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Reduce noise

Compare two contrasting approaches to a practical request:

(1) Why do you never pay any attention to anyone’s needs but your own? I’m sitting here watching the scum form on my tea while you spread marmalade all over the paper – which by the way it doesn’t seem to have occurred to you that anyone else might ever want to read – and shovel toast into your face and the milk’s sitting by your elbow but you can’t be bothered to wonder if I might need it, oh no, number 1 has been taken care of and that’s all that matters isn’t it? Really you are the most selfish person I have ever met!

(2) Could you pass me the milk, please?

Obviously, (2) is much more likely to get you the milk than (1), because in (1) your immediate practical need is largely drowned out by a lot of noise about your larger dissatisfaction with the behaviour of your spouse or house-mate.

Much the same goes for letters and requests to the other side or the tribunal in the course of litigation: just saying simply and civilly what you want them to do and why is much more effective than launching into a long tirade about the respondent’s shortcomings. The latter introduces ‘noise’ into your correspondence that will tend to obscure what you are really trying to communicate and make it less likely that you get what you’re after. It also wastes everyone’s time and energy.

Long letters from the other side are a pretty reliable sign that they are making this mistake: it is rare that there is any practical need to write a letter in the course of litigation that extends beyond about a page and a half.

Don’t be drawn in. If you get a long quarrelsome letter from the other side, pick up a highlighter and highlight those bits that actually ask you to do something. Decide whether or not you are prepared to do whatever you are being asked to do, and write a short letter back telling them that, and explaining briefly why.

Ignore the rest of the letter.

See also I don’t object!

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