Trials and litigation are unpleasant, right? For one party, it stems from a loss or injury that forces them into court as a last resort, and for the other party, it’s a quite-unwelcome need to defend oneself against an accusation. So what’s to enjoy? As a communication experience, it is often thought of as something to “weather,” to “bear,” or to “get through,” and not something to enjoy. In some cases, some points during those cases, and for some parties, that is going to be true. But in other cases and moments, might it be possible to appreciate or even savor the communication experience?
It is possible. According to research, believe it or not, people do savor not just an excellent meal or a pleasant aesthetic experience, but can also savor instances of meaningful communication. University of Arizona Professor Margaret Pitts focuses her work on the psychology of positive experiences (which sounds like a nice gig). Her recent study (Pitts, 2018) focuses on the experience of savoring or “people’s capacity to recognize and appreciate enjoyable life experiences.” In a ScienceDaily release, she explains: “Savoring is prolonging, extending and lingering in a positive or pleasant feeling…First, you feel something pleasant, then you feel pleasant about feeling pleasant, and that is where savoring comes in. It’s not just feeling good; it’s feeling good about feeling good, and then trying to trap that feeling.” The more we savor, she says, the more we are likely to enjoy life. And her surveys indicate people don’t just savor meals or sunsets, they also savor various kinds of communication. One kind she labels “extraordinary communication,” or communication that is centered around specific and highly- impactful moments. A wedding certainly fits, but so does a trial, and so can the lead up to a trial. For the advocate, and also for the witness, there are aspects of the experience to be savored, and doing so will make it a better experience.
Savor It as an Advocate
Imagine it: You get to play a part in a process of settling disputes based on reasons. If that seems banal, it is only in a modern context that it could. In another age, we might have had no choice but to appeal to pure power, or to settle our conflict in a field with axes or pistols. Instead, we get to use logic and art, evidence and persuasion. In the end, after both sides do their best, a decision will be made and peacefully received. It isn’t a perfect process to be sure. But at its base, it is remarkable. And every time an advocate gets a chance to lay out a clear argument, to deliver a pithy theme, or to execute a strategy in cross-examination, that is an experience to be savored. While your client might be locked into seeing the litigation as a regrettable necessity, and while you will need to identify with these feelings, in the back of your mind, remember that your participation is a privilege. And remember that it is interesting and fun.
Savor It as a Witness
About a week ago I met with a witness, someone who was being accused of negligence and was preparing for his deposition. At the end of the session, he said he was looking forward to the testimony — not just looking forward to being done, but looking forward to the testimony itself. Now, that is not the most common response. At the same time, it isn’t as unusual as you might think. In this situation, for example, the witness was ready to savor the experience for several reasons: because this is the part of the process that he can control; because he gave it a great deal of thought and is confident that he is in the right; because he felt well-prepared for everything opposing counsel was likely to bring up; because it will be satisfying to finally go on record with his side of the story; and, perhaps, because he has a bit of a competitive streak. The deposition won’t be a normal day at the office. It will be unusual, special, heightened. It will be challenging, and interesting. That, combined with the knowledge that once it is done it is done, makes it something to look forward to.
Even outside of those roles, there is a lot to savor. For example, when I’m in court, it is often to observe and advise, or to help select the jury. And I like it: the hush of the courtroom, the formality that comes from giving solid thought to what should and shouldn’t count as a reason, the dynamic rhetorical challenges, and even the mystery that comes with placing the decision in human hands. It all sets up a challenging scene, and an opportunity to bring out the best of your focus, your advocacy, your logic, and your art. Savor that.