The Importance of Assertiveness (a recent Law Society Speech)
Practising as a solicitor requires strong written and oral advocacy. Being assertive is fundamental to these skills. On 10 July 2015 I spoke at the annual early career lawyers conference hosted by the Queensland Law Society. These are some of the key points from my speech on the importance of assertiveness in the workplace, in dealings with colleagues and in court.
Assertiveness is a way of communicating our feelings, thoughts, and believes in an open, honest manner without violating the rights of others. An assertive person should be confident in what they’re saying and who they are. An assertive person is verbally firm but relaxed. They speak fluently and with minimal hesitations. They should speak at an even pace. They do not yell or mumble. An assertive person maintains good eye contact. I think an assertive person can and should be empathetic as well as open to new ideas.
Assertiveness is not just about talking. It is also about listening. When not talking, an assertive person is receptive, maintains eye contact and shows non-verbal reactions.
Six Practical Tips
1. Stick to the facts
Before engaging in a conflict or seeking to convey yourself assertively, you need to have a clear appreciation of what the key facts are relevant to the issue. This will ensure that you are focused and relevant. It is hard for someone to appear assertive when they are not prepared or they go off on tangents.
2. Objectively look at yourself
Self-reflection is difficult but you need to try. Being aware of your own personality traits and how you manage conflict is important.
3. Think about the best styles of communication
This applies not only to your own style of communication but that of the other party. The best way to succeed is to truly understand the people around you so that you can communicate and emotionally connect with them most effectively.
4. Listen and develop rapport
Things such as eye contact, nodding and using words such as “we” and “us” are very helpful to decrease the level of conflict in an argument. Repeat back what is being said to you in order to show you’re listening and that you understand the other person’s views.
5. Acknowledge and encourage
You need to acknowledge the other person’s argument and show a level of understanding and respect. This will show that you’re not ignoring their point of view and you’re more likely to be well received yourself when it is your turn.
6. Identify points of difference
Once you engage in discussion or argument with someone, you should be able to crystallise the issues that are actually in dispute. Try to articulate them. This will help narrow the focus of any dispute.
Being assertive in the Court room
Section 22 of the Rules deals with communications with opponents and makes clear that you must not make false statements to opponents. This is common sense.
In terms of your interactions with a member of the bench, it is most vital that you are assertive but not aggressive. Section 18 and 19 of the Rules deals with communications in Court and requires that you must not speak informally with the Court in the presence of other parties. Obviously, you must be frank and honest with the Court and not mislead the Court in any way.
Key tips for assertive advocacy:
1. Eye contact
2. Speak clearly and slowly
3. Gauge the reaction of the judicial officer
a. Make sure they are listening and you are not going too fast or too slow
4. Speak with passion and conviction
Communicating with clients
Section 7 of the Rules deals with communication of advice and provides that your advice must be clear and timely in order to help your client understand relevant legal issues and make informed choices.
Clients are entitled to challenge your advice and ultimately, solicitors don’t make decisions for clients, clients make decisions for themselves based on advice. If a client does not understand advice or is challenging advice, it is important that you be assertive in order to convey the sincerity and the strength of your professional advice on a given issue. A free and informed choice must be made by a client at all times.