Seth Godin, the marketing guru, has published a post about being nice. The case study he uses is one I can readily identify with mainly because I work as a lawyer in my day job and I am often faced with situations where my clients are hopping mad and want to "sue the bastards" and expect the opening salvo to be hard and heavy. Sometimes this approach works and sometimes it doesn’t. What Seth proposes is something fairly radical, expecially in my profession:
Ms. Greenberg represented (or I should say, mis-represented) a giant
chain of shopping malls. A few years ago, she and Taubman went after
Hank Mishkoff, who controlled a domain Taubman wanted for one of its
malls. Her opening salvo was a classic lawyer’s demand letter, very
formal and threatening.
Of course, most people respond to a note like that with fear and
trepidation and then anger. And it spirals from there. I wonder if any
law firm has ever done testing as to whether letters like that are
actually effective. What if she had called first, or sent a friendly,
clearly written letter that outlined mutually beneficial options for
Instead, Greenberg started mean and escalated from there. Classic
litigator tactics, reflecting a "my typewriter is sterner than yours"
age-old tactic. Sometimes people fold in the face of this approach (but
even when they do, it’s expensive for both sides).
I often tell my clients that the only people who win in litigation are the lawyers. We charge our fees and our clients wind up paying (often through their noses) our fees and must still pick up the pieces that remain when the dust settles.
Even if you’re not a lawyer (or especially if you’re not a
lawyer) the lesson here is pretty clear: it doesn’t matter who’s
"right". What matters is that giving people the benefit of the doubt
and treating them with respect is not only more fun, it works better
In an ideal world, I would be redundant.