Most of us are familiar with the classic movie scene: The menacing face hovers amid smoke and roaring flames that hiss with danger, while the booming voice proclaims that “I am the great and powerful Oz!” Dorothy and her companions cower in fear at the sight of the awesome figure before them. That is, until Toto, Dorothy’s brave and loyal little mutt, pulls the curtain aside to reveal a kindly old professor desperate to perpetrate the fraud of his omnipotent power. Until the curtain was pulled back, there was no hope that the forlorn foursome could each get the help they needed – a heart, a brain, courage, and a ticket home.
Regrettably, technology has enabled the facade of “The Wizard” to live and thrive in the practice of modern law and business. Attorneys, clients, business persons, and others hide behind computer screens, mobile computers, smart mobile devices, and a multitude of other techno-gadgets. They type, text, e-mail, and otherwise send out their messages with impunity. Cyberspace makes them nearly invincible – they are smarter, meaner, more demanding, rude, unreasonable, and sometimes just plain unprofessional. Meanwhile, the office telephone and conference room collect dust and spider webs. After all, who wants to communicate with the curtain pulled aside?
I acknowledge some exaggeration. I also recognize that technology has brought many conveniences to the legal profession as well as society in general. But my point is that it is time to stop the madness. It is time to refocus on the roots of the legal profession, as well as human interaction: direct communication with people.
True communication requires interaction in real time, or the ability to look someone in the eye. It enables a personal connection that may eventually lead to positive results without wasting time. It inherently minimizes the use of inflammatory remarks, or outrageous posturing – at least for most of us – because there is a real person on the other end of the line or in front of the speaker who will immediately react. Both sides become surprisingly more professional and willing to negotiate when neither one can lob grenades from the safety of a cyber-bunker.
The next time you have a dispute or an issue with someone, pick up the telephone or, when appropriate, have a meeting! Telephone calls are quick, easy, and direct. Although logistically more difficult and time consuming, meetings can often provide resolutions or rewards where only the building of relationships can bridge the gap between the parties. Why waste time crafting a one-sided nasty-gram that has no ability to resolve anything by itself? You can always send a confirmatory writing in any form you choose after you talk.
Don’t be The Wizard of Oz. Use technology as a tool of convenience, not as a facade. Let clients, adversaries, business associates, and others know who you are – talk to them. You might be surprised by the results…