• Partner's Perspective: The Art of Advocacy as Best Taught by Mr. Rogers
  • Firm Partner Leads Training on Developer Turnover for Community Association Industry
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  • Catch Up on our Banking & Financial Services Industry Blog Series for Hospitality Lenders
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Charles B. Jimerson - The Art of Advocacy as Best Taught by Mr. Rogers
Recently, I was reacquainted with a famous YouTube clip of Fred Rogers, known affectionately by all as Mr. Rogers from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, testifying before the Senate Committee on Commerce’s Subcommittee on Communications to defend a proposed reduction of $10 million in federal funding for the newly formed non-profit corporation dedicated to public broadcasting (PBS) in 1969. The Subcommittee chairman, Senator John Pastore (D-RI)—a tenured and respected politician small in stature (5’4”) but large in presence—was unfamiliar with Fred Rogers and initiated the encounter in a combative, abrasive tone as he bellied up to the microphone looking for pained but invested debate that used to imbue American governance. This was back when politicians gave earnest considerations to arguments, rather than lobbyists having already purchased their decisions.

Over the course of Rogers’ six minutes of testimony, Senator Pastore’s demeanor gradually transitions to one of awe and admiration as Rogers speaks. What struck me as amazing was how it starts with Senator Pastore cutting Mr. Rogers off, and ends with a “go ahead, take my money” benediction. As one of the YouTube commenters noted, the Senator approached the testimony with the thought that he was about to end this man’s whole career, while Mr. Rogers approached the testimony with the thought that he was about to make a new friend.

The Rogers approach made the difference. To me, it reinforced the notion that civil, respectful persuasion is more effective than truthless squawking and argument by artifice. It also convinced me that if you put Mr. Rogers in a room with anarchist protestors and heavily-armed citizen militias and come back an hour later, they’d all be crying and hugging each other. The man was just that darn good at extracting the human decency that resides in all of us. Please take a moment to watch the clip if you have the time.
I’ll confess, even as a young child I never cared much for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I tended to be attracted to Cowboys and Indians or Cops and Robbers programming. Then, when I discovered sports, all the children’s shows were pretty much left in the dust. As a little fella, I found Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood to be corn-fed and slow, an impression that was enduring even through maturation. Lesson by puppet was something I found to be clumsy, all the way down to their amateur voices creating a ricochet effect for the slow-paced explorations of feelings they were commissioned to furnish. Imperfect messengers delivering a perfect message, they were.

But that man and those puppets broke the cycle in our society in many ways. Life experience lends perspective; only when you had been rejected could you understand the acceptance that Mr. Rogers and his puppets encouraged. Only when you had been judged could you understand the understanding that Mr. Rogers promoted. When you are an adult, you realize Mr. Rogers’ handiness without flair can help you be the person you needed when you were hurting, not the person who hurt you. A blood oath with Mr. Rogers entails sharing an ice cream cone with a pal and discussing how to be better than what broke you—to heal instead of becoming bitter so you can act from your heart, not your pain. Yes, as a parent and professional, I’ve come to fully understand that Mr. Rogers’ legacy as a person and creative artist is so much more than his aesthetics; he is an embodiment of universal human values, a teacher and model of core principles for early learning and development, an innovator in messaging through the unpolished but authentic spoken word, and an advocate for the dignity and potential of all children. That last point—his advocacy style and skills—are well illustrated in the clip above and what my message will focus on.

It seems like an ill-fated, unsportsmanlike rivalry to pit a mild-mannered children’s show host against a hard-hitting U.S. Senator appealing for more money in a time of hermetical war penny-pinching. Unfair fight it was, for the fine Senator was not prepared to confront an advocate that was an honest and open communicator, adept at listening and assessing his surroundings, respectful to all, and passionate for his cause. Mr. Rogers was always in control, for he already knew that nice guys finish first, and that anyone who didn’t know that fact was not quite aware of where the finish line was. It was never a fair fight.

In viewing Mr. Rogers’ congressional advocacy through the lens of a polished commercial trial lawyer, what stood out was how his approach differs so much from what I see in dispute resolution nowadays. Unfortunately, real life advocacy in the many forms it takes today usually entails a tone and nature of debate that is less respectful, less substantive, less enthusiastic and ultimately less persuasive. Toxicity has become a ubiquitous condition. The approaches our society takes to conflict management, and the words we use to advance those approaches are replete with nasty, personal and merciless discourse that has a corrosive and compromising effect on the system and its individual participants.

In breaking down the tape like an offensive coordinator looking for that lost secret to converting third and seven (note: the secret is not getting into third and seven in the first place), a few cases in point to Mr. Rogers’ advocacy skills spoke to me:

1. Be prepared but be flexible: When Mr. Rogers took the microphone, he had a scripted speech ready to deploy. I bet he spent days working on that speech. He went into that testimony fully aware that success was where his preparation and opportunity would meet. Rather than stick to the plan, he relied on his planning. With a read of the audience, Mr. Rogers had the emotional intelligence to pivot to a more personalized approach that built a more enduring relationship than a written narrative would have.
Once off-script, Mr. Rogers was still adept at keeping his message focused, which is very difficult to pull off once you’ve taken the podium going against a hot bench. It takes diligent preparation and poise to manage your nerves and focus in a manner that turns a formal written argument into a two-way discussion about key points rather than leaning on the safety of a pre-written 10-minute statement. For an advocate, to adapt is to move ahead. Mr. Rogers did this masterfully.

2. Authenticity matters: Did anyone watch that clip and question Mr. Rogers’ authenticity or credibility? Authenticity matters in advocacy because it is directly linked to effectiveness. It underpins relationships necessary to achieve results. You attract the right things when you have a sense of who you are and can demonstrate that to someone else. I’ve read many books that advance the principle that fact finders respond more favorably to advocates who are authentic and genuine. People can sense a fake and will withhold their trust. They will not let you trade your authenticity for their approval. If you want to be highly effective as an advocate, you must be seen as authentic. It takes courage, though; specifically, it takes courage to be yourself. Authenticity requires a certain measure of vulnerability, transparency, and integrity. Mr. Rogers oozes of those things, and because he was so authentic, it was no leap in logic to find him credible on his subject matter. When you show up authentic, you create the space for others to do the same. To walk with you in your truth.

3. Confidence and control takes many forms: Mr. Rogers was as gentle and loving in real life as we just witnessed, but he also had an iron will and perfectionistic standards, and he kindly and firmly demanded excellence from himself and from all who worked with and on behalf of children. He built his life and work on a bedrock of conviction. Through his passion and commitment to his cause, he developed a belief system that begat confidence.

Think about the confidence he had to have in speaking so slowly, so calmly, so persuasively to a man who had shown no interest in being persuaded the way that Rogers prefers. In this Senate hearing, Mr. Rogers understood he was addressing a Senator who was more than just the decision maker—he was a man who used to be a boy, a man who had a family, and a Senator whose sworn duty was to represent the needs of Americans. Mr. Rogers knew that if he can remind his audience of who they really are, he would have the power to nestle them into his comfortable message. He had confidence that he could understand his audience well enough to speak to what they value, make a personal connection with the person he was addressing, communicate on his terms but using inclusive language to create common ground, and demonstrate courtesy and manners with respectful questions and answers. His self-control created venue control.

I just can’t get over how slow and methodical he spoke in that hearing. Do you know how hard it is to do that? For him, it was second nature as his advocacy was modeled after the way he taught children to talk—with patience, tenderness, and respect. “The pregnant pause” is an old reporter’s trick. Ask a question and wait for a response, no matter how long it takes. You often get some great quotes. This was a little different though, for when he spoke slowly and paused, Mr. Rogers wasn’t trying to get something. He was trying to give something. He wanted the Senator to reflect on and process what he just said. Audiences need time to process and respond. Mr. Rogers bear-hugged the one mouth, two ears philosophy of advocacy.

He also understood that every human experiences a wide range of emotions, and that it is incumbent upon the advocate to help them understand those feelings. “If you can mention it, you can manage it,” was one of his mantras about helping children deal with their experiences, including scary ones. This skill shows in his congressional advocacy as he doesn’t need to make his message sensational. Instead, he speaks directly with a calm and genuine voice. Watching the clip makes you feel like you are in a three-way conversation between you, your trusted friend, and someone really important who really does have a heart after all. Ultimately, Mr. Rogers was able to obtain control through his own comfort and confidence, something he would never have been able to obtain without his own approval. Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are. Because Mr. Rogers knew that his life mission was one of helping us return to our best selves, to be good neighbors to one another, he had all the confidence needed to take control of that room. If he lost self-control, his whole argument would have failed. He didn’t because he believed in himself and his message. He had confidence. As the humble Mr. Rogers showed, confidence and control take many forms.

Mr. Rogers’ testimony goes to prove that if you are an expert in something and your audience is not, think about how your audience perceives things. When you consider information you are about to convey, think about how it will be interpreted or misinterpreted by your audience. Use the language they understand. It’s not about you. If your target audience isn’t listening, it’s not their fault. It is yours.

Children (and apparently politicians) responded to Mr. Rogers because they trusted him, they believed him, and they loved him. The path between our heads and our hands runs through our hearts. If you can’t get someone to want to do something, all the argument and logic in the world won’t matter. Elegant persuasion is really just an inducement of the person to persuade themselves.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t wish everyone Mr. Rogers-level tranquility as we suffer through this upcoming nightmarish electoral process. Remember, bad governments are elected by good citizens who don’t vote.

Very truly yours,
Charles B. Jimerson
Managing Partner

Hughes Leads Developer Turnover Training for Homeowners' Associations
Partner D. Brad Hughes presented a Florida DBPR-approved training course for Community Association Managers (CAMs) and Board Members in September. His virtual presentation, Navigating Developer Turnover from The Developer to The Community or Homeowners’ Association, offered participants guidance through the critical transition from developer to member control.

Jimerson Birr's Community Associations Industry Team regularly hosts training events and continuing education opportunities. If you are interested in an educational presentation for CAMs, staff at your company or your association board members, please email us or call 904-389-0050. Learn more about how our firm serves the Community Association Industry.

Banking & Financial Services Blog Series for Hospitality Industry Lenders
Earlier this year, Partner Austin T. Hamilton and JD Candidate Pierce Schultz launched a blog series focused on the economic challenges faced by businesses in the hospitality industry and the implications for lenders. Given the industry-wide effects from COVID-19, lenders have experienced difficulties as clients have had trouble staying current on their mortgages and loan obligations. This is especially true for hotels and restaurants. The blog series provides information on the various options available to mortgage lenders for hotels and restaurants.

Catch up on the series using the links below and check out what's still ahead.
Still Ahead:

  • Part 6: Expediting the Commercial Foreclosure Process - November 16, 2020

  • Part 7: Appointment of a Receiver During Commercial Foreclosures - December 20, 2020

  • Part 8: Considerations in the Post-Covid-19 Era - December 28, 2020
Managing Problem Construction Projects Webinar Series Concludes
Three partners from Jimerson Birr's Construction Industry Team created a webinar series, Managing Problem Construction Projects. The six-part education series was designed for business owners and leaders in the construction industry. Recently, the series concluded and all six parts are available for you to view on our YouTube channel or by using the links below.

The series topics included:

Learn more about how our firm serves the Construction Industry.
Jimerson Birr Legal Blogs
Are you keeping up with the latest information in business and law? Jimerson Birr publishes weekly blog posts covering topics from construction law, business litigation, eminent domain law, community association law and everything in between. Click here to subscribe today and stay up-to-date on the latest legal news from these core areas:

Banking & Financial Services Industry Law Blog
Canceling or Rescheduling a Mortgage Foreclosure Sale Now Requires a Motion

In 2010, the Florida Supreme Court approved an amendment to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure regarding mortgage foreclosures and enacted new forms, such as Form 1.996(b), Motion to Cancel and Reschedule Foreclosure Sale. In 2014, the Florida Supreme Court renumbered this form to the current Form 1.996(c) (2019). If a plaintiff wishes to cancel and reschedule a mortgage foreclosure sale, a written motion must be filed with the court in accordance with Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, Form 1.996(c)...

Click here to read the full blog post.

Construction Industry Law Blog
Should I Terminate a Notice of Commencement?

Before a property owner can make improvements over $2,500 to their property, Florida law requires the owner (or authorized agent) to record a Notice of Commencement in the public records where the project is located. A Notice of Commencement signals the beginning of a construction project, and provides protection to the owner, contractors, and suppliers. But what happens when the construction project is complete, the owner doesn’t want to continue with the project, or the owner wants to sell or refinance? The owner should terminate the Notice of Commencement by recording a Notice of Termination. Before terminating a Notice of Commencement, the owner must be aware of the why, when, and how to properly do so...

Click here to read the full blog post.

Community Association Law Blog
A Condominium Owner Did Not Pay the Assessment. How Do I Collect?

Under Florida law, condominium associations have the ability to assess unit owners for their proportional amount of the costs and expenses for maintaining and operating the condominium property. The ability of condominium associations to collect assessments from unit owners is provided for in Chapter 718, Fla. Stat., and in the condominium’s governing documents. If a unit owner does not pay his or her assessments, the association has the power to file a claim of lien and, ultimately, foreclose on the unit. However, in order for the association to successfully lien and foreclose on the unit, it must strictly comply with the statutory requirements detailed below...

Click here to read the full blog post.

Business Litigation Blog
New Florida Law Substantially Reduces Retainage Rate on Government Projects

On September 18, 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 101, an act relating to public construction, into law. This new law amends Section 218.735, Florida Statutes (the “Local Government Prompt Payment Act”) and Section 255.078, Florida Statutes (the “Florida Prompt Payment Act”), by reducing the maximum retainage rate on a government construction projects in Florida from 10% for the first half of a project, and 5% for the remainder, to a flat 5% throughout the life of the project. This new law and the changes to the Local Government Prompt Payment Act and the Florida Prompt Payment Act will become effective on October 1, 2020, and apply to construction services contracts advertised for bid or entered into by state or local government entities in Florida after October 1, 2020...

Click here to read the full blog post.

Real Estate Development, Sales & Leasing Industry Blog
Does a Commercial Landlord Have a Duty to Mitigate Damages After a Tenant Breaches the Lease Agreement?

Generally, a commercial landlord does not have a duty to mitigate or reduce its damages after a tenant breaches the commercial lease agreement. See Coast Fed. Savs. & Loan Ass’n v. DeLoach, 362 So. 2d 982, 984 (Fla. 2d DCA 1978). However, there is an exception where the commercial landlord retakes possession of the premises for the benefit of the tenant. Nevertheless, the better practice may be for commercial landlords and property managers to always attempt to mitigate damages...

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Firm News
Curiosities, Ruminations and Various Eccentricities of Firm Biz
A New Tradition Begins: Trivia Happy Hour
This month, our firm hosted an after work trivia happy hour event. Competitive fun coupled with a festive fall theme offered the team a fresh, fun opportunity to come together and enjoy each others' company as we tested our trivia knowledge.

The group was divided into two teams to find out which team would prevail in answering questions on a variety of topics including historical events, pop culture, sports, arts and entertainment, and more. Congratulations to team "No Name" for taking home the win this event. We are all looking forward to the next installment of this event, especially the members of team "Southside" who are thirsty for revenge.

'Minute to Win It' Game Night at Jimerson Birr
The firm's events committee decided that the team deserved two competitive events this month, and the friendly competition continued with a rousing 'Minute to Win It' style game. Each round delivered original, comical games. Who can stack ten Oreos on his/her forehead in less than one minute? Can you stack and unstack 36 Solo Cups in one minute? How about can you hook six pieces of penne pasta on a single piece of angel hair pasta in your mouth? We found out as we played and laughed our way through each round.

As always, the firm is committed to promoting a light-hearted reprieve from the daily routine and encourages an inclusive work environment with a strong sense of community.
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