Advice From a Tiger
Most lawyers I work with get their inspiration from the great constitutional scholars or philosophers of our time. I guess I must travel in different circles, as this piece of advice comes from a perhaps lesser-known and certainly less sophisticated source of inspiration — Daniel Tiger. For those unfamiliar with the cute feline, think of Daniel as this generation’s Big Bird. One of Daniel’s greatest tips comes in the form of a song: When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four.
I don’t know what it is lately — the changing political times, the hundred-degree heat wave, or exorbitant gas prices, but several of my clients have been, well, just plain mad. Someone or some company has done something unfair or unjust, or they feel like they are defending a lawsuit that never should have been filed in the first place. In the words of many of my kids’ elementary school teachers, they are having really big feelings. And those big feelings are okay, and as their lawyer, I want to hear about the big feelings. After all, passion makes great advocacy, and I want to relate to how my client feels. But maybe when executing those public-facing or sensitive internal communications, it’s best to bottle them up a bit.
As business litigators, we see the classic story repeated over and over: employees or executives from one company start their own company, and there’s litigation over poached employees, client transfers, and non-competes. Or perhaps there’s a lawsuit over some type of patent infringement or maybe a class-action lawsuit filed against a company that’s sure to get employees or customers talking. There’s an immediate, often angry, reaction to communicate with clients or customers. I often save these first drafts of client emails to use in a later brief because their passion and language are perfect for a brief in front of a neutral, dispassionate judge or arbitrator.
However, I find myself time and time again telling the client—wait, just breathe. Calm down, and then write the email. Think about how any angry email may negatively affect your customers who don’t really care about this litigation drama or, even worse, spawn another cause of action like defamation. In many of these aggravating situations, communication to your key audience can be essential, whether clients, team members, or the public. Done right, this type of communication can be very effective. However, is anger really what you want to communicate? Maybe you want to convey passion or reassurance but rarely is anger the real message. Anger can be so distracting that the rest of the message is lost. As a lawyer, especially one preparing to file a lawsuit or trying to defend a motion to dismiss, I find that anger can also make clients over-communicate, which can be damaging, not only reputationally but sometimes to the litigation.
So, take that little Tiger’s advice. If you have the time and ability, sleep on it and then make a statement to your team, the press, or your customers. That breathing room, no matter how long or how short, can do a lot to focus you on the task at hand and the real reason you need to communicate. With the second take, the anger is often left behind, where it should be.
Sure, Daniel Tiger caters to a younger crowd, but I often give his sound advice to CEOs and business executives. Unfortunately, anger isn’t one of those emotions that just goes away with age, experience, or education. So, don’t be shy and sing along when you need it, or someone may hear your angry roar.[Prostock-studio]/Adobe