Heather Hansen

Win an Argument, Lose…Everything?

I’m an unusual trial attorney. Most trial attorneys tell me they like to argue. Even if they don’t like it, they say it’s a necessary evil if they want to win. I disagree. The way I win my cases is the same way you can win sales, attention, loyalty and engagement. Don’t argue. Advocate. That’s how you make them believe.

Since I’m not usually the one engaged in an argument at trial, I can watch the jury when other attorneys are arguing. In my experience, they do one of two things. First, they laugh. My trials are catastrophic medical malpractice cases, and sometimes a moment of levity is welcome. Jurors often enjoy attorneys’ arguments because they are silly and entertaining. When two grown men are tattling on one another and asking the Judge to “make him stop”, it can be funny. I’ve seen many a juror hide a snicker behind her hand as two lawyers fight to the death over who gets to write on an exhibit.

Jurors also respond to attorneys’ arguments by getting frustrated and even angry. Jurors are taking time from their jobs, their lives, and their phones to pay attention to us and our cases. And when we waste that time with silly arguments that don’t move the case forward, jurors get mad.

I once heard someone say “win an argument, lose a sale”. While it was meant to apply to sales, attorneys are selling their case to the jury. And if they’re so busy winning an argument that they don’t realize they’ve alienated the jury, that sale and that case is lost.

My clients tend to see opposing counsel as an enemy. I work hard to show them that is wrong, and to help them identify and overcome the true enemy. Our enemy is misunderstanding. If the jury doesn’t understand the medicine, our explanation or our description of why my client did what she did, we lose. We overcome the enemy of misunderstanding by asking questions, building credibility, and persuading with evidence. Make them believe you. We overcome with advocacy.

And so do you. Whether you’re in sales, leadership, customer experience or real estate, the enemy isn’t your competition or the difficult employee. The enemy is misunderstanding. Don’t make them laugh at you and don’t make them mad at you. Make them believe you. That’s how you win.

Heather Hansen

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