4-minute read, 10-minute exercise
#Efficiency #Effectiveness #HumanIntelligence
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Who likes negative experiences? No, really.
No one enjoys a negative experience.
So why would you let the readers of your documents have anything other than a positive experience?
Negative Experiences Have a Far-Reaching Impact
If someone has a negative experience, they generally remember it for a long time. Those people are also more likely to share the negative experience with others as a way to relieve their stress and worries and also to serve as a warning. Do you think this might have something to do with why traditional lawyers have a somewhat negative reputation?
When you multiply this effect over time, the impact can be great. It’s like a downward spiral that people who have had a negative experience with a lawyer share and then shared with their colleagues, friends and anyone who will listen. And negative experiences have an impact. When people are feeling uncertain, such as when they need to first engage with a lawyer, they look to the group for guidance. That’s not good. No wonder new clients are wary of traditional lawyers.
What do you do when you have a negative experience? How do you approach new experiences if a group of people have warned you to be wary?
Let’s apply this to a negative experience while reading a legal document and applying what they need to do. Someone has read one of your documents, but they can’t work out what they need to do in a particular situation. They are stressed about trying to read your document and now stressed and worried about not knowing what they need to do to manage the situation. They don’t want to pay a traditional lawyer more fees to have the document explained to them again, so they put aside the document and try to come up with their arrangements to manage the situation. It doesn’t go well.
What happens the next time that same person is in a situation where they need to read a legal document? They become stressed and apprehensive and try to avoid doing it if they can. They are also more likely to attribute negativity to other aspects of the situation, which can add to their confusion. They still need to manage the situation so do what they think is best, in their way, even if it means taking a risk. Any experienced lawyers know that this is a recipe for a repeat client who is likely to have more negative experiences as their situation is sorted out.
Positive Experiences are More Powerful in the Long Term
It takes multiple positive experiences to counteract a negative experience. However, once you build and maintain trust through repeated positive experiences, the impact is more powerful over time.
People who have positive experiences are more likely to be confident and open to new ideas. It means that if a person can confidently read and understand your document, they are more open to doing what the agreement requires of them. They are also less likely to be stressed so are more likely to complete what is required successfully.
People who have positive experiences are more likely to be engaged and avoid taking risks. It means that if they can follow what your document required of them, and they could complete the task, they are more likely to go back to your document the next time a situation arises.
As the author of a great legal document, you will be more likely to be seen as someone who can be trusted, which makes people more open to engaging with you and trying your legal solutions.
How to Use Human Intelligence to Create a Positive Experience for the Readers of Your Documents
First, you need to make sure that you target your document to the characteristics of the reader. If readers with different characteristics can use your document, then think about creating options so that your document can be customised or creating suitable alternative versions. For example, you may have a document that is for clients who wish to sell their small business. You could use the document for businesses with a range of features, so you should make sure that your document can be customised to accommodate the different features. However, for clients who wish to sell a larger business that may have employees, large client contracts or valuable equipment, it would be best to create an alternative version of your document.
Second, use appropriate and familiar language. If the likely readers of your documents are familiar with certain use words, phrases and acronyms that are widely accepted, use those words, phrases and acronyms. Don’t confuse readers by using a different term for a concept or process that is the same. For example, if your likely readers know a licensed area as a ‘shop’, call it a ‘shop’ not ‘the licensed area’. You can still define ‘shop’ the same as you would define the licensed area.
Third, use headings that are practical for the reader, not you as the lawyer. The purpose of having a heading is to assist the reader in finding the information they are seeking. So have headings that mean something to your reader. For example, try ‘Temporary Lease’ as a heading for a clause setting out the holding over details rather than ‘Holding Over’.
Fourth, make sure your document is functional by using widely accepted processes rather than creating new processes. One of the fastest ways to breach the terms of an agreement is to have a payment clause that conflicts with the accepted accounting practice of the party that is required to make the payment. But this applies to any processes that are familiar to the parties. Requiring someone to follow a new process outside of their existing systems can be inconvenient and unnecessarily cause problems. For example, if a party’s accounts department pays invoices only once per month and the process would be difficult to change for one payee, there is no point having an agreement that the party would pay within seven days of receiving the invoice.
Last, try to anticipate the needs of your readers and accommodate those needs. Make sure they have everything they need when they need it. You can do this within the document by grouping appropriate clauses together and providing contact details when they are going to need them. For example, including the GST clause straight after the pricing clause. You can also do this outside of the document but within the legal solution. For example, create a practical checklist to assist the parties to prepare for settlement.
Your document is now much more likely to give readers a positive experience.
Try It Now
Open a copy of one of your documents now and use the next 10 minutes to make some valuable changes.
If any parts of your document aren’t relevant to your intended readers, either make them optional or move them to another version of the document.
Go through and highlight any words or phrases in your document that aren’t widely used by your intended readers. Now replace them with widely used words and phrases. If you’re not sure about widely used words and phrases, you’ll need to research your target readers a bit more.
Now review your headings. You may need to rearrange some clauses to fit within your new headings.
Next, change any processes that you’ve tried to reinvent. Stick with what your likely readers already know and work within that. You may need to change around a few clauses to fit, but you can do it! It’s all about making your document functional.
Finally, rearrange some of the clauses to accommodate the needs of your readers. Make sure they have everything they need when they need it.
How great does your document read now? Well done!
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