So much of lawyering pertains to language, intellect and logic. Our training and traditions lead us to believe we should focus primarily on these domains to improve ourselves professionally. Yet there is a whole other level of practice that I believe lawyers (and others) can benefit from that can enhance success and enjoyment of work.

Have you ever noticed how some lawyers seem to naturally command attention and authority and put others at ease by their simple presence?

Related to this, I want to draw your attention to an interesting concept from someone pretty far outside the legal field: the Dog Whisperer. You may have seen his books or TV program. Cesar Milan is a famous dog trainer who helps struggling dog owners learn to take control over their misbehaving dogs.

The cornerstone of his method is helping dog owners learn to manifest “calm-assertive” energy.

On his blog, the Dog Whisperer writes:

“Natural calm-assertive personalities — those who are relaxed, even-tempered and in control — are very rare. If you’re not naturally a calm-assertive person, don’t worry; building confidence takes practice and conscious effort. …. [You can] use the power of thought, feeling and imagination to transform yourself into this character. You will begin to find that you can channel a calm-assertive personality in no time.”

To witness the Dog Whisperer in action is to witness a sort of miracle. It is not by his words but by his presence and demeanor that he can instantly transform an unruly, misbehaved canine into a calm, attentive, much more tame creature.

Despite obvious differences between dogs and humans, I believe there is some real learning to be had from tending to our energy and our demeanor, and I believe lawyers in particular can use this awareness to help influence others and to improve how they feel about themselves.

If you reflect on times you felt well received or influential, perhaps you may also notice these were occasions when you manifested calm assertiveness. Or if you consider others who seem to command authority by their presence, you may notice that they too seem to have mastered the art of calm assertiveness.

Cultivating More Calm-Assertive Energy

A variety of times in a lawyer’s workday could benefit from an enhanced level of calm assertiveness. Imagine the effects of tapping into this sort of energy in the following circumstances: in the courtroom; in meetings with colleagues or with clients; or on the phone, perhaps making a call to opposing counsel.

Perhaps the best time to consciously cultivate this sort of energy balance is when you foresee that your confidence may go off balance if you don’t tend to it. Another key time to bring this into awareness is when you anticipate being around others who may tend to throw you off your center.

Even when you are quietly working on your own, you may benefit from intentionally conjuring this level of energy for yourself to help you move more freely and confidently through your day.

Learning From the Dog Whisperer

In taking a cue from the Dog Whisperer, you have the potential to reap several benefits, including:

  • Projecting calm assertiveness can help fortify the trust and confidence you engender from your clients and colleagues. With calm assertiveness, you embody the sort of person whom others naturally believe in because you exude belief in yourself. Calm assertiveness is a helpful path for leaders or anyone who aspires to be in a leadership role.
  • When you set this sort of tone for yourself, you have a greater potential influence over the overall environment around you. The tone we set for ourselves can be contagious. The energy of one who claims his or her calm assertiveness can naturally shift a chaotic or otherwise unpleasant environment into a much more seemingly ordered and peaceful space. Obviously, there is no guarantee that you can always shift the entire energy of any environment, but at the very least, if you start to embrace your own calm assertiveness, you will likely feel more in control and others may sense your vibe and calm down more themselves. Also, in setting this tone, you help yourself and those you are working with stay focused on the present, helping you and others feel and think better.

Exerting More Calm Assertiveness

  • Be prepared. Calm assertiveness comes more easily when we feel fully prepared. Lawyers have been reminded continually about the importance of preparation to promoting successful outcomes. Preparation helps us more fully claim our calm-assertive voice. Of course, there will be times when urgent matters and emergencies may make full preparation impossible. We can follow the other steps below even when circumstances don’t permit as full a level of preparation as we would like.
  • Set calm assertiveness as an intention. It is amazing how the simple act of consciously setting an intention for ourselves can alter the way we feel and the way we are perceived by others. The Dog Whisperer demonstrates this, even when he doesn’t state it aloud. When he teaches dog owners to tame their unruly dogs, he will instruct them to set their minds to settle into a calm-assertive state. He notes and demonstrates again and again how dogs read the energy of their owners. We are not that far off from our canine friends in our natural responsiveness to people’s energy. At desired and targeted moments, you could experiment with setting an intention for yourself and even simply saying the words “calm assertive” to yourself. In doing so, you will likely increase the chances of your moving into this desired state.
  • Practice sensing and visualizing your ideal blend of calm assertiveness. For practice, perhaps you may wish to start with a low-stakes meeting and see what happens when you consciously intend to set a calm-assertive tone. You could also practice cultivating this sort of energy in a meeting outside of work or in your home life. You can experiment and sense whether there is an enhanced level of centeredness within yourself and a positive mood in the room that seems to be helped by your setting the tone.

On occasions when you feel off-center, you may want to try visualizing yourself with an ideal blend of calm assertiveness. When trying to strike the ideal balance of calmness and assertiveness, ask yourself which one you could use more of and intentionally make adjustments. Obviously, this is subtle and not as easy as simply turning a knob or pressing a button, but we can exercise some control over our how we manifest our energy.

  • Observe and learn from role models.

In your day-to-day life, notice others who can serve as models of calm assertiveness for you. You may notice this quality in colleagues, friends, family or acquaintances.

  • It’s about presence.

Calm assertiveness derives less from what you do and more from how you do what you do. The beauty of working on cultivating this is that it does not have to take much time. It’s about being more intentional about the tone you are setting and the influence that tone can have on yourself and those around you. You may find you have more power within you than you knew you had.

Karen Shapiro is a lawyer who currently works as a certified life coach through her company, Insight & Action. She helps individuals make positive changes and manage stress in their personal and/or professional lives. Contact her at 610-642-4313 or