‘The Inner Game’ for Lawyers

inner-gameLawyers are a self-critical bunch – too self-critical sometimes!

I consistently hear lawyers saying ‘I’m no good at selling’ or something similar. This is where the world of ‘the inner game’ and tennis coaching comes in!

One of the most important coaching books ever written in my view was Tim Gallwey’s book, The Inner Game of Tennis. Not only did it start a trend in sports coaching but it effectively created a whole new industry – executive coaching!

Let’s start by summarising Gallwey’s key propositions.

Gallwey’s propositions in the tennis world

  1. There is an ‘outer game’, comprising technique, fitness, strategy etc and there is an ‘inner game’, comprising concentration, dealing with self doubt, dealing with anxiety etc. Evidence for the existence of the inner game comes from hearing statements such as:

‘When I’m practising, I play well. But I fall apart when I’m playing a game.’

‘If I concentrate on doing one thing right, I forget doing everything else!’

  1. To master the inner game, we need to recognise the existence of two different states: Self 1 is the ‘teller’ and Self 2 is the ‘doer’. So after a bad backhand shot in tennis, Self 1 says to Self 2 on each subsequent backhand:

‘No – not like that! Keep your backswing low and follow through….You are useless at backhands….Try giving up and run around to play forehands!’

You can imagine being Self 2 and feeling your confidence sapping and your tension rising. Not conducive to playing well. Frustration builds.

  1. The answer to address this problem lies in quietening this Self 1 dialogue and trusting your Self 2 to deliver. Imagine being a top tennis player and returning a serve from a fast server. The ball takes less than half a second to get to you. There’s no time to think about where to put your feet and the angle of your racket. You just have to trust that your body knows how to do it….and then just do it!
  1. One helpful way of quietening Self 1 is to let go of being judgemental. Avoid criticising yourself or imagining others criticising you. It’s still important to notice what’s going on, but see it happening as a neutral person and avoid either criticism or praise.

You might be surprised to see me writing ‘avoid praise’. The reason this is important is because the absence of praise then easily becomes the equivalent of criticism. So, quietening Self 1is like becoming the neutral umpire rather than being a partisan player.

How the Inner Game applies to lawyers doing Business Development

My thesis is that lawyers are their own worst enemies when contemplating their BD role. Their Self 1 voice dominates and whilst there is this negative voice, there is an increased chance of limiting actions and results. My evidence for this is:

  • The majority of partners and senior associates doing less BD than wanted by management
  • So many senior lawyers telling me that they don’t know how to do it.

Compare the usual approach to BD with ‘the inner game’ approach:

Usual Approach to BD

Step 1 – Thinking & Feeling Incompetent


‘I’ve been on a training course, but still feel uncertain about what to talk about at receptions’

‘I’m ok at doing presentations but fear looking stupid when they ask me questions’

‘I lost another pitch. I must be doing something wrong’

Step 2 – Tell Yourself to Change- Try Harder

The result: Doing it in a self-conscious way with tension and little grace

Step 3 – Doing it with Critical Judgement

Leading to: frustration at failure or only partial success, leading to more feelings of incompetence

….and so the pattern and cycle continues….

‘Inner Game’ Approach to BD

Step 1 – Observing Behaviours Non-Judgementally


‘I noticed that I was easily distracted when listening to that client’

‘I can see that there’s a pattern to the feedback we’re getting from clients

‘I enjoy doing xyz work for ABC clients’

Step 2 – Ask Yourself to Change – Envision success

The result: Picturing yourself being relaxed and competent, perhaps re-living a recent positive experience or stepping into the shoes of someone else you admire

Step 3 – Trust Yourself to do it – Let it Happen

Leading to: A calmer disposition and greater capacity to observe and listen and adapt as required. A greater chance of success!

Examples Using the Inner Game in BD

  1. Junior partner grows up – A partner who had been at the firm since being a trainee lacked credibility with other partners and clients. He just wasn’t getting involved in the big deals and selling big ticket work. The coaching revealed that the partner was overly conscious that, though he was a partner, he felt he was only a junior one! That was his inner voice getting in the way of being effective.

By adopting a more adult demeanour and seeing himself as a fully deserving member of the ‘club’, he became much more impressive. He spoke earlier in group meetings and his voice had added conviction. He started generating more BD ideas and spending more time networking with clients and spending less time worrying about what other partners thought of him

  1. Silence is Golden – A head of a practice group talked too much – particularly when having lunches with clients! Coaching helped the partner realise that the inner anxiety was caused by two negative thoughts:
    1. If he stopped talking there might be silence and that would be embarrassing!
    2. If the partner allowed the client too much airtime, the partner might not have the ability to shine!

Our coaching focussed on the art of conversation and questioning and listening skills. These were skills that the partners had in ‘real life’ and when the partner looked at these lunches differently, they went much better.

  1. Senior Associate becomes a Human Being Again – it became obvious during a BD workshop I was running that one associate ‘changed’ when doing the role-play exercises and became less effective at building a relationship with the actor playing the client. Instead of being warm and friendly, as he was during a conversation during the coffee break, he became stiff and formal (which was how he was imagining a lawyer should be!).

The ‘inner game’ was telling the associate that they had to be impressive. This led to too much tension and too little grace. When he imagined ‘just being himself’, it all worked much better. He listened better to the client and reflected back what the client was talking about.


An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

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