About a year or so ago, around the same time that the movie The King’s Speech won the Academy Award, I wrote a piece for From The Sidebar regarding an experience I had at trial regarding my own stuttering issue. My article described an experience where, after a successful verdict for my client, several jurors approached me afterwards and told me that they could tell that I stuttered and appreciated that I took the lead in a trial.
After I wrote the article, I received numerous emails from law students, lawyers, and even law professors who all stuttered. Some asked for advice for how to deal with their impediment in a courtroom, many law students were worried how their stutter would impact their job search, and others shared their own stories of personal triumph that made my trial verdict small in comparison.
Another interesting thing happened after Hayes published my article. Adam Grant, a professor at The Wharton School saw it on the Internet and included my experience in his recently published book, Give and Take. The premise of Professor Grant’s book is that there are three types of people: givers, takers, and matches (combination). He studied a lot of research about success in the workplace. This research debunks the theory that there are takers at the top and givers at the bottom. In fact, this research shows that the givers are at the top AND the bottom. One of the questions addressed in Professor Grant’s book is — what’s the difference between the givers at the top and the ones at the bottom? One part of the answer involves communication styles, which is where my experience comes in. His point is that, after we establish our expertise and command of the subject matter, we need to re-humanize ourselves with our audience. Sounding too perfect makes the audience suspicious and blocks any emotional connection between the speaker and the audience. Many trial lawyers know this instinctively, but it is interesting how social science research proves it.
Dave Walton is a partner in Cozen O’Connor’s Labor & Employment Practice Group and co-chair of the firm’s E-Discovery Task Force.