How Lawyers can Address the Communication Illusion

Communication Illusions

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

George Bernard Shaw

How often do we get tripped up in our communication with clients, colleagues or staff because:

  • we assume they understand what we mean

  • we expect them to understand what we mean, or

  • we fail to take the time to give just a few additional pieces of information that would allow them to take the action or give us the response we need


We may be communicating this way because we're in a rush or trying to save time. But it turns out that the amount of time we spend clarifying requests or correcting the work of others usually outweighs (significantly) the amount of time it would have taken us to engage in clear and thorough communication in the first place. 

Here's a few circumstances where you may be under the illusion that you're communicating properly:

  • When you ask clients for documents or information, what are you doing to make your directions crystal clear?

  • When you ask staff for assistance, are you giving them a roadmap of what you’d like, how you’d like it delivered, and when you'd like it by?

  • When you pass on work to your supervising attorney, have you provided the right context, timeline, and other details that are sufficient for them to take action?


It's natural to want to take communication shortcuts. But rather than blindly firing off directions or requests, consider doing the following: 

  • Read emails with directions before you send them, and think through requests before making them

  • Focus on the clarity of the communication and give the little bit of extra effort that makes the difference between excellent and poor communication

  • Take a moment to check for understanding after you've given directions


Here's the takeaway: Spending just a few extra minutes to clearly map out your ask is an INVESTMENT--and the return is a better relationship with your clients and colleagues, and time saved over the long run of a project. See this additional time and effort as the value add that it is.