Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Heart Jury Duty (and NY, Which Is Irrelevant)

I'm the guy in the front row, 3rd from the left.
You know what I look forward to (other than going to work each day as a tax consultant)? I bet you guessed jury duty, didn’t you?

I’m a pretty exciting guy, huh? Jury-duty-loving tax consultant.

Jury duty is great. You get a lunch break. You get paid. $15! A day!

Also, it’s probably the one and only time where openly judging someone is completely socially acceptable.

Okay, so you are probably thinking I’m being a smart aleck. To be fair, in most cases, you would be right. It’s virtually impossible for me to refrain from making witty remarks. (In the interest of full disclosure, my wife would use the word “irritating” instead of “witty.” It’s just semantics though.)

But in all actuality, I love jury duty, and not just because it’s the closest I’ll ever come to being Matlock.

And herein lies my problem: Attorneys never pick tax consultants as jurors. Accountants listen to well. (Also something my wife would dispute.*)

Though I have been called to jury duty many, many times, I have only served on a jury twice. And both times, I have learned a ton.

The first jury trial I had the pleasure of participating in was a civil trial between General Motors and MTA. I felt like a badass. I was referee watching two titans duke it out. This was Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield. Rumble in the courtroom jungle.

The jury had no sympathy for either company. There were two expert witnesses—one representing each side of the case.

The first expert—the fellow representing the MTA—wore a bright, plaid sport coat and a not-so-terrific tie. It was way too wide. (If you only take away one thing from today’s blog, let it be this advice: Always remember to wear thin ties and never wear plaid when testifying!) The expert was also a little argumentative and defensive, particularly when cross-examined.

He might or might not have known his stuff. I couldn’t tell because I was too busy being annoyed by his abrasive attitude. (And the stains on his tie – did he have soup for lunch?)

Then General Motors sent its expert to the stand. GM’s expert was wearing a smart, respectable, solid suit, not to mention a thin tie. He looked at the jury when he answered questions. He may or may not have known his stuff, but I was convinced that he did. He was in control. He was calm, and he didn’t try to fight with the attorney who was cross-examining him.

From this I learned how to be the better expert witness in everyday life. How you approach testimony in court is how you need to approach everyday life. Be more like the GM expert witness and less like Mr. Wide Tie.

(This blog is not affiliated with the MTA or General Motors.)

(I like both products.)

(Kudos to cars and buses.)

Being a good listener starts with small things – like listening to the waiter explain why your egg sandwich is taking so long. And the same holds true in dealing with clients, employers, and employees in business. When talking to an upset client, employer, or employee, remind yourself not to feel attacked. If you listen for the attack, you won’t hear the question, and you will respond defensively.

If you listen to the question, and then you think about what information the other person needs to better understand your position, and then calmly deliver that information, then you will respond more directly, and you will sound more competent.

Your client, your boss, your employee will think you are smart, even if you aren’t. Here’s something I know to be true: People will believe you are smarter if you want to help them and demonstrate that you can help them, even if you are not. By the way I am definitely not smart. You might think I’m smart because I’m a tax consultant, but think again. (I like jury duty for God’s sake.) But people keep turning to me for help, trusting my wisdom. It’s because I’m a good listener. It’s because I want to help them.

Today’s challenge: If you start feeling defensive, take a deep breath and remember to listen for the question. Respond calmly, with the intention of helping the other person understand your position. Answer to the best of your ability, and ask questions when you aren’t clear.

*Teasing my wife in my blog is one of the ways I flirt with her. I know that makes my romantic skills slightly questionable, but for the record, my wife is pretty darn amazing and she never nags. Well, hardly ever. At least not today. It’s 6 a.m., and she’s still sleeping.   

Related Posts:
The Price is Right
The Secret to Life
What is Trust?

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