your butt with a roundhouse kick, then help you up and spend the next 20 minutes teaching you how to block that kick so it doesn’t happen to you again.
Be nice. Do what is best for your client. Your client is the one who takes the punches you fail to block.
Always point out a graceful exit to your opponents; give them an opportunity to not fight and still keep their dignity. Never, under any circumstances, beat someone into total submission or back the person into a corner with no way out. You will make an enemy for life, and the world is far too small to have enemies lurking. Instead, show your adversary what is best for your client may really be the best outcome for his or her client, too. Praise the other lawyer’s wisdom for realizing this isn’t a fight his or her client can win unscathed. Provide opponents with the words they need to convince their clients that it is better to not fight.
Sometimes a fight is inevitable, but those occasions are much rarer than you might suspect. If you follow three simple rules, you will find that you can often win without fighting and be better prepared for a fight that is inescapable.
1. Never threaten. It forces you to commit to a position that may be awkward to withdraw from later. Also, if you are going to do it, why give the other side a warning?
2. Know your opponent. Walk a mile in the other person’s shoes and see things from that perspective. That is the image you will need to alter.
3. Don’t confuse personalities and issues. Cope with personalities and resolve issues; not the reverse. Communication is your special gift, don’t waste it.