Communication

By J.C. Bailey

When I studied communication theory in college I was skeptical about the examples the professors would use to illustrate their points. I was convinced that the petty, childish, immature and discourteous behaviors cited in class had to be exaggerations. I was also convinced that people who grew up speaking the same language couldn’t possibly misunderstand each other so frequently and dramatically. In almost a quarter century as a practicing attorney I have come to understand that communication is at best challenging and at times seemingly impossible. Here are a few reminders that might help you steer clear of communication disasters.

Use Words if Necessary. The most important things you will teach your family and associates will be the ones you model. Those close to you know the difference between what you say and how you live. You may say that you have respect for the law, but your family has heard the way you talk about police officers and how little respect you show for judges. Words can supplement your message, but they rarely prevail over actions in trying to communicate important values. The person who preaches preparedness will be ignored based on his procrastination.

Consistency and Flexibility. Repetition is the best way to teach a lesson. Basic themes such as hard work, preparation and generosity should be repeated. Your family should observe you seeking wise counsel and making decisions based on sound advice and not kneejerk, emotional or ill-informed opinions. While it is important to repeat core values along with modeling them, it is equally important to allow your listeners to react to changing conditions. Don’t use words like “never” and “always” when planning for the future. Encourage your family and business associates to be flexible in making future decisions. The worst drafting in estate planning is that which attempts to dictate every decision from beyond the grave. Choose trusted fiduciaries and give them the flexibility to make the best decisions in real time.

Be Concise. Thomas Jefferson said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” Whether you are talking to your family, business associates or a professional, be prepared to communicate only the meat of the matter. The best way to memorialize your wishes is with well-written documents. Be ready to share facts briefly and answer questions succinctly when you seek legal counsel.

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