In this episode Scott talks with acting coach and authenticity expert Sam Christensen. Sam tells Scott about the importance of authenticity, whether on the stage or in the court room.
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Transcript for Trial Lawyer Talk, Episode 24: Sam Christensen
Scott: Welcome to “Trial Lawyer Talk.” I’m Scott Glovsky and I’m your host for this podcast where we speak with some of the best trial lawyers in the United States.
First, today I’d like to thank our exclusive sponsor, Tracy Cass from the Settlement Alliance West. Tracy is a phenomenal settlement consultant, and I’ve worked exclusively with Tracy for the last ten years because she cares. Just like the folks I interview on this podcast, she cares about the clients and does a great job.
Now at first, I was very hesitant to get a sponsor because this podcast is not about making money, and it never will be. So all of the sponsorship money is going to advertise the podcast so that we can spread the word and get more listeners.
Thank you, Tracy.
So let’s get started.
We’re very fortunate today to have with us an amazing acting coach, and an amazingly wise man who’s spent a long time helping actors connect with audiences, and helping actors find their authentic selves. And today we’re very lucky to have with us, Sam Christiansen.
Sam, thanks very much for being with us.
Sam: I’m happy to be here, and thanks for the “wise” description. I feel like that’s something folks have to earn and I’ve put in the years, so I appreciate that.
Scott: So Sam, tell us your personal journey.
Sam: Oh gosh. I guess … to sort of walk us up to the work I do now and what occupies my interest in life, I was raised in the ’50s and ’60s in a pretty different America. My adolescence was spent with assassinations and racial conflict and war, disputes. And that shaped me a great deal.
And then also from early on, I was what in the late ’50s, early ’60s … some kids would be described as “different.” I didn’t know how I was different exactly; I just knew that I was.
When other kids gravitated toward little league, I gravitated more toward television and comic books and reading and all of that kind of stuff; things that were more alone and less team-oriented.
And then when high school came along and there was football and prom king and all of that stuff, I was much more on the debate squad and student leadership and all that.
Also, of course with adolescence, along comes sexuality and all of that stuff. And I sensed I was different in that department, too, but it wasn’t … it was a different America, and I was just confused, and it would be a while before that all got cleared up.
But that also influenced things because I always got to look at things from a perspective of being outside the frame of normal identity the way the average, if you will, person figured out who they were because they fit in a little bit more than I did.
So, I sort of got the message early that I had to excel in the ways that I could. I had to not try to abbreviate or tuck in any of the ways that I was. I just sort of had to be me and let the chips fall where they may.
I don’t know that I was conscious about that, but it sort of became the way that I operated. So, I think that I found some comfort in that, first of all, but I also found a sense of my own identity and my kind of willingness to be who I was.
And I was fascinated with politics because of the environment I’d grown up in. I went to college to study political science, and I got to the University of Colorado and discovered that the study of political science there was not about campaigns. That’s what I wanted to study; I wanted to be a campaign politician.
And I found out it was about comparative government and that sort of stuff. So I just naturally kind of gravitated toward my friends and acquaintances that were in the theater because that was more like campaigning – it was performance.
I got involved in Shakespeare study, a lot of different things, and eventually went to New York with the goal – after a slight detour in concert promotion; I was a rock and roll promoter for a little while – but then ended up in New York where I was trying to get work in production, that kind of stuff, and begin a career in the professional theater.
And once in New York, the second job I got was with some producers that had created a little show called “Godspell.” And when I joined the company “Godspell” became a big international hit. Suddenly there were 16 companies around the world, and so we were doing a lot of casting and filling the roles in “Godspell.”
That was part of my job, so I met a lot of young actors because it’s all a cast of kids. And sending them all over the country and the world in these companies of “Godspell.”
Then someone invited me to come to California on a short-term job working on a Mary Tyler Moore production called “The Rhoda Show.” And I got out here – because we’re here in California where we’re speaking – I got out here and this six week job just turned into a longer thing and I have remained.
And it became apparent to people in this sort of television-movie world that I had an expertise in young actors that I had developed in New York. And so I began getting jobs that featured that.
And the big job that I got fairly early on in my being in California was the casting job on the series “MASH.” And of course, “MASH” is set in a war. And if you’re in a war, kids get killed. That’s how we’ve arranged war, so on “MASH” a lot of actors got killed, and if they got killed you can’t bring them back again.
So my expertise and an endless flow of good young actors that could hold their own with Alan Alda and Harry Morgan, Loretta Swit – the actors that were on there – I got that job because I could provide the young G.I.s and the young nurses in this endless flow of young people they needed.
So that sort of became where I got to have an ongoing experience of bringing in young actors who were probably fairly a year or two or three into their careers, because they had to be 19, 20, 21, 22.
And they had to be good enough to match up with those folks, but they were newbies; they were fresh. And so a lot of times I would hear myself after I auditioned them, and then they were going into a callback situation; they were being presented to the director and producer for final casting.
And I would say to one of the young actors to help them prepare for that callback, I’d say, “You know, the way you read that was great. It was really good. You were hitting all the right beats. You seem to get the writing just perfectly. Now when we do the callback, I want you to do just what you did, but next time just be yourself.”
And I was just trying to say to them, over and above understanding the writing, getting down the story points, delivering what the writing asks, I want you to individualize it. I want you to make this a human being, not just the rendition of a written character, but personalize it.
And there’s really no other way to say that but “just be yourself.” And of course when I would say that, people would just give me this glassy stare because logic says “What else could I be but myself? What are you asking me to do here? I don’t understand it.”
I never understood how … or at that point, I didn’t understand how to give better advice or how to make that clearer to people. I would say it, and they’d look at me.
So as time progressed, I understood why that was a problem. I understood a better way to express it. And when I left the casting world and decided that the part I like best about the casting was coaching these young actors to get these roles, I moved more into a teaching practice.
And the first thing I did was create a process that would solve the problems that are inherent in that concept of being yourself and how to grab that authenticity.
So that’s kind of a short version.
Scott: Let’s talk more about authenticity. Why does that matter?
Sam: I think it’s just intrinsic to the human experience, actually. I think whenever we’re with someone who isn’t … for one reason or another they’re trying to convince us of this thing or of that thing; they’re trying to prove something. They think that a way to gain respect or affection or whatever is by being the thing other people expect.
And so they make little adjustments in their presentation to fit into a workplace or to gain a little traction in the dating world or, you know … whatever it is, we’ve all done it. And I think we don’t feel comfortable, but more importantly, the person receiving the communication – whether it’s an individual or everybody at your workplace – they have the sense that they’re being lied to; that there’s an attempt to fool them going on.
And you know, I think it’s just in human DNA that we have all learned to recognize what reality is versus when we’re being manipulated. I think it’s just part of our caveman nature.
And so when we sense that, when we sense that somebody is manipulating our impression of them, we are uncomfortable and we don’t communicate as well. We put our own guards up. Maybe it creates us being inauthentic to try to match what we’re receiving.
And I just think it slows communication. It stops a really profitable exchange of identity. And so authenticity and being able to be comfortably yourself becomes important.
And a lot of times that’s treated like a psychological issue; like the reason you can’t be yourself is because you’re neurotic or mom did this or dad this that, or whatever. And those factors may be present.
But really, beneath that even, there is a pure technical issue that makes authenticity challenging, and that’s what I believe I’ve solved in the process that I do so that public authenticity, interactions with other human beings becomes more automatic.
Scott: How do you solve that issue?
Sam: Well, there’s a basic problem which is that, when I say to somebody “Just be yourself,” where are you going to go except to your perception of yourself? You’ve been yourself for decades, you have certain attitudes, knowledge, memories that define who you are.
So if I say “be yourself,” you go, “Okay. I know what that is. Of course, I’ve spent time.” Maybe some of us have even done work digging in to who we are with professionals trying to get down to who we are and own it and love it, et cetera.
But the reality is that that perception is only ours. Other people – the public, everyone else – perceives us from a different vantage point. They’re outside the experience that we are inside. So that creates, sometimes, some differences.
A lot of what other folks perceive about us, we recognize and know, but all of us have had the experience where someone has said, “Well, you know what I love about you? You’re so this way or that way.” And you go, “Really? You think I’m that way? Actually I don’t experience that.”
Or we’ve said to somebody else, “Well you know how … something … how da-da-da-da I am.” And someone else is going, “No, actually I never noticed that really. You are?” And we’ve all had that experience.
So we become aware that other people have a different perspective. And what I discovered is you can find out what that perspective isl the trends in it are shared by those folks on the outside of this; pretty much most folks in most situations on the outside of this will have a similar perception.
It will match our perception of ourselves in some ways, most ways; but in some ways it won’t. And sometimes there’s even a perception of us that causes us to go, “Wait a minute. I don’t want you to perceive that. I went to therapy to fix that. I thought it was gone, now I’m upset that you’re still perceiving me as selfish or boisterous or silly or something that I thought I fixed.”
So the bottom line, the sort of key thing I work on, is letting people discover what are those trends of perception on the outside. Where do they match my own perception? Where do they differ? Where are the surprises? Where maybe is some unwanted aspect that people perceive that I kind of wish they didn’t?
And then how do I integrate that with my own perception so that I can then be authentic to how I am in the world, as opposed to how I feel about myself.
There are often issues about how we feel about ourselves that we have to work on and solve. But ultimately, most of our life is interacting with other people. A few people, a single person, or groups of people.
And so to fold in the other side of how we’re perceived and create what I call a unified identity, allows us to take full advantage of what we know about ourselves, the information the other people are working with and their impression of us.
So now we’re working with an identity, an authenticity that sanctions all of its elements, those outside, those inside and those shared between those experiences.
Scott: So how do people go about doing that? In other words, I know that part of the process involved … it’s almost like a focus group where you get feedback from other people as to how they perceive you.
But how does the individual take that information and integrate it in the way that you were describing?
Sam: Let me say something theoretically and then I’ll tell you a little procedural how it happens.
The first thing I like people to begin to understand is letting go of the concept of things not being personal. Sometimes people will say, “Well, you can’t take that personally.” Or, “I didn’t mean that personally.”
And yet, we may not have meant it as judgment or as critique, but everything is personal. It’s interaction between one person and another person, so it’s personal.
And to … in the beginning, to begin to dismiss our intake of other people’s perceptions, to dismiss the idea that they’re just projecting their stuff on us … they are. But they project a different set of stuff on one of us than they do on another of us.
To dismiss the fact, “Well, you know, that was a workplace critique. That wasn’t personal.” Well, yes it was because it was about your person. It may not have been meant intimately, but it was personal; it has to do with your person.
So to begin to go, “My person is in play here; everything is personal,” then we begin this process of just collecting what is going on outside. We do some sort of first impression stuff in the form of the survey when people first see you. What we used to get to do is great.
We used to get to send folks to the airport in groups, and one person would approach the people sitting and waiting for a plane and say, “You see that guy over there? Would you mark this survey?” And a total stranger waiting for a plane killing some time would mark a bunch of words.
Now, we can’t send people to waiting areas anymore as you know, but we now do that in class. So we gather some first impressions. What do people get from you before you’ve even spoken?
And then, through a series of little abbreviated storytelling exercises that we’d set up, people get more reaction. They get more descriptive reaction; not evaluations but descriptions. How are you when you tell the little story about something that angers you? How are you when you tell the little story about a first romance, for example?
And you get more descriptions. Now by the way, all of this stuff that’s coming back to each participant is anonymous. They don’t know who said what. And this is done for two reasons.
First of all, I don’t want somebody walking up to somebody else and go, “Why did you mark ‘considerate’ for me? I’m really not a considerate person and so explain to me …” I don’t want them doing that and confronting somebody, so I wanted everybody to be free to react they way they feel naturally they should.
But also, I want to break that chain of everything has an explanation, because most of the time when we meet people, we don’t get the chance to say, “Why are you feeling the way that you feel about me?” We just have to deal with whatever they’re reacting to.
So we gather a lot of that information; a lot of just how do people describe you at various stages as this process develops. And then I’ve created a system by which we can look at all of that response, see some patterns in it, and begin to come to, “Well, it look like when I walk in a room, people feel this thing, and this thing, and this thing, and that thing.”
Now a lot of those are things, as I said earlier, that you already know; they just kind of get confirmed by this process. But there are always a few things where people go, “I had no idea that people thought I was gullible. That is just weird. I don’t feel gullible, but pretty much a bunch of people have said that.”
We also have another great little piece of this, where part of what we fold into this outside perception is asking people to look up stuff from their own lives; stuff from their high school yearbooks; stuff from job performance evaluations; stuff from college recommendation letters. Things that have … happen now on Facebook where people are descriptive.
So we ask them to gather that information and fold it into this stuff that develops in class. So by the end of that part of the process, everybody has a very good idea of the trends of perception that people on the outside have of them.
And as I said, some is expected and confirmed; other things are surprises.
Scott: It’s interesting because it almost appears as if your process starts with people looking at you without having spoken, and then progresses to you becoming more vulnerable … you said, talking about your first romance or something that angered you.
How does that arc of vulnerability play out?
Sam: I think that the best … it certainly creates descriptions that have a little bit more depth as people move through that “getting to know folks better.” The exercises … little storytelling exercises, are not created to make people vulnerable. They’re created just to allow them to tell their story. But obviously as we tell our stories, things open up.
We let more attitude, more emotion be exposed. We also, as they progress with the group that they’re a part of, they get more comfortable. They know them a little better, each person has said something of their story, everybody opens up a little bit and vulnerabilities show up.
And what they notice and I notice is a lot of the things from the first impression carry through, they just get richer, deeper – those reactions. And then there are some things that get exposed in that “getting to know someone better” that maybe aren’t there.
What’s interesting is some people … the things that they get on that initial survey before people know them, just match. Nothing gets discovered in the second wave. Other people? A lot gets revealed because they don’t let as much show in the beginning. That varies from person to person.
Scott: You talk about having an actor make a connection with the audience, which is very similar, of course, to what we do as trial lawyers.
What are the key ingredients for an actor to make a connection to each member of that audience?
Sam: First of all, let me go back just a ways, because in preparation for today, obviously I listened to a lot of your recent interviewees, and that was really fun. I was a little surprised at how compelling it was just on the level of their stories and their humanity, and much less about the legal setting and their expertise.
And as a matter of fact, if you love them, Mr. Vokey I think? Colby Vokey? said that. He actually said in words that a lot of times the feelings and emotions in a courtroom were lost in the legalese, and he wanted to set those emotions and feelings free when he presented.
And that’s certainly what an actor has to do. When we move through this process, and we get to that stage where folks recognize that outside stuff pretty clearly, we then have a section of our process where we fold in that interior perception, that stuff. So now there’s some unity between outside and inside perception.
And then we ask people to convert that to words because … to language, ways to say these things about themselves to other people. And of course, nobody knows better than attorneys the value of words, and how important words and the construction of how they’re put together is vital.
So we do that for actors. And a long answer to your question, but the goal is to allow people to get very in touch, by virtue of language, with these aspects of themselves so that they can easily say “You know how I am” and say a brief phrase that another person will go “Oh yeah, I kinda noticed that. You sort of are that way.”
So that then their authenticity is in play. It’s working between them and someone else because they’ve said, “You may have noticed about me that I’m sort of like this or like that.” And they say in some word groups, some descriptive fashion, something that is true about themselves and they know the other person has probably noticed.
Scott: So you’re finding a way to get people to be emotionally honest through their excavation of who they are, both internally and the way other people perceive of them.
Sam: Well yeah, and actually … yes, that’s the bigger process. But the simplicity of it is, they’re for the first time really just saying stuff that is self-descriptive, that has been tested as real for the receiver, outside people get it – sure enough, you are that way – you’ve said it.
So now your authenticity is real. It’s in the room. Words have been said. It’s not just “I hope they’re getting my genuine authentic self. They seem to be.” But no, if you say a certain thing about yourself that you’re pretty sure they’ve noticed, people go, “Huh. Dude is onto himself.”
Now, there’s all kinds of things that happen from that simple act of being accurately … accurate’s the wrong word … fully self-descriptive.
Scott: And can you give me an example of that, by the way, for yourself?
Sam: Oh, for myself? Yeah. Like, I will say to somebody, “There’s a thing you need to know about me. I’m measuring the minutes while I’m whiling away the hours, because I’m a guy who’s on it, on it, on it, on it, except in the big picture I’m kind of not. I’m kind of casual about time and commitments and that kind of stuff.”
“But if you’re dealing with me in the moment and we say eleven o’clock, I will check three times, as I did today about our appointment, about when we would do this. You know, I’m on it; I’m on the minutes. But then once we get going, who knows? I lose complete track.”
I will also say things … something else about me is, “Here today, gone tomorrow, and then right back. Because that’s another thing about me. I’ll fade, but I’ll be right back. You never lose me. It may seem as if I’ve wandered off, our friendship has taken a little hiatus, but I’m always back.”
Now the beauty for me of saying those things is that I know that other people perceive those things. They may not use those words, but the concept rings. And once I say one of those things that other people go, “Oh, yeah, interesting he said that. I was sort of feeling that,” then authenticity has become actual. It isn’t intentional anymore; it’s been actualized in the room.
And that’s what hits that emotional depth and people’s history and background and all that stuff that we don’t have to be exact about, we’ve now said “Here’s a behavioral way that all of that background stuff manifests in the world. You probably noticed when I say it, it causes you to go ‘yeah, I sort of kind of had that feeling about you,’ you’re on to yourself.”
And going back to aways to what we were talking about, that sense that we’re not being fooled, that we’re not being manipulated, that the person is just on to themselves, we like that. Human beings like that.
We go back to the people that seem to be genuine, authentic, on to themselves, cool. We use a lot of words for it, but what we mean is that person is not manipulating identity at all; they’re just there; they are truly being themselves.
And so that, I think, applies to anybody. One of the things that impressed me about the podcasts of yours that I listened to … especially … one sticks in my mind. You always ask people about a case that sticks in their minds.
One of the podcasts that will always stick in my mind is Ms. Estefan from Texas, and her story about forming a guidance, motherly relationship with one of her clients who was then tragically killed. And feeling like maybe she wasn’t the right attorney for various reasons … too close.
But then because she psycho-dramaed herself through what she believed her friend had gone through, and then being willing to recreate that in an arbitration mediation meeting, and everybody having to come up face to face, not with the words but with the feelings and the emotions and the actuality of the terrible death that her friend had suffered.
It was like I was listening to a great actress talk about how she found a role. Same thing … same thing. And she was adorable about it, she said, “And I pretty much cleared the room. We didn’t have to go on with the rest of that arbitration. They didn’t want to hear anymore. They were confronted enough that they were ready to settle. They got it. They got it in a way that briefs and words and all of that would never have accomplished.”
And suddenly she realized that she was not only the right attorney, she was the perfect attorney for that because she was willing to do that. And actors have to do that, too. They have to reach in to their own fears, they have to recreate terrible kinds of actualities in their own life or duplicate what they think someone else goes … in order to get to their reality as well as the character’s reality.
Because the purpose is the same. The purpose is exactly the same and that really struck me in the way that you do the podcasts is, ultimately, it’s the story. All … finally it is the story that compels people, that involves people, especially a jury who doesn’t know from all the legalese. They don’t know what those things are … briefs and motions … they just know what they feel.
And that ability to get to the story is what an actor has to do, to get to the core of the story, that thing where it’s personal, and I think that’s what attorneys … I think that’s what all storytellers have to do.
Scott: Yet, in our cases, we’re always looking for the story. And I know you do a lot of work with archetypes and finding stories and … mythical stories.
Share with us why we need to care about story.
Sam: Because it’s the connector. I’ll give you a very real political example that I sometimes use in the demonstration classes that I do, to just talk about the power of storytelling. And I’m usually talking to artists who’ve created motion pictures and television and all that. But it’s the same.
The political example I give is that gay Americans owe more to “Brokeback Mountain” and to “Will and Grace” than they do to any political movement or any legislations, because no political movement nor any legislation would be in play if attitudes hadn’t been changed by stories.
Those stories changed how Americans think about their gay neighbors; their transgender friends. Those stories changed things, and then legislation and politics and all of that follows.
So it’s the same, I suspect, with jurors. Ultimately, it’s some item in the story that they identify with.
Now, here’s another interesting thing. I believe there’s a core to every story that has nothing to do with the circumstances, the plot. And I’ll give you an example that I use in class.
We have a great American novel called “Gone With The Wind,” and if I say to people, “What’s ‘Gone With The Wind’ about?” Well, they say, “You know, it’s about the power of one woman to try to shape her own destiny,” or they say it’s about the end of the terrible scourge of slavery, or they say it’s about plantation life. There’s a lot of things that are part of the plot.
And I go, “Okay, underneath the Civil War, underneath slavery, underneath Scarlet O’Hara, underneath it … what’s it about? What’s it about that everybody gets if they know nothing about the Civil War; if they haven’t read the book?”
And they look at me and I say, “The reason I use this example is that it’s in the title, “Gone With the Wind.” Here’s an experience we’ve all had. Just when you get things kind of the way you like them, whoosh, it can all disappear. That marriage that was perfect; one thing that can happen and whoosh, it can all … You can set up the living room just the way you want it, and the roommate moves the couch.”
There’s always some way large or small that we’ve all experienced the core of that story. Now, Margaret Mitchell set it in the Civil War and she gave us a lot of plot and it’s fantastic, but ultimately the core experience is, “just when I got things the way I want them, things happen. Things can blow right away. It can be gone with the wind.”
So I think that that ultimately is the power of story, is that there is a core to it that everybody understands. It’s, I think, what Ms. Estefan captured in that recreation, which is there was a lot of circumstance about what had happened to her friend and client.
But ultimately, the core of that story is being trapped, no way to get out. We’ve all been trapped at some point; maybe just locked in the car for a moment. It doesn’t have to be in a burning room like the terror that happened to her client, but we’ve all had that experience where, “How do I get out of here?”
And once you hit that, once you get with 12 men and women down to that level of something they’ve all shared, they may never have been in a house fire like her client, but they’ve all been … somehow felt they couldn’t get out. Once you can get to that, I think you own them. I think that is the uniting experience that stories create for us.
And I think at that level, they are all personal because when you hit that, I’m not remembering … I’m remembering my interaction with that feeling. I don’t really care about the circumstances there so much as I care about “I know what that feeling is. I know what it’s like to be trapped. That must have been terrible for that girl. And then she died.”
But that feeling I’ve had. I didn’t die. I didn’t die, I was just locked in the basement for five minutes, but it was horrifying. And we can get there, then we’re getting to the shared humanity because there’s a group of core experiences we’ve all had. We’ve all had them, and if you can get to that, then I think you make the story personal.
And that’s also, then, where the actor or the attorney – I work with a lot of attorneys – where in talking to the jury, they’re talking not attorney to the deciders. It is me to you. “We’ve all been trapped. You know.”
And the moment that happens then all of that other stuff that Vokey was talking about, all that legalese that they don’t care about anyway, just disappears. It’s now down to what are we really talking about here? What human thing happened?
And ultimately that’s what trials are about, and that’s what’s great about listening to the podcast, is almost everybody talked about that more than they talked about some legal moment where they topped the other guy or convinced the judge.
It’s never about that. They’re always telling this story. That’s what great about how you bring that out of them, and I really enjoy it.
Scott: Thank you for that. One of the things I’ve experienced that you do in your class in order to help people dig deeper into themselves and be more comfortable, to make a “safe space.” And that has a lot of implications for us as trial lawyers.
Can you talk about the importance of making a “safe space?”
Sam: Well, yeah, because in my space, I have a lot of control; it’s my studio. I can make sure that just the environment is not unknown or threatening. That’s harder in a courtroom, in a courthouse, in a City Hall; you know, the kind of places that attorneys very often have to present their stories.
But beyond that, I think that my investment that they sense I know in their identities, in the fact that I’m not speaking to a group of students, I’m speaking to individuals, that I get that they have whole identities, and that I’m willing to say things about myself – and I make sure I do this early on in my interaction in class – I say some things, self-descriptive things, that allow people to go, “Oh. I was kinda thinking that. That’s interesting you said that.”
I get my won authenticity interactive as soon as I can. And what I say depends on my assessment of the group, or what I think I’ve just demonstrated. My assistant, Robin, will sometimes say, “Now, we need you to interrupt to ask questions of us because we drive a lot of the theory of the class off your questions. So if we seem to be on a roll …” At which point I usually say “She’s talking about me, not about her.”
“I will get on a roll folks; you’ve probably seen it already,” because they probably have. And you know I see all of them go, “Well it’s good; it’s good he knows that about himself. It would be a little weird if he goes on these rolls and he doesn’t know that he’s just going on and on. He knows it, and it’s because he’s involved. He loves this stuff.”
So that’s one that often comes up. But then, I’ll assess other things in the room, and I’ll say something self-descriptive that allows that, “Oh, well he’s taking a shot. He’s willing to be himself.” And that has so much influence on creating that comfort and safety in a room.
Scott: When you as a leader show your vulnerability and your humanness and your real self, that enables other people to do the same.
Sam: Yeah. It’s just like the President. He doesn’t do it so much anymore because there’s so many vulnerabilities that he gets to jump on. But in the beginning, especially when he was running in 2008, he would mention his ears. He would refer to those great big ears.
Now it’s not difficult for anybody to see that the dude has pretty big ears, but the fact that he would own them, you know? I remember in a press conference somebody was calling out a question from the back and he went, “I can hear you. I’ve got particularly prominent hear-ers.” And he just made a joke.
But the moment he did that, the moment he said “I know what you’re seeing. I acknowledge that,” you really … you can feel the room lean in. You can feel a group of people go, “Huh, huh. Dude’s on to himself. Ha ha. He made a joke about his big ears.”
Anytime we can do that, anytime we can … and it doesn’t have to be self-deprecating or a joke like in that case. Sometimes … you know, I’ve also heard the President say, “People say I’m deeply analytical and removed. They’re right. I am deeply analytical and removed.” Right? We all go, “Well, we know, but it’s great you know. It’s always great.”
I use a crazy example in class. Sometimes you’ve been to a party and there is a drunk girl; she’s had too much to drink and everybody goes, “Oh damn, you know what’s going to happen. Who’s going to take her home? Is she going to throw up? Ooh gosh, it’s really …”
The whole party is all about “If that girl just simply says ‘I am so drunk,’ then the whole party relaxes. We’ll still have to take her home. She still might get sick, but the whole party is not about “does she know?”
She knows. She’s acknowledged it, she’s onto it, that’s a charismatic gesture. She’s just made everybody relieved by her own self-description. And that’s the power that we have to create safety. When the drunk girl says that, she just made the party safer for everybody.
She still might get sick, but at least we’re not all going “Is she gonna get sick and she doesn’t know? And oh my God, what’s going to happen?” We’re like, “Oh yeah, she could probably get sick. Everybody relax; we’ll wait. When she gets sick, we’ll take care of her.”
It becomes a much different environment when we each acknowledge who we are in that environment. And I think you’re absolutely right in this question. Anytime we want to influence, we want to help people understand, we want to move hearts and minds, safety is pretty crucial.
If people feel threatened, they’re not going to move with us to any of those kind of results that good communication can have. It’s going to freeze. And safety is essential, and sometimes the best way to do it is to demonstrate that you feel safe enough to verbally be authentic, to say something that crystallizes the moment, that is on yourself; you take the chance. Everybody goes, “(Sigh), yeah.”
Scott: And that has a lot of implications on us as lawyers when we’re picking juries, when we want people to be open and honest with us, we obviously have to make them feel safe so that we can form a group to get people to be their real selves.
We can understand who they are and make a reasoned and a proper decision on not only building the group, but also finding people who ultimately may not be the best fit for the jury.
Sam: I think about that all the time. When there’s some big case and they’re in the jury selection process … I don’t select my students, they select me. But I often think about that, “Wow, if I had to put together a group of 12 students that would really support this process, they’d get stuff out of it, they’d support each other in getting to the conclusion, I don’t know how I’d do that.”
I don’t know how attorneys do that as deftly as some of them do it, because that must be really pressure-ful to go, “How, in a few minutes, do I get a personal connection with this person that is viable enough that I can have some sense is they’re the right person for me to tell this story to?” It must be really trying.
Scott: You know, one thing that’s interesting is that we often do psychological excavations of our own lives to discover who we are so that we can be our real and authentic … comfortable in our own skin, and therefore have charisma.
Your work integrates not just the personal work, but also looking at how other people perceive of us and the combination of those two.
Sam: Because ultimately, our authen …
You know, we do all this work alone with a therapist or with a counselor or with a priest or a rabbi or … we have someone that we work through issues. And most of us have had to do that in one way or another. And I certainly have.
And yet, that is work that is interiorized; it’s shared perhaps with a person who’s supposed to help guide you through it. But, it’s interior. It’s working on ourselves as we perceive ourselves.
Well the reality is that our comfort, our non-neurotic behavior, our authenticity are never alone. They’re public. You can’t look in your mirror and be authentic. The only way you can judge your authenticity is the bounce back from somebody else who is finding you authentic. That’s the only way we can judge it.
And so, all that work is necessary and valuable; I don’t think we can do the public work if we aren’t fairly settled in the interior self. But that is not identity. That is not authenticity. That’s good work, but authenticity by definition involves other human beings, not just me and my therapist, but other human beings.
Can I carry this comfort with myself? Can I carry these admissions, these ownerships that I do in therapy? Can I carry all of that healthier me out into interactions, and am I willing to be as open about who I am in the world as I am in the office for an hour with my therapist?
And I think that’s where therapy falls short for a lot of people, because they get real healthy for an hour a week, but that health doesn’t translate as much as they hope it will for the investment made out into workplace or into a marriage, or into who they socialize with, or whatever.
And that’s because we don’t acknowledge that identity authenticity are public activities. They aren’t private health; they’re public activities.
Scott: And it seems the personal work is crucial to get to the authenticity. You can’t be authentic by looking just at the way other people perceive of you, because that’s probably a recipe for neurosis.
Sam: Complete neurosis, and total fakery. If all you’re doing – because there are people who do that – they just assess how they’re coming over. And then, of course, all they get is “I’ll adjust this and I’ll adjust that, and I can fit … then the boss will like me better.” And they get truly crazy.
So yeah, I think we’ve got to get to a certain level of security, whether we do that under some guidance or we just grow up and we finally go, “You know, I gotta stop doubting myself and putting myself down. I’ve got to get a little less crazy.”
However we come to it, it’s then … I think you’re right; some of that has to happen. But then, can we carry this healthier person out into all the interactions?
That’s ultimately the purpose, because if we just sit alone and be healthy at our house, what good is it? Might as well be sitting alone crazy at our house. Costs a lot less.
Scott: Thank you very much for joining us today. This was very, very insightful and very helpful.
And we have Sam’s contact information on our website. I certainly encourage you to check out Sam’s great work, and he’s publishing a book in short order, at some point in the near future. And his classes are great.
Sam: The book that lasts forever. I’ve been writing this book for so many years, but sooner or later I will finish it. There’s something about me.
Scott: Thanks, Sam.
Sam: Thank you.
Thank you for joining us today for “Trial Lawyer Talk.” If you liked the show, I’d really appreciate it if you could give us a good review on iTunes, and I’d love to get your feedback.
You can reach me at www.scottglovsky.com – that’s s-c-o-t-t-g-l-o-v-s-k-y – dot com, and I’d love to hear your feedback.
You can also check out the book that published called “Fighting Health Insurance Denials: A Primer For Lawyers.” That’s on Amazon. I put the book together based on 20 years of suing health insurance companies for denying medical care to people, and it provides a general outline of how to fight health insurance denials.
Have a great week, and we’ll talk to you in the next episode.
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