In a recent conference call, opposing counsel’s rather unimpressive “negotiating voice” served up a vivid reminder that delivery is almost as critical as the message.
Yep, I’m talking about those tell-tale signs in someone’s voice that telegraphs weaknesses in one’s positions and otherwise emboldens the sharks who smell blood. With so many of our negotiations being conducted over the phone, it reminded me that I must be really careful of how I sound to the other side (in fact, after this particular conference call, I authorized my colleague to shoot me if I ever stuttered like our poor opposing counsel).
In my typical stream-of-consciousness rambling, I thought I’d throw out some “deadly sins” that can turn an otherwise competent deal lawyer into a deal-killer (all of which I’m sure I’m guilty of — many times over):
1. (Intentional) Stuttering and other Mental Stall Tactics. No, I’m not making fun of people who have a real speech impediment. I’m talking about otherwise eloquent lawyers who subconsciously stutter in negotiating sessions. Ever caught yourself saying “I-I-I…” just to buy some time to formulate your thoughts? Sure, you may be nervous or not entirely sure of your position, but why would you want to possibly send a message that’s interpreted by the other side that you’re either (i) unprepared; (ii) – or worse- don’t know what you’re talking about; or (iii) – even worse – have no conviction in your or your client’s position? Even worse are the negotiators who stutter intentionally as a matter of style. I recall a colleague at my old firm who learned his trade from a partner who stuttered because he naturally stuttered. The junior lawyer- who otherwise was very well spoken – switched into his stutter-style whenever he started negotiating with opposing counsel. Little did junior lawyer know that he was probably encouraging the other side to be more aggressive. Have you ever thought: “OK, it doesn’t sound like he’ll stick to that position, let’s just hammer a little more?” Lesson: hesitancy in your voice kills.
Errr, I-I-I will continue – ummm – rambling – ummmm– on this topic –ummmm– next blog. Better yet, if you have any anecdotes to share on this, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.