Are You (REALLY) Asking for What You Want?

How to get what you want in the courtroom

You’ve heard it a hundred times before: “Ask, and ye shall receive.”

And each time, you probably said, “Yeah, right. If that was true, I’d have won the lottery last week!”

But what if that statement was actually true?

Believe it or not, there’s significant truth to that statement. (Maybe that’s why it’s been around for 2000+ years).

For example, last week my son and I were at the pond being attacked by ducks (that’s a story for another day) when a firetruck pulled up and parked.

He asked about the truck, and the next thing you know, the firemen were inviting him to sit inside the cab, asking him if he wanted to wear a fireman’s helmet, and talking with him about fires and axes and firetrucks.

It was every little boy’s dream, to play in a firetruck. But none of it would have happened if he hadn’t asked.

Because he asked, he got what he wanted. (Of course, it helps that he’s dashingly good looking and charming as can be!)

The same is true in court. If you ask for what you want, you can often get it.

Want the judge to avoid scheduling the trial during your planned vacation? Just ask.

Want jurors to talk about your biggest concerns in the case? Just ask.

Want a better plea offer? Just ask. (Really!)

I’ll be the first to admit that it doesn’t always work, but more often than not, asking helps you get what you wanted. You just need to be willing to speak up and ask for what you want.

Here’s your 1% solution for today (stolen from Alan Weiss, who said that if you improve 1% per day, in 70 days, you’re twice as good):

It’s simple: Ask for what you want.

Other people aren’t mind readers. You have to ask for what you want.

If the judge doesn’t know about your vacation, she can’t schedule around it.

If jurors don’t know what the important issues are in your case, they won’t know to talk about their thoughts and feelings on the matter.

If your opponent doesn’t know what’s standing between an acceptable resolution to the case and a protracted jury trial, they’ll never make a better offer.

Asking makes the difference, and gets you what you want.

Ask specifically. Be direct. Let them know exactly what you want, and when you want it. Don’t water it down or hide it inside little “hints” – be bold, and ask for exactly what you want.

As the Rolling Stones taught us, you may not always get what you want, but sometimes, just because you asked… You might get what you need!

Ask for What You Want

How many times a day do you ask judges, clients, or co-workers to do something or to give you something?  During any given week, you probably make hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of requests.  You ask your co-worker to work on a project, you ask your assistant to handle a client issue, you ask your kids to help with the dishes…  The number of requests that you make each week is staggering.  But how many of those requests are actually granted?  Have you ever had a problem with someone not doing not what you asked?

Why?  You’re a lawyer.  Shouldn’t you be the master of persuasion who can get what you want, when you want it, and how you want it, every single time?

Unless your name is “Svengali the Master Manipulator,” chances are that many of your requests are not being granted, or at least not being carried out exactly the way you’d like to see them handled.  But it’s not because your requests are falling on deaf ears.  In fact, your listeners are probably hearing exactly what you’re saying.  The problem is that you’re asking for the wrong thing.

That’s because when most people make requests, they don’t ask for what they want.  Instead, they actually ask for what they don’t want.

For example, has your boss ever asked you to work on an important client issue?  Many bosses will say something similar to, “This is our most important client, so whatever you do, don’t mess this up!”

But look at the embedded command in that request for help: “Mess this up.”  Rather than asking you to do a great job or to help the client, your boss is telling you to do the exact opposite of what he really wants done.

The reason he’s telling you to do the opposite of what he wants is because our brains aren’t wired to hear the word “Don’t.”  Our minds think in images.  When you hear the word “Orange,” you don’t think of the letters “O-R-A-N-G-E.”  Instead, you think of the fruit, the color, or maybe even a bottle of orange juice.  When you recall information, your mind pulls up the pictures that help you “see” the memory.

This phenomenon makes it difficult to see the negative of something.  If I ask you to think of “Not an Orange,” your brain has difficulty following my request, because it doesn’t have a readily available picture for “Not an Orange.”  Instead, your brain reverts back to your picture for “Orange,” because that’s the only picture it can pull up.  Rather than thinking of what I hoped you would think about, you actually began thinking of the exact opposite.

The same thing happens when your boss tells you “don’t mess this up.”  You don’t have a readily available picture for “Not Messing Up,” but you sure have a great picture of “Messing Up.”  Your picture for “Messing Up” may include the image of you fumbling and bumbling your way through the presentation, missing an important legal development in your research, or maybe even an image of you sleeping through the filing deadline.  Whatever your picture of “Messing Up” looks like, that will be the image that jumps into your mind when your boss tells you not to mess up.

That’s why it’s important to ask for what you want, rather than what you don’t want.  Rather than telling you “not to mess this up,” your boss would get better results from you by saying, “This is our most important client, so I know you’re going to do an exemplary job.”  Rather than embedding a negative command into your head, now your boss is embedding a positive command, “Do an exemplary job.”  Your brain can absorb this positive request and put it into action, because you know (hopefully) what an exemplary job looks like.

If you’d like to get better results when you ask others to do something, take a moment to rephrase your request in a positive format before you make your request.  Anytime you feel yourself getting ready to say, “Don’t,” ask yourself, “What do I want this person to DO?”  Rephrase your question positively, so that the listener is given a positive command and clear direction for what to do next.  Here are some examples of how changing the phrasing of your request can change the outcome:

  • Rather than: “These are our most expensive dishes, so whatever you do, don’t drop them.”
  • Ask for what you want:  “These are out most expensive dishes, so whatever you do, hold onto them carefully.”
  • Rather than: “The game is on the line, so don’t drop the ball.”
  • Ask for what you want: “The game is on the line, so protect the ball.”
  • Rather than: “The statute of limitations has almost expired, so don’t miss the filing deadline.
  • Ask for what you want: “The statute of limitations has almost expired, so file these pleadings by Friday.

By changing the picture in your listener’s mind, you change the outcome.  Rather than urging them to focus on the negative outcome, you shift their focus towards the positive outcome that you desire.  Eliminate the word “don’t” from your request vocabulary, and ask for what you want.  When you do, your presentations and your requests will become dramatically more persuasive.

Become 3x More Persuasive

Testifying in court

Veni.  Vidi.  Vici.

Friends.  Romans.  Countrymen.

Snap.  Crackle.  Pop.

For whatever reason, your brain is wired to pay more attention when provided with a list of three options.  Your brain will be persuaded more easily when provided with a list of three arguments, and you’re more likely to take action if you’re given three reasons to do something.

For our brains, three is the magic number.  Not two (“Too few!”)  Not four (“Too many!”).  No, three is the perfect number of options, arguments, or reasons to provide to the person you’re trying to persuade.

Let’s call it the Triad of Persuasion.  If you can find a way to provide someone with three options, three arguments, or three reasons to justify their decision, you’ll have a much better chance of persuading them than ever before.

One of the most effective ways to put the Triad of Persuasion to use is when you need to handle an objection from someone you’re trying to persuade.  It could be the judge you need to rule in your client’s favor, the potential client you want to sign, or the senior partner whose permission you need to work on a career-changing project. 

Regardless of whom you’re trying to persuade, unless you’ve got the Force on your side (“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”) you’re probably going to encounter objections.

For example, let’s take the scenario with your potential client.  You’ve just started your new solo practice and have done such a great job of marketing yourself and improving your legal skills that now you’re sitting face-to-face with a potential client who could potentially need your legal services for years to come.  But then, just as you think you’ve got everything finalized and are ready to ask for the business, she raises an objection: “I’m not sure we should do this…  After all, you’re just a one-person operation.”

This might stump other attorneys, but not you.  After all, since you’re a professional, you’ve already anticipated this objection.  As Dr. Alan Weiss, the author of Million Dollar Consulting says, there aren’t any objections you haven’t heard before.  So if you’re not prepared to respond to an objection, you’re negligent.

But you’re not negligent, that’s why you have not one, not two, but three answers ready for this objection.

Begin by disarming the objection with a confident statement, such as, “That’s exactly why you need me.”

That statement usually creates a pause or gets the client to ask, “What do you mean?”  Either way, take this brief moment to gather your thoughts.  Then launch into your Triad of Persuasion, outlining the benefits of hiring your single-person firm rather than a large, multi-national conglomerate: “First, you’re going to get my complete attention and will be my number one priority.  You’re going to get a faster response because I can adapt quickly to respond to your needs.  Second, you’re going to be dealing with the principal attorney at all times, so your case will never be handed off to somebody else who doesn’t know everything about the case.  You’re never going to walk into court and see some junior attorney who you’ve never met before.  And finally, since I’m a one-person operation, my fees don’t have to support a gigantic overhead or a large staff.”

(Obviously, if you work for a gigantic firm, you’d have three responses prepared for when the client objects and says, “I’m not sure we should do this…  You’re such a large firm, I’m afraid my case won’t be a priority.”)

By preparing three responses to each objection, you become (literally) three times more persuasive.  But actually, you’ll become even more persuasive than that, because the Triad of Persuasion has a multiplier effect.  By stacking the three reasons, you appear more confident and more prepared, and therefore, you also appear more reliable.

But don’t limit your use of the Triad to those situations where you’ve prepared your responses to expected objections.  You can also use the Triad when you’re speaking off the cuff and need to demonstrate your conviction or your confidence.

Let’s imagine a scenario where you’re at a luncheon and the person next to you asks, “You’re a lawyer, right?  Do you think lawyers should advertise on TV?”

Again, start with confidence.  “I’m glad you asked me that.  There are three reasons why lawyers should/shouldn’t advertise on TV.  First, because…”

When you make that statement, you may not know exactly what your three reasons are going to be.  You’ll probably know exactly what your first reason will be, you’ll have some idea of what your second reason will be, but you might not have any idea at all what your third reason is going to be. 

It doesn’t matter.  You should still begin with the same set-up: “I’m glad you asked me that.  There are three reasons why…”  In fact, you should practice that set-up phrase a few times so that it rolls off your tongue.  That way, while you’re delivering the line, you can put your mind into high gear and finalize your thoughts for reasons #2 and #3.

Watch how much more attentive your listeners become when you deliver three reasons for each question or each objection, rather than the customary one (or worse, the half-answer) that they usually receive.

By justifying your arguments with three points, you look more polished and better prepared.  People will assume that you’ve put more thought into your answer, and will also feel that your answer is more believable, simply because you’ve done a better job of justifying it.  By giving three reasons, rather than one, you’ll soon become more persuasive than ever before.