Category: Emotional labor

Emotional intelligenceEmotional laborLeadershipMentoringmindfulness

Listening to Combat Loneliness    

According to this study in the Harvard Business Review, lawyers are #1 when it comes to being lonely at work:

In a breakdown of loneliness and social support rates by profession, legal practice was the loneliest kind of work, followed by engineering and science.

(Hat tip to Keith Lee of Associate’s Mind and online lawyer community Lawyer Smack. He wrote more about lawyer loneliness here.)

The legal industry may be particularly prone to loneliness because of the “game face” mentality necessary to represent clients effectively. Putting on a game face on for work can be a professional necessity, but also causes loneliness if it spreads to other facets of life.

People who are lonely often think that everyone else is doing OK while they are not. They think they are the only ones carrying a burden. I have had clients talk about putting their “game face” on rather than sharing truthfully about themselves.

This quote is from British psychotherapist Philippa Perry, board member of a social business called Talk for Health which aims to create a network of long-term peer support systems for meaningful sharing and listening.

Many lawyers and legal professionals and law students already have long-term peer groups in their colleagues and classmates. But if people are gathering on a regular basis with their game faces firmly in place, those peer groups may not be serving a support function at all. Is there anything lonelier than giving a performance that everything is wonderful and there is “nothing to see here”?

Peer groups that provide real support are one of the most valuable ways to combat loneliness. To delve more into the elements of real support, I went to the books—specifically the listening textbook authored by Professors Worthington and Fitch-Hauser of Auburn, Listening: Processes, Functions, and Competency. (I met and talked with them a few years ago and would do so again anytime because they are awesome.) They lay out some helpful categories of listening for social support:

Directive v. non-directive

Directive support provides “unrequested specific types of coping behaviors or solutions for the recipient.”

Non-directive support “shifts the focus of control from the giver to the receiver” and lets the receiver “dictate the support provisions.

Problem-focused v. emotion-focused

Problem-focused support seeks to help the speaker solve a problem.

Emotion-focused support seeks to help the speaker work through their own emotions

To provide effective social support, different strategies are called for at different times and in different contexts. Coworkers who do not know each other all that well are not just going to go out for coffee and start providing open-ended, non-directive emotional support. I recently went to a women’s bar event and heard a white woman explain that she really wanted to “be there” for her minority colleagues, but they didn’t seem willing to open up and share. Someone tactfully pointed out that you can be a good colleague just by being kind and reliable over time. Small talk is not meaningless; by being really interested in someone in a socially appropriate way, maybe a deeper relationship will develop. But no one is entitled to hear another person’s story at work.

Junior lawyers and new law students may seek and crave mentors who give them directive emotional support; I recently overheard a third-year law student lecturing—in a supportive but dominant voice—a first-year student. The 3L forcefully instructed the 1L to stop being distracted by a romantic relationship and focus on school, and everything would fall into place as long as the 1L put priorities where they belonged and made a point of taking this time to do what needed to be done, etc. etc.

This kind of directive advice can feel exactly right for a person who is lonely, unsure of their own path forward and how to be effective, or both. But over time, directive support may become more about the person offering it. Directive support can foster a dependent relationship that just leaves the recipient in an even lonelier place when the “director” is not around. A thoughtful mentor should reflect on their own strategies for providing support. Someone who naturally tends toward directive support should consider mixing it up with non-directive approaches. This means asking more questions, prompting the mentee to reflect and assess what is needed. Ultimately, non-directive listening may help a professional grow and take responsibility for their development.

Assisting someone who appears to be lonely is an advanced communication challenge. Jeena Cho has written about the difficulty lawyers may feel in breaking the cycle of loneliness:

When we feel loneliness, it’s easy to continue on the path to more loneliness rather than to do something about it. It makes sense that lawyers would avoid taking steps to break the loneliness because it would require vulnerability.

Others around a lonely person may be able to sense it and help them break the cycle. Worthington and Fitch-Hauser give an example in their book of the following—something that lawyers and legal professionals may recognize from their own conversations at work:

Person 1: Hey, how are you?

Person 2: Oh hello, I’m fine. How about you?

Person 1: Hmm, you don’t sound like you’re fine. What’s going on?

Person 2: Oh nothing. Really, I’m fine.

They acknowledge that in this scenario, 1 may accept 2’s statement at face value and leave the conversation. But to  really go in for the social support, 1 might push for more with something like “Are you sure? Did something happen at work that upset you? If you’d like to talk about it, I’m here to listen.” They acknowledge this is a heavy-handed response and suggest another, less intrusive way to handle the conversation as well: 1 may choose to sit down next to 2 and ask 2 a bit more specifically how work is going. As Worthington and Fitch-Hauser point out, even the heavy-handed approach can be helpful. It’s uncomfortable and possibly annoying, but it provides the potentially lonely person with the opportunity to respond.

Both of these possible approaches also avoid the “negative social support behaviors.” In terms of what not to do, Worthington and Fitch-Hauser list the following:

  • Giving advice
  • Using platitudes or clichés
  • Saying “I know exactly what you’re going through”
  • Telling people to stop crying or stop being wrong or embarrassing
  • Saying it’s not such a big deal and minimizing the situation
  • Blaming the person seeking support

Other than unsolicited and unwanted advice, these should be pretty easy to avoid. It’s much harder to provide truly effective social support. Really good social support tends to be “invisible”: “The recipient isn’t consciously aware that support is being given and, therefore, doesn’t feel any negative consequences of being the recipient.”

I think this observation crystallizes the true art form of helping a colleague break through their loneliness. If they become aware that (1) you think they’re lonely and (2) you are trying to help, your chance of effectively helping them drops precipitously.  Stealthy, invisible support using discerning, empathetic listening can encourage someone to begin addressing their loneliness by doing what Jeena talks about in her article: taking a tiny step.

Cross-cultural communicationEmotional intelligenceEmotional laborMentoring

Ready to listen

How can I be an ally? How can I let people know I’m really ready to listen?

At the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers’ CLE on women in leadership held today at the State Bar of Georgia, several participants shared their desire to help and to listen. Discussions around #MeToo are bringing out stories suppressed sometimes for decades, stories often peeled back to more layers of race and class. Although there are no easy answers, many agreed on the value of listening. What can we do? One thing is we can listen, actively, to one another’s stories.

Then a question was raised: what if you’re ready to listen but others aren’t sharing?  “I do want to listen, I am ready to hear. But sometimes I feel people aren’t willing to speak. Maybe they think I won’t understand, or they put up a defensive barrier. How can I prove I really want to listen?”

Listening is such a gift. But—as someone pointed out from the audience—showing up to listen does not obligate others to share their stories. Receptive body language and an open heart does not guarantee others will reciprocate by speaking. Nor should it. If listening is a gift, it must be given without expectation of repayment.

At a different CLE last summer, through the International Listening Association’s annual convention, I co-presented a CLE on “Better Listening for Better Lawyering.” One of the most popular parts of the CLE, according to the feedback, was discussion of the “Preparing to Listen” checklist. People—especially task-driven, problem-solving, professional people like lawyers—just love checklists. You have a focus, broken down into small parts. You can check off the boxes. If you do everything on that checklist, you’re prepared to listen. Right?

That checklist is great, and many people are failing miserably at doing half the tasks it lists. Atul Gawande popularized checklists as a lifesaving measure in surgical units, citing evidence they work because they catch “the dumb stuff.” In the world of listening, “dumb stuff” means looking at your phone or starting a conversation by telling someone they don’t look like a lawyer—another story shared at the GAWL session today.

But today’s conversation also revealed, yet again, that listening is more than checking off boxes. Avoiding the “dumb stuff” is not quite the path to the authentic, vulnerable speaking and listening.

Panelist Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming offered a response that transcends checklists and neat reciprocal obligations: Readiness to listen means being there. It means finding “small points of common interest” with the people around you. It means putting in the work “day by day.”

Someone chimed in that change comes from individual relationships, not the top down. I’m not sure I agree with giving up on top-down measures. But I agree change won’t happen without the relationships—the kind that are built through small, incremental, meaningful gifts of attention and recognition. And perhaps, when the moment is right, speaking and listening.

 

Cross-cultural communicationEmotional laborPeople skills

Extreme listening

Recently I used a ride-sharing service that shall remain nameless. I was with another law professor on our way to the airport from a weeklong conference. It was a 30-minute ride.

The driver was a relatively young person. For the first half of the ride, he drove without speaking. My friend and I discussed the conference, some professional gossip, and what we will be working on next year.

We reviewed the conference and I described one of the sessions I attended, on raising average Americans’ awareness about participating in the regulatory process. Speaking colloquially, I summarized a key point from the session: outside of the realm of law professors, many people are basically “stupid” about the administrative process. It was not a word used in the session; it was my shorthand to mean ill-informed.

That colloquial word somehow emboldened the driver to speak up.

“Are you lawyers?”

Scanned Image 01611

“Antarctica” by Jeremy T. Hetzel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

We told him we are law professors, and we don’t practice law anymore. That did not give him any pause.

“Can I ask you a question?”

Our extreme listening saga began as the driver shared his personal passion and desire to sue the federal government. He has been studying information about a few globally prominent and historically famous billionaire families. He believes they have some connection to the continent of Antarctica. Something is happening in Antarctica, and he wants to know more about it. Specifically, he said, he wants to get into court and have a judge—and the public—take him seriously.

My friend and I gave him some leeway.  “To get into court, you have to have a legal claim. You have to be injured in some way that the courts would recognize as something they spend their time on.”

He did not have a sense what his claim would be. He did say he feels Antarctica has resources that are either not being used or are being used by global families in some way that needs to be discovered and revealed. “I want to do something drastic,” he said. “I want to make a difference.”

This was a listening challenge for several reasons. I didn’t want to listen to him at all; I wanted to talk to my friend. I didn’t believe anything he was saying. And I didn’t agree with his choices to spend his time ruminating on such theories. He’s about the same age as many law students, and it made me feel like he was wasting his off-hours from work staring at various websites. Maybe he needs an outlet for his curiosity and engagement with big questions because he has to work and earn instead of pursuing formal education. That is possible, perhaps even likely. But whatever the reason for his life situation here and now, there is wisdom in focusing one’s efforts on changing one’s actual sphere of influence. (I believe that’s from Stephen Covey.) Yes, the Internet is amazing and allows investigation plus amplification of voices—but it does seem that uncovering a global conspiracy in Antarctica is outside the sphere of a 24-year-old ride-sharing driver in a southern U.S. state.

Whether to keep listening and if so, how to manage this conversation?

I tried echoing about “making a difference.” I asked him if he has family in the U.S. and he said yes, although they live almost a thousand miles away. I said, “When I start to think about making a difference, I think about my family and how I can help them. That’s something I know I can work on.”

My friend nodded toward me, but her eyes signaled a desire for exit.

The driver repeated his desire to do something and make a statement. He mentioned wanting to know what NASA is doing in Antarctica.

I tried to think of something he could actually do. I told him about the Freedom of Information Act. I also told him about the ability to file a public comment if he found an agency that is dealing with Antarctica in some way.

When there was a short lull in the conversation, I turned it back to my friend with a moderately loud question aimed solely at her. She picked up the conversation and we reclaimed the rest of our time—although not really since there were only about five minutes left in the ride and urgent questions about airlines and terminals and such.

A few thoughts lingered after this conversation.

There aren’t that many spaces in this world where people with extremely different viewpoints come together to discuss those viewpoints in a context expected to be civil. I am not sure what persona this guy might use while researching his interests online, but his persona while driving the car was extremely professional and courteous. Reflecting on our conversation raised several important points for engaging with people with different viewpoints.

First, conversations work best in good faith. Try to find some area of common ground. Try to find a way to help the other person on their chosen journey even if you really don’t agree with their choices.

Second, honor the risks that the other person in a conversation takes. This guy took a risk by asking us whether we are lawyers. He used caveats like “I know it might sound crazy, but….” If we had curtly cut off the conversation and used all the time for ourselves, what would his takeaway have been?  Would we have confirmed that lawyers are jerks?

Third, stand for your own beliefs, ideally with kindness. At one point my friend explained what we teach: “The most important thing, really, is critical thinking—the ability to tell what’s true from what’s false.” She was giving him something to think about in the future, and laying out a boundary for the immediate conversation.

Finally, look for opportunities in a conversation. One way to build a conversation is to echo what the other person is saying and add more. You can sometimes shape the conversation by what you choose to echo. The most famous improvisational technique is “Yes, and…”

Also look for opportunities to refocus. Ending a conversation is a skill, especially when you’re in a small car with miles to go until the airport.

Related posts: A high-intensity listening workout and Listening until it hurts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DiversityEmotional intelligenceEmotional laborInclusionLaw school

Listening begets listening

Thanks to Professors Alexa Chew and O.J. Salinas for their guest post below on fostering an open dialogue on diversity and inclusion in law schools. They will be presenting on these issues this week at the Association of Legal Writing Directors’ 2017 conference.

Law schools throughout the country continue to face issues related to diversity and inclusion. Students may feel unwelcome or marginalized at their law schools, and these feelings can impact their academic performance. This isn’t news, and most people want to foster a more inclusive law school environment.

chewBut what might be news are the details of these students’ individual experiences or the scope of these negative experiences within a student body. This matters because a precursor to making a law school more inclusive is understanding how students are feeling excluded. It also matters because if you’re not hearing those details, you might think that your school doesn’t have an inclusion problem. Or worse, you might be unknowingly contributing to it.

Whether you know it or not, your school probably does have an inclusion problem.

There is likely a group of faculty and staff at your school who know this well because they hear more than their share of students’ unhappy stories. Being one of those “go-to” folks is a blessing and a burden. It is a gift to be trusted with the intimate details of someone’s misery, to be present with another person’s vulnerability, to hear things before they need to be shouted. But it can also take an emotional toll on the listener. This is especially true when the student’s experience overlaps with the listener’s—for example because both are racial minorities or the first in their family to attend college.

A thing about burdens, though, is they get lighter when more people take them on. Not only that, but sharing burdens builds community.

salinasResearch suggests that the differences or misunderstandings that divide us can be lessened when we speak to each other and get to know each other a little more. Inviting students to share their stories and listening to those stories can improve those students’ well-being, especially if they feel that they haven’t been listened to in the past.

Here are some ideas for helping to invite these conversations:

  • In an individual conference or office hours, you might ask a student open-ended questions about how school is going. Listen to the answers non-judgmentally. Observe the student’s body language. Put on your lawyer hat and ask follow-up questions based on what you’ve heard and seen. (But remember it’s not an interrogation!)
  • In class, you could share a personal anecdote that suggests you have some experience with feeling like you don’t fit in. Explain that it’s common for law students to feel like they don’t belong. The reasons might be diverse, but the feeling of being an outsider is shared. This common ground can form the foundation for further conversation.
  • In class, you could issue a more explicit invitation to students–let them know that you are genuinely interested in their law school experience. Let them know that they can feel free to talk with you about non-academic concerns. (But be aware of reporting requirements at your institution. If you get the sense that a student might want to disclose information that must be reported, for example to your institution’s Title IX office, you’ll need to stop the conversation and advise the student of your duty to report certain information. This might be welcome news to the student, or it might not. The student can then make an informed choice about what else to share with you.)
  • Host a forum where students share their stories related to diversity and inclusion. A physical forum can foster real-time dialogue about students’ experiences and potential actions to address their concerns. The presence of faculty, staff, and administrators at a forum can expand the conversation by signaling that these issues matter and should be taken up by the whole community.

As readers of this blog surely know:

Listening begets listening—the more you practice, the better you get.

When it comes to conversations about diversity and inclusion, you might be afraid of saying the wrong thing. That’s a reasonable fear, and we’ve both said the wrong things during these conversations. It doesn’t feel great. But sometimes there isn’t a right thing to say. Sometimes the best you can offer is your time, your attention, and your ear.

If you are attending the ALWD Conference this week, we invite you to attend our session on Wednesday afternoon at 2 pm, where we will be hosting a conversation about these issues. The 2017 ALWD Conference is dedicated to discussions surrounding diversity and inclusion, as reflected by its theme: Acknowledging Lines: Talking About What Unites and Divides Us.

Thanks again to Alexa Chew and O.J. Salinas of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill:

Alexa Chew is a Clinical Associate Professor of Law at UNC Law. You can also find her on twitter at @aznchew.

O.J. Salinas is a Clinical Associate Professor of Law at UNC Law. You can also find him on twitter at @ojsalinas.

 

Client relationshipsCross-cultural communicationEmotional intelligenceEmotional laborGender

Emotions in writing

Listening and speaking can be empathetic. Even reading (reading literary fiction, that is) is connected with empathy. But what about writing? And specifically, what about legal writing? The textbooks concur that writers are supposed to harness not only logos and ethos but also pathos in their appellate briefs and other persuasive writing. But what about the pathos—the emotion—in everyday legal writing?

Ever since learning about IBM’s Watson Tone Analyzer, I’ve wanted to try it on some legal writing. I wanted to find out what a “robot” like Watson has to say about the voice and emotions in contrasting legal-writing samples. Here’s what Watson can do:

The [Watson Tone Analyzer] service uses linguistic analysis to detect and interpret emotions, social tendencies, and language style cues found in text. Tones detected within the General Purpose Endpoint include joy, fear, sadness, anger, disgust, analytical, confident, tentative, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional range.

As shown below, Watson offers an overall document-level analysis, and it highlights sentences that score particularly high on certain emotional indicators.

For this exploration, I chose the idea of an email sample because emails should be relatively short. Also, email is so prevalent in law practice. It’s a constant, quotidian part of life for many, many lawyers. Email doesn’t stop to ask, “Is this a good time to talk?” It just arrives. And it can have a major impact on the emotions of the recipient. “”When it comes to emails that are negative in tone, it makes you angry,” Professor Marcus Butts told Time Magazine, in an article about why email puts workers in a nasty mood—especially when checking email after normal business hours. The effect of such emails spills over: “Being angry takes a lot of focus and our resources and it keeps us from being engaged with other things.”

Given email’s potential emotional impact on the daily lives of lawyers, this post explores what the Watson Tone Analyzer had to say about two mocked-up emails. The two versions below both have the purpose of forwarding discovery requests to a client. The first version uses more formal language, and the second more conversational language. What does the Tone Analyzer say about these different versions? And in a more realistic situation, could the Tone Analyzer be useful to lawyers working on their communication skills? Following the text of the two emails, the post compares and contrasts how the Watson Tone Analyzer processed these emails.


Dear Ms. Smith,

Enclosed please find the Request for Production of Documents received yesterday (December 16, 2016) (“the Requests”) in the Acme v. Client matter. The Requests entail 136 different items, comprising five basic categories:

(1) foundational corporate documents for Acme;

(2) documents related to negotiation of the lease in question between Acme and Client;

(3) calendar items and email sent and received by three key employees during the negotiations, Jane Doe, John Smith, and Jamal Jones;

(4) documents related to discussions with Third Party Industrial; and(5) accounting records related to the lease between Acme and Client.

(5) accounting records related to the lease between Acme and Client.

After reviewing these Requests, please respond providing a convenient time next week for a phone conference to review them and discuss response strategies.

Sincerely,

Antoine Associate

Antoine J. Associate

Law Firm LLP

Citytown, RH

 


Dear Janel,

This message follows up on discovery in Acme v. Client. Yesterday we received another round of document requests. I’d like to set up a call with you next week to discuss them after you’ve had a chance to review them.

There were 136 individual requests, which are enclosed with this e-mail. The requests fall into five basic categories:

(1) foundational corporate documents for Acme

(2) documents related to the lease negotiation between Acme and Client

(3) calendar items and email sent and received by three key employees during the negotiations, Jane Doe, John Smith, and Jamal Jones

(4) documents related to discussions with Third Party Industrial

(5) accounting records related to the lease between Acme and Client.

Please take a look at the requests and then let me know when would be best for you to discuss them next week.

Many thanks,

Antoine

Antoine J. Associate

Law Firm LLP

Citytown, RH


So how did Watson analyze the emotions in these two messages?

Tone Analysis of First Sample:

The dominant emotion in this message was perceived as anger. Indications of disgust, fear, joy, and sadness were “unlikely.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 12.55.55 PM

The sentence-level analysis indicates that the anger emanates from plain, descriptive language (what the requests entail) and the final request (“please respond…”). The pink highlighted sentences below were flagged as moderately angry wording:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 12.58.10 PM

The language in this message was viewed as both analytical and confident, but not tentative. The analytical content is highlighted here in blue, with the dark blue being more intensely analytical than the light blue:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 12.59.25 PM

 

Interestingly, the confidence score appears to come solely from the signature block containing the words “Law Firm.” (The same is true of the second sample, where “Law Firm” were also the only text flagged for confidence. But the second sample’s overall confidence score at the document level is 0.00 (unlikely) compared with .63 (likely) for this first sample. More on that later.)
Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.00.35 PM

The same text can be studied in more depth for its social tendencies including openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional range. For example, the language “Enclosed please find” was ranked as conscientious but not open, extraverted, or agreeable.  That language also scored high on emotional range. That same language was also flagged for showing anger.

Among the five items in the email’s numbered list of documents, item (3) seemed to be an emotional hot spot for Watson, scoring relatively high on all five of the emotional parameters. This result was notable because item (3) is the only item in the list that included individual people’s full names.

Here are the metrics for agreeableness, which form an interesting contrast with the second sample below. The greeting and sign-off are in light green, indicating moderate agreeableness. The only line with strong agreeableness was that same item (3) listing calendar items and emails sent by specific individuals by name. (In contrast, the second sample below tried to be friendlier and succeeded, as indicated by the more strongly agreeable opening and closing passages.)

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.05.01 PM

Tone Analysis of Second Sample

The second email was meant to be more friendly. What it accomplished, according to Watson, was slightly lessening the anger score and raising the joy score. The joy score is still “unlikely,” but it’s at .49 instead of 0.18 in the first sample. Although it’s less angry and more joyful, it also completely lost its confidence score.

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.05.46 PM

Despite the overall attempt to use friendlier language, anger still emanated from the email, specifically the sentence enclosing the discovery requests:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.07.41 PM

But joy came from the revised beginning and closing words:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.08.32 PMThe message did not rank on sadness, fearfulness, or disgust.

Watson’s evaluation of the language looks for analytical, confident, and tentative language. The more informal email’s language was also measured as analytical and confident, like the more formal first sample. Unlike the formal sample, it was also somewhat tentative. The source of this tentativeness was a sentence about what the writer “would like to do”:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.10.19 PM

Not surprisingly, that same sentence was also ranked as agreeable:

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.11.12 PM

Quantitatively, the informal sample contained more agreeable language, ranking 0.89 on agreeableness compared to 0.67 for the first sample.

Conclusion

What did I conclude from analyzing these two samples using Watson’s Tone Analyzer? Like many AI analysis, it seemed to confirm what I think I already know.

  1. Legal information is not inherently happy, at least not in a litigation setting. The most “angry” language in both messages was the language simply describing the scope of discovery.
  2. Language that is more tentative and less confident may also be more agreeable. This correlation raises many questions: does tentative language compromise clarity? If so is it worth it to sound more agreeable? Different writers, readers, and situations will of course require different decisions.
  3. Watson’s Tone Analzyer may be helpful to some writers on a limited basis. As with any computer analysis of language such as Flesch-Kincaid readability scores, writers should ask whether the computer analysis could help them. I don’t see legal writers building Watson’s Tone Analyzer into a checklist for every email. But it could be a worthwhile exercise just on a couple of messages, to see what predominant tone Watson diagnoses.

And as with any computer analysis of language, take it with a grain of salt. I tested Watson on litigators’ favorite nastygram conclusion:

“Govern yourselves accordingly.”

The results are below but here’s a summary: Its predominant language was sadness (?????). Its most notable social tendencies, according to the Tone Analyzer, were extraversion and agreeableness.

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 1.28.57 PM

The “govern yourselves accordingly” analysis notwithstanding, a “robot” such as the Tone Analyzer could create an interesting exercise for trying different words and seeing how they measure. So . . . govern yourselves accordingly.

Note on use of Watson: these screen shots were taken on April 25 and 26, 2017. The metrics appear to have changed slightly from tests about six months earlier on identical language. Thus a final lesson is to know your tool and stay updated. Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples if relying on quantitative analysis of language. 

Client developmentClient relationshipsEmotional intelligenceEmotional laborGender

Love your lawyer (part 2): Emotional labor of lawyers

Love Your Lawyer Day prompted the question: what makes clients love their lawyers? Client satisfaction is one way to gauge clients’ love. As addressed in an earlier post, client satisfaction depends on the lawyer’s competence and expertise. But client satisfaction is also intertwined with how the client experiences the process.

The client’s desire for a satisfying experience raises an aspect of lawyering that deserves more attention: emotional labor. Emotional labor is a common practice across service professions and “requires one to induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others.” Emotional labor generally occurs in personal interactions such as face-to-face or voice-to-voice moments. The person doing the labor displays emotion to influence the client or customer, and that display of emotion follows the rules of the profession. (The source here is Sofia Yakren’s article Lawyer as Emotional Laborer in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, which is this post’s major source along with Joy Kadowaki’s Maintaining Professionalism: Emotional Labor Among Lawyers as Client Advisors in the International Journal of the Legal Profession.)

The concept of emotional labor was originally formulated and studied by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, who focused on flight attendants in the early 1980s. Emotional labor has been in the news with the rise of Uber and other on-demand service where customer ratings mean a lot. As reported in the Harvard Business Review Blog, “on-demand workers end up performing outsize amounts of what sociologists call ‘emotional labor,’ or expressive work to make the customer experience a positive one so that users come back to the platform.”

Lawyers may not use platforms like Uber apps (not much yet anyway), but Yelp ratings are important and sometimes problematic for many. And whether a lawyer gets clients from Yelp or a casual conversation at the Yale Club, lawyers do perform emotional labor. A common theme of all emotional-labor literature is the tools workers use for performing it:

  • deep acting
  • surface acting
  • detachment

Deep acting means trying to make yourself experience the emotions you are displaying. Surface acting means using techniques to fake emotions. (This can be done in good faith to help the client, or in bad faith as a sort of cover-up.) And, as Joy Kadowski found in surveying consumer-oriented lawyers, detachment means dealing with repugnant clients by “taking emotion entirely out of the interaction with the client, reducing the relationship to one that is ‘strictly business.’”

The emotional-labor literature does not paint a particularly optimistic picture. When professionals genuinely change their feelings or align them with their actions in deep acting, the costs of emotional labor go down. But surface acting and detachment are associated with emotional dissonance, which leads to a host of problems from addiction to depression to general alienation.

Another question is, who is emotional labor for, anyway? If the focus of emotional labor is on creating a comfortable emotional state in the client, then perhaps it’s for the benefit of the client. Emotional labor to keep the client as comfortable with the legal process as possible under the circumstances could indeed help clients love their lawyers.

But emotional labor also follows predictable rules defined by the profession, and part of what professionalism does is to “convince, cajole and persuade employees, practitioners, and other workers to perform and behave in ways which the organization or the institution deem to be appropriate, effective, and efficient.” (This is Kadowaki quoting sociologist Julia Evetts.) The sociologists coined the term “feeling rules.” And feeling rules are not just for the benefit of the client in the relationship; as Kadowaki points out, “In some cases [emotional labor] is done for the benefit of the attorney-client relationship, but at other times emotional labor is used to protect the emotional state of the attorney, and thus his or her performance of professionalism.”

What can be done to minimize the consequences of dissonance for lawyers while preserving what clients need? Dismissive attitudes might say the profession should self-select: if practicing law is so dissonant and painful, then don’t do it. But that’s not a very good answer, as Yakren points out: “Do we want to eliminate healthy self-doubt as a check on professional conduct?” No. Moreover, “constructing a profession comprised of a particular type of thinker could stifle creative solutions to complex problems.” (And thus it could make clients individually and collectively not love their lawyers even more than they already don’t love them.)

Solutions Yakren poses include expl0ring and teaching lawyers more about deep acting (which helps clients just as much if not more than surface acting and detachment, and emotionally costs less for the lawyer doing it); encouraging more autonomy for lawyers to exercise their consciences; and critiquing formalistic notions of professionalism and ethics to recognize the importance of context. Similarly Kadowaki points out that professionalism is far more complex and interconnected than any formalistic system can account for: “While the lawyers [interviewed in her study] defined professionalism as requiring the suppression of emotion, their description of their actual practice detailed significant emotional labor efforts and a much more nuanced negotiation of emotional expression.”

Sources:

Joy Kadowaki, Maintaining Professionalism: Emotional Labor Among Lawyers as Client Advisors in the International Journal of the Legal Profession (2015), http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09695958.2015.1071257

Sofia Yakren, Lawyer as Emotional Laborer, University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform (2008), https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2602520

Dan Defoe, Emotional Intelligence and Selecting Personnel Lawyers for High Emotional Labor Jobs, Psycholawlogy, July 15, 2016, http://www.psycholawlogy.com/2016/07/15/emotional-intelligence-and-selecting-personnel-lawyers-for-high-emotional-labor-jobs/