As I was writing the post, “Either you are wrong or I am right,” I thought that, like the album title from which it came, About Face (by David Gilmour) there are perhaps more than 1 way to contemplate this lyric. In the first post I wrote about the implications of behaving, in a personal or business partnership, in a manner like the song title, “You know I’m Right” suggests. As I did so I recalled a few incidents in which as part of our trial consulting work our clients essentially said this to us, followed by something like, “What do you think you are going to tell me that I don’t already know?” It has struck me as strange each time this has happened that the lawyer or the claims adjuster would operate from such a closed minded position. In each incident, the closed minded person had not made the decision to hire us as trial consultants, someone else had, perhaps because the person in question was demonstrating this behavior in other ways. Melissa has often had to deal with these remarks on the firing line with these clients, but I have heard the stories, and sometimes observed them first hand as well. I have to say this behavior and attitude is shocking. It is shocking that, despite being responsible for major cases, with significant risks or rewards, the attorneys or adjusters would be so confident that they would, from the start, tell us that they really do not want to hear what we, or more tellingly, the mock jurors, or in fact, anyone, might have to say. Interestingly in these situations, sometimes the attorney has “minions” working for them who cower to them and who will not risk saying anything contrary. When the contrarian is the claims adjuster, the attorney is, rightfully, trying to demonstrate that the risk is probably greater than the adjuster will acknowledge. But, the question for me, to which I really have no answer, is why would anyone go into a unknown situation and paint oneself into a corner? When the results are contrary to the absolute, “I am right” statements, the person looks much, much worse, than if he/she never made such statements. Time and time again we have, through mock jury research, demonstrated that there are other perspectives, and some of these will have a significant impact on the outcome of the case for the ultimate client. The moral of this story is: Be open to other opinions; this applies in our litigation world without a doubt. And, I would add it is equally true in any business, or personal, encounter.
I admit to being frustrated by some clients’ insistence that they know everything there is to know, including in an area in which they have zero expertise. However, I am somewhat entertained by their willingness to set themselves up for failure, when something happens to disprove their incorrect assumptions, and I usually ask them to let me know when they have learned something they didn’t know. I have gone through essentially the same set of actions too many times to count. I view it as a personal and professional challenge when I am asked the question, “What could YOU (with an implied, “little lady”) possibly tell ME (with an implied, “a rich and famous big shot”) that I don’t already know? I answer this question as politely as I can, including with a reminder of the fact they, or someone on their behalf, hired me precisely because I know lots and lots of things they do not know. If things continue to disintegrate with additionally bombastic comments, I often ask, in as demure a fashion as I can muster without smirking, from what institute of higher learning they obtained their Ph. D. (I know this is not very nice, due to the fact I know they do not, of course, have a Ph. D., but even we Ph. D.s have to have a little fun every now and then!) Rarely, however, does anything I say or do upon initially meeting a know it all client make a difference. We have to wait until just the right moment in the jury deliberations for someone, or everyone, to say something that is 180 degrees different from what the client “knew” would happen. Out of fairness, I warn the know it all types that I guarantee they will learn something, but I just do not know what it will be or when it will happen. Then, when my prediction comes true, often again and again and again, I ask they client if he or she has learned anything, to which the answer is always a sheepish, “Yes! And I’m so glad I hired your company to help me. I was prepared to make a costly decision based on not knowing what other people think about my case.” I have no way of knowing whether this humbling experience provided an overall life lesson or whether the know it all, out of a desire to save face, justified the incorrect belief and therefore, only benefitted from the one time experience, but seeing it happen on a rather frequent basis has been an incredible part of my continuing study of human nature. I don’t know everything, but unlike some people, I am the first to admit it. And, as I write this post, I am still waiting to meet someone who does, truly, know it all!