Know Thy Enemy

My wife and I were at a wonderful birthday celebration yesterday for a dear family friend, and the party was filled with many friendly faces, some of whom I had not seen in a while. Among those faces was a lawyer friend who is an accomplished and highly-regarded litigator, and who I had interacted with in a professional sense about 20 years ago. The details of that interaction are not important or necessary here… but let’s just say that he and I worked closely together over a period of about six months. I was young and just starting out my professional life, and I got to see him in action, up close and personal. We spent some time together, and I got to ask him lots of questions during that time. I don’t think about that time of my life often anymore. But every time I do, I think of him fondly. He was smart, tactical, competitive and a great guy. 

So we bumped into each other yesterday, and it was a wonderful opportunity to catch up. We spoke briefly, talked about kids and family and updates on professional pursuits… all the usual stuff. Seeing him was wonderful, and it brought me back to that earlier point of my life. The memories of my time with him came back vividly.

On the drive home from the party, I felt like I was brushing the memories away, like cobwebs in front of my face. I thought about the many conversations we had, and how he would often think out loud, so one could get insight into how his mind worked. And then I remembered that I had kept notes during that period of my life, in a personal journal. So when we got home, I went into our basement, where I keep all sorts of things from my life. And thankfully, I was able to find the journal from that period. I sat downstairs, quietly and privately, and looked through what I had written during my time with him. 

At that time, we were working together on the preparation for a litigation he was going to lead, and he had asked me to help prep him for his cross examination of one of the participants, someone I knew well. We had many conversations about how to prepare for a cross examination… how to get into the mind of the person you are going to cross… how to anticipate what they would want to say, or not want to say… how to redirect them away from where they wanted to go, and instead remain a step ahead in the discussion… how to get under their skin and hopefully unnerve them.

I took copious notes. And among the pages and pages of things I wrote down, I found these three particular pieces of advice:

  1. Know the law. In any competitive pursuit, you need to understand the rules, the law, the parameters of the “the game.”
  2. Know yourself. In any competitive pursuit, you need to understand yourself and your own weak points. Where will the game favor you, and where will it not?
  3. Know your enemy. In any competitive pursuit, you need to understand the opposition, and what they want or need to do to win. Where will the game favor them, and where will it not? 

As I read through my notes, I was struck by how similar his approach to preparing for a cross examination was to the coaching I do for the clients of The Latimer Group. I rarely coach a client for something so competitive and combative as a cross examination for a litigation (but it does happen occasionally!) My colleagues and I are typically coaching people to get funding or resources for their project, sell something to a client, or build internal consensus around an idea. But the fundamental elements of the preparation are exactly the same. When preparing to pitch someone for something, knowing these same three things is critical to success: understand the parameters of how things work inside the industry/company/team; understand your own strengths and weaknesses; and understand what the other side is looking for or needs. Identical to my lawyer friend’s litigation prep.

Fascinating discovery, and a wonderful walk down memory lane… as if the birthday celebration for the wonderful friend wasn’t enough to smile about on a gorgeous Sunday in June.

Know the game. Know yourself. Know your “enemy.”

Good advice for the next presentation or negotiation or critical conversation you need to have.

Good luck!

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Corporation’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.