23 October 2019

Soft skills for dispute resolution

Published on 23 October 2019
As the uptake of technology quickens, soft skills are becoming more important for lawyers. In effect, technology is transforming the value proposition of legal services - rather than simply providing technical legal advice, a sought-after lawyer delivers legal advice suited to the client’s personal or commercial context. In so doing, lawyers will come to more fully inhabit the role of dispute resolution experts. 

Insights compiled a list of the top four soft skills lawyer should consider to help them deliver better client service and stay competitive. 

Understand the 4 different communication styles

Studies suggest we spent up to 80% of our work day in meetings, corresponding via email or on the phone. Communication dominates our daily lives. On average, we check email or instant messaging every six minutes, and barely have 1 hour and 12 minutes of focused time, undistracted by correspondence. 

Miscommunication is an all too common cause of conflict. To become a skilled resolver of disputes, lawyers need to understand the four major styles of communication, and how they differ.

According to author and leadership coach Mark Murphy, these may be defined as Analytical, Intuitive, Functional and Personal. Atlassian’s Global Head of Diversity and Belonging, Aubrey Blanche, prefers to use the DiSC profile approach, which classifies communication styles as Dominant, Influencer, Conscientious or Steady. 

“No one communication style is inherently better than another, explained Mark to FastCompany. “But picking the wrong style for a particular audience, whether it’s one person or a thousand, shuts down listening and can spell trouble. Learning to build flexibility around your preferred style allows others to more successfully hear the important things you need to communicate.”

Master the art of empathy

In order to communicate better with clients, colleagues and opposing counsel, empathy is essential. It is the next logical skill you need after you have identified the communication style you’re dealing with.

“Empathy is the ability to understand the point of view and feelings of another — to be able to walk the proverbial mile in his or her shoes,” explained John Estafanous, Rallybright Founder & CEO. “In fact, Harvard Business Review research suggests the top 10 most empathetic companies increased their financial value more than twice the bottom 100 (although Facebook may no longer rank as the #1 empathetic company due to recent events).” 
CX - or ‘customer experience’ - offers some assistance. Commonly used in product development, CX involves understanding how clients use legal services.

Selma Luke of Salesforce suggested creating a ‘customer journey.’

“Make a detailed illustration of your customers as they travel through different parts of your organisation,” said Selma. “Map out their experiences on a large diagram and lay it across a floor in your building. Have employees walk through the customer journey, describing and discussing what they see from the perspective of a typical customer at any given touch point.”

Empathetic people are also extremely attuned to what is not being said.

“Communication runs deeper than words alone,” observed Melody Wilding, a human behaviour professor at Hunter College, in an interview with Inc.com. “If you notice someone tensing up, pulling away, or suddenly dodging eye contact, those are important clues that you can use empathy to reach out.

“Rather than ignoring the emotion gently -- and with kindness -- ask them to describe what's happening for them,” explained Melody. “This gives people the freedom to share their feelings openly, knowing they won't be judged or criticized. Letting emotions flow freely can be a gateway to productive problem-solving.”

Question before you advise

To provide complete and practical legal advice, it is essential to get a full picture of the situation from the client’s perspective.

“Instead of offering their opinion, empathetic people ask questions to better understand another person's perspective,” Melody told Inc.com. Questions could include:
  • How do you feel about it?
  • Can you tell me more?
  • What do you mean?
  • What would be helpful?
  • What do you make of it?
“Empathetic people take the time to understand their counterpart's priorities, preferences, and motivations,” said Melody. “This requires listening non-judgmentally and leaving your assumptions at the door.”

Deliver holistic solutions
Good lawyers know that law is often only one part of the solution. For many clients, needing to consult a lawyer means their issue has hit a critical point - personally, professionally, and emotionally. Clients may be experiencing relationship breakdown, mourning the loss of a loved one, steering a business through a tough period, or facing criminal penalties. 

Know what is best left to support services, like counsellors, accountants, social workers, or divorce coaches. Indeed, as the law evolves, more lawyers are partnering with support services to provide more well-rounded solutions for their clients.