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How to improve your business communications – one question at a time like a trial lawyer

If you want your business communications to be clear and to avoid business blunders, you can learn a lot from the way good trial lawyers ask questions.

I’m a former litigator (Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Queensland) turned journalist and communication consultant.

TB LL mosaic

I was lucky to study journalism and law in the United State where I became a big fan of (and still study) US legal education. Yes, I’m still a legal education nerd!

This week I was studying US cross-examination techniques (as you do!) and how effective counsel ask one question at a time to advance the evidence.

You get confirmation of one fact at a time. If you mingle too many bits of information, a witness could say “NO” and you don’t know what part of the statement they are saying No to.

For example:

So, at 8 p.m. you and Bill travelled by train to the city.

If the witness replies NO – they could be saying no to many different things.

No, it was at 8:30 p,m.

No, I was with Fred.

No, we travelled by bus.

No, we didn’t go to the city.

You get the idea!

If you ask one question at a time – you know exactly what they are agreeing or disagreeing with.

So, what’s this got to do with better business communication?

Slide1 copy 5

As a communication consultant I help businesses improve their communication – and avoid misunderstanding.

My word nerd, legal background comes in handy in helping businesses avoid ambiguity and misunderstanding.

Often business people make mistakes because of the way the respond to and read e-mails or texts.

In messages, people ask many questions – often mixed up.

They will often get a one-word response to their many questions – Yes or No.

The responder means YES or NO to one question.

The reader interprets it as a YES or NO to a different question.

Mail Chimp email  study

The problem is compounded by the way people reply in haste to e-mails via their smart phones.
or other small-screen devices

In fact, a study (with camera tracking) carefully analysed the way people read and reply differently to messages on their smart phones.

I’ll share more in Pt 2.

My main message for this post is for you to not mix up too many different elements that a person can agree or disagree with.

Sure, it takes longer – but you are less likely to have a writer meaning one thing and a reader thinking another.

If you are interested in other tips for better e-mail for smartphones and other small-screen devices – here is a link:

Better e-mail for small screen devices

Also, if you’re interested in some very simple tips in cross-examination in the US style. It’s a bit promotional – but there are some useful tips.

The part about one question at a time – or one fact at a time with each new question is at around 6:30.


word nerd

If you enjoyed this post – Let’s connect:
If you found this post interesting you can follow me and connect with me.
I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious business communication tips.

Linked In – under Tony Biancotti
Or you can follow this blog.

These days, lots of people and organisations need help with how to COPE with too much work, too much information, too many meetings, delivering difficult news, business writing, effective e-mail, e-mail overload, cross-cultural communication, better social media engagement etc. I like to help people COPE.



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This entry was posted on September 24, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .