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You may be thinking that you are already an excellent communicator. Your profession requires you to pay attention to the nuances of every word so that you convey your ideas with precision. In my work with attorneys, I have found that most of you are, in fact, stellar communicators when it comes to the practice of law. However, when I’m asked to coach lawyers on business development, one of the main issues I deal with is interpersonal communications. This is a common issue for associates as much as for partners, and affects in-house counsel, as well.

Communication is More than Words

Given your profession, you probably focus on what you say, rather than how you say it.

You may be surprised to know that in verbal communications, when someone perceives a mismatch between your words and your body posture, the words you use only account for about 10% of the meaning of your communication (and possibly as low as 7%). This leaves at least 90% of the meaning to other factors. The largest part (60%) is based on body posture, while the remaining 30% is based on the tonality, inflection and speed of your speech.

For those of you who make presentations to current clients, potential clients or associations, it will be even more distressing to realize that your audience will only remember about 25% of what you say. If you are like most presenters, the majority of your preparation time consists of carefully editing every PowerPoint slide so that the language expresses exactly what you want to communicate. I suggest that your preparation time should also include practicing your tone of voice and your intonation, particularly on slides that have complex or controversial information. Notice your body posture and whether you habitually display open or closed stances. All of these factors influence how your clients and colleagues perceive you.

Communicating to Connect

The neuroscience of connection is operating in any interaction. Our brains are wired to connect with other human beings. In a face to face meeting, your brain is constantly trying to find a connection with another person. What do you have in common? What interests do you share? No matter how insignificant you think these interests or connections are, every conversation creates neural pathways in your brain. The more connections you make, the more pathways you have. The more often you talk to another person, the more your brains are wired together. That level of familiarity creates trust. And trust is an important factor when a client is considering hiring you.

If your intention is to make stronger connections with anyone in your network, a certain amount of self-disclosure is required in conversations. Perhaps you consider it “small talk” to mention your interests outside of work, but talking about your children, dogs, favorite books, favorite travel locations, and other topics allows you to find the points of connection that will create neural pathways.

Before you attend your next networking event, I suggest that you create an introduction that includes something personal. After you deliver your introduction, ask about the other person’s interests. You may be surprised at how many things you have in common. I suspect that you will be conscious of the words you use in your introduction, but I also encourage you to pay attention to your body posture as you engage in conversation, and notice your way of speaking. The way you present yourself at an initial meeting can set the stage for a long-term relationship.

Ongoing Conversations

While self-disclosure is important in a first conversation, a certain amount of openness is required for the continued development of a relationship. It may be helpful to consider the following:

  • “Small talk” is an essential part of networking.
  • Networking creates opportunities to develop relationships.
  • Interpersonal communications are essential for developing and maintaining relationships.

Relationships are the key to successful business development.