You Lost Me Right From the Start: Avoiding Communication Turn-offs

You’re articulate, right? You appreciate and emulate good legal writing. So why do you turn off so many listeners and readers so soon?

In the film “Jerry Maguire,” Renee Zellweger as Dorothy Boyd tells Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire, “You had me at hello.” I say, “You lost me right from the start.”

Ineffective Openings

Too many speakers start off undermining their credibility. “Umm,” whether at the beginning or sprinkled among the words, creates boredom and disinterest.

Cable news is cluttered with “experts” who do not start their responses to those piercing interview questions with a convincing, forthright answer. Instead, we get:

  • I mean

  • Well

  • So

  • You know

  • Listen

  • Look

“I mean” seems to have replaced “you know” as the filler of choice in recent years.

Some speakers string together their filler responses: “Well, I mean, look, the answer is …” I stopped listening at “I mean.”

The solution? Besides trying to increase self-awareness, “Get to the Point” has previously suggested that you encourage friends and colleagues to signal you’ve used a bad speech part by a hand raise or finger snap.

Bad Grammar Is a Turn-off

I recently started but did not finish reading a novel of more than 400 pages that won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. At page 15, I came across:

“Unlike [character #1] and I, [character #2] was a genuine patriot, a Republican who had volunteered to fight …”

Ouch! You wouldn’t say, “Unlike I.” That sentence starts with a prepositional phrase that should have been “Unlike [character #1] and me.”

Then there were two more errors before page 30: “most important” when “most importantly” should have been used to modify a clause and “for [character #3] and myself” instead of “and me.” (I’m detecting this writer has a problem with the word “me.”)

At this point, I was wondering what the Pulitzer judges were smoking.

Writers risk alienating their readers by bad grammar. The effect is magnified when the mistake is at the beginning. Turned-off readers may choose to stop reading. If they must continue, such as judges or opposing counsel, those readers will have formed a negative opinion of the writer before getting to the meat. All this prevents the writer from effectively making the point. For lawyers, this is deadly.

The solution for written work is to build in time for careful proofreading and revision. If you give in to procrastination, you may end up dashing off a contract, letter or brief without time for reflection and correction.

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