Category: Leadership

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.

Client developmentClient relationshipsLeadershipProfessional development

Executive Coaching for Lawyers as Leaders

Listen Like a Lawyer is pleased to share this Q&A with executive coach Greg Riggs. Greg is the former general counsel of a Fortune 100 company and he has also serve as Associate Dean at Emory Law School. Greg has devoted his career to professional development and now has a national practice as an executive coach with Novateur Partners LLC.

GLR Emory 2012 (2)Q:   My first question is very basic: What is executive coaching?

A:    That is a good question, and the answer is not obvious. There are many different types of coaches to help us with various aspects of our lives. We have all heard of athletic coaches, fitness coaches, wellness coaches, life coaches, and so on. Executive coaches work principally with professionals or leaders in organizations who want to do better at their jobs. They want to be more effective managers, team members, and performers. That is the scope of my approach to executive coaching.

Q:  What types of clients do you work with, typically?

A:  My practice tends to focus on senior and mid-level executives in the fields of business, law, and higher education. I have wanted to leverage the experience I gained from 35+ years in the legal, corporate and university environments and from serving as General Counsel in the C-suite of a Fortune 100 company. My clients have tended to be general counsels, law firm managing partners and other firm leaders, vice-presidents and above in large organizations, and university officials, including deans. I also coach high-potential individuals who are on their way to those positions.

Q:  The academic, legal, and business sectors all have different cultures and different ways of being effective. How do you work with people in those different sectors?

A: You’re so right that the cultures can vary dramatically in these different sorts of environments. But they all have one thing in common. That is, organizations in all of these areas need effective leaders to be successful.

Very often in the legal arena, people find themselves named to  leadership positions without really having had any training for the job. In law firms, for example, people who are terrific lawyers—high performers and high earners—are often the ones chosen for management positions. But they may have had no significant management experience whatsoever.

In the general counsel arena, people who have been really good in-house attorneys or outside attorneys find themselves in leadership positions and have to develop management skills on the fly. It’s the same with doctors in the hospital environment. Academic deans are another example. Deans who have been great academics, terrific writers, teachers, brilliant in what they do suddenly become CEO of a major, intricate, highly demanding organization. Executive coaches can be a very valuable resource for these academic leaders as they take on major challenges and handle dangers and traps they have never faced before.

Q:  There are an increasing number of classes and resources on law and leadership. But “law and leadership” is definitely not a common offering in the typical law-school curriculum. How would a lawyer or future lawyer get the information that they need for leadership when it’s not typically a part of their formal training?

A:  There are two sides to that question.

One of them is, where is the information? There are entire libraries and cottage industries built around teaching people how to be better leaders.

But then there is the application of that information. So it’s similar in a way to your own area of expertise, legal writing.  When we are in our 1L year in law school and we are trying to figure out how to gain our bearings in legal writing, we all take a course in legal writing and advocacy.  But I think I have heard you say that for many of us it is  a lifelong undertaking to be a really good legal writer.

It’s the same with leadership. We have to pay attention to what we are doing and apply principles that we learn that are meaningful to us. Then we have to  receive feedback and do it better next time. And next time might be this afternoon or tomorrow, because we are being called upon to exercise our leadership skills constantly when we have management positions.

Q:  What are some of the common themes that you seek get across with the professionals you coach?

A:  The number one headline is to develop an approach that allows you to leverage your own strengths and talents to find and bring your own personal best game.

We have all seen people who read books on leadership and then try to fabricate their approach to leadership using textbook methodology.  It rarely works very well because there is often a lack of authenticity. To be really effective we have to be ourselves—our best selves to be sure.

And the key there is to identify and then develop and bring out into the workplace those core skills, core talents, traits, and dispositions that we have inside of us in a way that is most effective in our interactions with other people.

Q:  Well, I can definitely understand how the idea of being authentic and being yourself is attractive. But what about a person you might work with who needed to work on a weakness—such as ineffective listening skills.  How would you go about working with someone on their listening?

A:  So listening is a vitally important skill, and very few of us do it very well. But let’s back up a little bit before we actually get to the act of listening, because when we talk about listening a preliminary question is: what are we listening for? What are we trying to capture in the listening enterprise, the listening moment?

One thing that I see fairly commonly for people who want to be more effective listeners is, they haven’t had a broader conversation with themselves along the lines of, what am I missing?  Sometimes people are perceived as not being good listeners when actually the issues they are grappling with are much broader. It is my observation that most don’t stop to ask ourselves, what are my blind spots? And, what do I need to get better at?

If I could come up with one word that applies to most of us, describing a skill that we need to be better at, it’s this: awareness. Being aware of how we are coming across to other people, for example. Many of us are not very good at discerning that.

Once we get a feel for how we come across in different settings, then we might ask, how are we affecting other people? How is our behavior being received by others? How is what we say landing on other people? We are often not very aware of that.

And we are also not aware of what’s happening in our minds.  We don’t notice what are we thinking about and what’s happening with our emotions. Without that awareness, we behave in ways that are often suboptimal.

So when we are listening to other people, there are various levels of listening. Often when we think we are listening it is at a superficial level with  a lot of distracting chatter going on in our minds. We are not really focusing; we are listening to ourselves in our minds more than we are listening to the other person.

Then there is a deeper level of listening, where we are really focused on paying total attention to what the individual is saying, not thinking so much about ourselves or our to-do list or how what the individuals is saying is affecting us.  We can call this “Level 2” listening.

And then there is a third level, a deeper intuitive listening where we are capturing—often without even being aware of it—the emotions of the other person, the way of thinking that the other person is displaying, the micro-expressions that we all have that reveal things about each other that we often fail to notice. If we can bring good listening skills to the workplace, to the dozens of conversations we have every day, we can capture much more information, use it much more effectively, and be more successful at what we do.

That’s a long answer to a good question.

Q: Someone who can get to that third level of listening is in a much better position to be professionally effective. But what if you have someone who is just not that good at listening? What can that person do to become more skillful?

A:  That is one thing that executive coaching is all about. I mean, if we could read a book on better listening, or on being a better conversationalist, on paying more attention, or focusing on the other person and then actually apply that knowledge in our daily interactions, that would be great. We have all read those types of books, but then do we apply the learning? Usually not, or at least not consistently.

How executive coaching is different than say seminars and courses and symposia is that it involves enabling feedback over an extended period of time. In my experience, it usually takes six to twelve months of leadership coaching for someone to notice consistent improvements in their effectiveness. Coaching engagements sometimes last longer than 12 months, but six months seems to be about the minimum length of time to heighten our awareness, learn to focus keenly on our interactions with others, and draw in the feedback we need to fine tune our approach. So that’s where coaching can really help.  We all need a partner, a thought partner, a mentor, a sounding board, a traveling partner as we explore better ways to be a leader. That’s what a coach does.

Q:  True, so that was actually one of my questions. I think a lot of people might want to be a better leader or a better communicator, but they may not have access to an executive coach. Can a person sort of “self-coach”? How can you get better on your own?

A:  It’s a great question. Let’s examine one example. Let’s say I want to be a better listener. People have told me I need to be a better listener. Okay, the next step is to make a decision: “I am going to be a better listener, and I am going to make a commitment to myself and maybe to others to do that.”

What’s the next step that we can do without seeking any help, without getting on anybody else’s calendar?  So we begin let’s say for the next week to make a commitment: “I’m going to experiment this week, and I am going to pay attention to listening and see what I can figure out, see what I can observe. I’m going to investigate this.”

So we begin the day with a pre-brief driving to work. “I’m going to be a better listener today, I commit to that. It may even involve putting a little note on the calendar before a meeting, before I go into a meeting I’m going to have a 60-second huddle with myself.  I’m going to try to listen better in this meeting.”

And then after the meeting have a debrief with onesself, because we need feedback to improve.  So the meeting lasts an hour, we come out of the meeting, and if we do not then think about that meeting, anything we may have learned or may learn from that meeting is gone forever, it’s just lost.

So part of the exercise then is giving ourselves feedback: “How well did I listen in that meeting? Where was my mind? I may have had a hundred thoughts that were extraneous to the meeting.  If I could recapture the flow of conversation that happened in that meeting, could I do it? Was I really paying attention?” And then as we expand our awareness, we can think, “Alright, what can I notice about what I said in response to other people?  How did I come across? What were the facial expressions of people around the table?” This type of exercise is about awareness and intentionality and feedback.

Q:  I hear you are breaking it down into distinct behaviors that you can think about and reflect on if those behaviors happen or not.

A:  Yes, so the beginning word is intentionality: “I intend, and I am really going to try to be a better listener this morning.” And then mid-day, renew or refresh that intention: “Listening is going to be my aim this afternoon.”

Q:  Have you found that people are too easy on themselves or too hard on themselves?  Because when you were talking about how you might debrief with yourself, I can imagine some people saying, “I was an incredible listener, I did everything right, it went so great.”  And then another group of people saying, “Oh it was terrible, I was a horrible listener all my efforts are of my efforts are you know for naught, and I’m never going to get better at this.”

How do you help people as a coach to have the accurate self-critique but also not be so tough on themselves?

Q: In my experience, most lawyers are very self-critical. That inner critic comes out and interprets and seizes interpretations of themselves usually in a negative way.  So there is a writer, Marilee Adams, who has done some great work in identifying that mode that we get in most of the time of being a judger: judging other people, judging ourselves, usually critically, often quite harshly.

That mode contrasts to being in a learner mode where we are curious instead of beating ourselves up. In learner mode, we want to be a learner and we’re curious in a non-judgmental way about what just happened: “What was I doing? What was I thinking? Where was my attention?” Then, for the next hour now, having been aware of what was happening to me in the last hour, I’m going to see if I can direct my attention in a more positive productive way.

Then it is uplifting, then it’s positive, then it doesn’t hurt, it actually feels good because learning feels good. Rarely do we put ourselves in learning mode. But we can, and it helps a lot.

Q: Before we close the Q&A, are there any other important topics we might talk about regarding executive coaching?

A: So the one message that I have with all of my clients, the one huge need that I see is the leadership arena, is taking time to pay attention to leadership. People that you and I work with, they work all the time—maybe 200  or even 300 hours a month or more. That’s a lot of time spent on their careers.

Most of the people that you and I work with are leaders or have leader or management responsibilities. But they usually spend sometimes close to zero minutes thinking about their leadership. They don’t spend any time thinking about how to be more effective, more influential and happier and more satisfied with what they do.

So to give priority, to pay a little bit of attention to leadership—just one percent or two percent of their time—can have a huge return on investment. We can all be better leaders and be happier in the process. That’s my message.

Q:  Sounds like a win-win.

A: It really is. Everybody wins.

 

 

 

Client developmentClient relationshipsCollaborationin-house counselLaw firm management

#InHouseTwitter

In-house counsel and anyone who works with them—such as, say, outside counsel—will be interested in the new hashtag, #InHouseTwitter, started this summer by @J_Dot_J. J.J.’s Twitter bio tells us she is an “employment/cyber-security lawyer, mom to a 2-boy wrecking crew, endorsed as ‘not half bad.'” She has shared some pithy—sometimes salty—advice from her in-house perspective and prompted an honest and growing discussion from other in-house counsel as well.

#InHouseTwitter is active at 4 p.m. Central on Thursdays. Follow the hashtag for announcements of upcoming topics. Most recently J.J. prompted a long thread on relationships with outside counsel:

The responses varied from the positive…

….to the negative

with many nuanced observations and anecdotes in between.

Emotional intelligenceLaw firm managementLeadership

Addiction

The most e-mailed story on the New York Times this morning is The Lawyer, the Addict.

The short version is that a Silicon Valley patent lawyer who had been #1 in his law-school class died on his bathroom floor from a drug-related infection. His ex-wife found him. She also found his phone, which indicated his last communication with anyone had been a conference call at work. That is the “heartbreaking” and “haunting” detail many are talking about, discussing the competitive workaholic winner-take-all culture of law school and BigLaw practice.

Another detail is equally haunting:

For the last two years of his life, every time Peter and I were together — whether it was back-to-school night, our son’s cross country meets or our daughter’s high school graduation — people would ask me if he was O.K. They asked if he had cancer, an eating disorder, a metabolic disorder, AIDS. But they never asked about drugs.

Neither friends, nor law-firm management, nor the lawyer’s own ex-wife could conceive that this man had, for years, been consuming through various means “Vicodin, Tramadol, Adderall, cocaine, Xanax, crystal meth and a kaleidoscope of pills.”

People just can’t believe that a professional so seemingly successful could be a serious drug addict. And even if they could believe it, there are other barriers pointed out by an ABA Lawyers Assistance official quoted in the article:

Law-firm leadership…doesn’t really know what signs to look for when it comes to addiction. And when it’s happening, she said, they are so busy themselves, “they just don’t see it.”

So everyone is reading this article and talking, talking, talking about it. To honor the work of this lawyer’s ex-wife in revealing these details and spending so much effort to bring this story forward, it’s crucial to change and improve the profession. As lawyer Kendall Burchard said on Twitter:

The question is, how to recognize signs and how to try to help. Listening is of course crucial. But someone, somewhere along the line, has to speak up in a way that is likely to help, or at least unlikely to prompt denial and more isolation and covering up. Please share comments on how to do that, here or on social media or really anywhere, with anyone in the legal profession. What the experts say about “how” will be a subject for another post.

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. 

Emotional intelligenceLeadershipLegal communicationPeople skills

Introverted Lawyers Listen

theintrovertedlawyer_cov-finalListen Like a Lawyer is grateful to Professor Heidi K. Brown for this guest post. Professor Brown is an Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Legal Writing Program at Brooklyn Law School. Having struggled with shyness and social anxiety as a law student and litigator and, through substantial research and self-study, embraced introversion as a powerful asset in studying, teaching, and practicing law, her passion lies with helping quiet law students find their authentically impactful lawyer voices. Her book, The Introverted Lawyer, is forthcoming from Ankerwycke Books in Summer 2017.

In a song called Every Breaking Wave, Bono of the Irish rock band U2 sings, “It’s hard to listen while you preach.” Poignant advice for lawyers.

In Professors Marjorie Shultz and Sheldon Zedeck’s inventory of 26 Lawyering Effectiveness Factors, Number 10 reads:

“Listening: Accurately perceives what is being said both directly and subtly.”

Even so, the American lawyer stereotype epitomizes vivacious talkers much more so than quiet observers and absorbers. Good lawyers must stop talking and not only hear but listen to their clients, opponents, and decision makers in their client’s cases. Similarly, great law professors listen to their students, to ascertain what these learners do and do not know or understand so as to facilitate intellectual growth.

In their book Essential Lawyering Skills, authors and law professors Stefan H. Krieger and Richard K. Neumann, Jr. emphasize, “The ability to listen well is as important in the practice of law as the ability to talk well.” Similarly, in their book Lawyers as Counselors: A Client-Centered Approach, authors and law professors David A. Binder, Paul Bergman, Paul R. Tremblay, and Ian S. Weinstein explain that active listening—defined as “the process of picking up clients’ messages and sending them back in reflective statements that mirror what you have heard”—is a vital lawyering skill. Through active listening, we “demonstrate empathy and understanding,” building trust relationships with our clients to facilitate information-sharing and pave the way for impactful advocacy.

Listening is an intentional and mindful act. It involves action, not passivity. It’s a conscious choice.

While quieting down and ceding the stage to a client or opponent might not come naturally for an extroverted lawyer who thrives and revels in verbal volley and less so in silence, concentrated listening is a powerful innate competency for an introverted advocate. Introverts listen well. They possess a natural affinity for quietude, preferring to step into external stimuli gently, surveying and processing multiple competing sensory triggers before contributing to the cacophony.

Introverts appraise their surroundings, actively hearing, smelling, seeing, touching, and tasting before jumping into the fray. Introverts resist interruption, to their own thought processes as well as others’—which enhances listening abilities. Before speaking, introverts absorb, synthesize, and discern. Sometimes too many external data sources can be overwhelming for introverts. But in law-related contexts, quiet introverts can be the most effective listeners in the room, tuning out distractions and focusing on the issues at hand.

In one-on-one client interviews, for example, introverts pay attention to spoken words and unspoken emotional markers. Perceiving a client’s flinch or a break in eye contact, an introverted lawyer’s nod or encouraging “it sounds like this situation has been stressful for you” can facilitate instead of stifle the client’s continued dialogue. In group meetings and negotiations, rather than immediately speaking, introverted lawyers process facts, rules, and legal theories internally before sharing them externally, which often allows them to extract items of group consensus and discord that other participants talking over one another miss.

Additionally, scientists have linked introversion and empathy. Introversion author, Dr. Arnie Kozak, indicates that “[i]ntroverts can be highly sensitive to the needs of others.” He explains in The Everything Guide to the Introvert Edge that “[t]he ability to sit still can nurture compassion and empathy.” This natural empathy enhances the introvert’s ability to listen patiently to others and resist projecting personal biases and agendas.

Some extroverted law students, law professors, and lawyers might erroneously perceive introverted students or attorneys as disengaged or not assertive enough. In reality, they routinely are just-right-engaged (or even over-engaged) and their legal solutions—initially formulated through listening, and ultimately vetted through quiet contemplation—possess profound might. Next time you’re in a classroom, conference room, or courtroom, notice the quiet ones. And when they speak, listen. Their words will pack a punch.

 

Law schoolLeadershipLegal communicationLegal educationPeople skills

Best Practices for Law Schools and Student Organizations when Inviting Guest Speakers

This post is formatted as a draft policy on best practices for law schools and law-student organizations when they invite guests to speak to or interact with their law school community. This policy errs on the side of formality and specificity, attempting to spell out specific steps for inviting guests and planning events. Feedback is welcome, particularly from members of the bench and bar who may want to share their thoughts on having a good (or bad) experience guest-speaking at a law school.

Purpose

The purpose of these best practices is to articulate norms of civility and courtesy for events sponsored by law schools and law-school student organizations in which guests—such as members of the bench and bar—are invited.

The norms are based on the idea of thoughtful reflection before planning an event, open communication while planning the event, respectful attention and engagement during the event, and appropriate expressions of gratitude after the event.

Observing these norms make the experience of hosting a guest more likely to be a positive experience for the guest. Observing these norms may also make the experience more meaningful for event attendees. Observing these norms may, in the broadest sense, encourage legal professionals to accept future offers from other organizations to future events. Thereby, these norms serve to encourage positive interactions between the bench and bar and students and faculty at law schools.

Audience

These best practices are offered for consideration by any law school or law-student organization that invites guests to campus to speak and interact with students and faculty.

Before the Event

The organization will confer with law school administrators and event planners to ensure that inviting the desired guest is appropriate in light of other law-school communications with that guest, the overall relationship with that guest, and the law school’s other commitments and events during the proposed time for the event.

The organization will make a reasonable estimate of how many attendees it can expect at the event. The organization will communicate with potential guests when making invitations and share the estimated attendance. Guests should have this information when deciding whether to accept the invitation.

For example, a legal professional may be willing to donate his or her time to speak to 30 law students, but not 3.

The organization will take reasonable steps to schedule the event at a time when attendance will meet the initial estimate. This includes checking with calendars and event planners for scheduling conflicts. After reasonable steps have been taken, the organization will assess whether to pursue the event should a conflict arise.

If the organization later learns of a scheduling conflict that would materially change the conditions that guest experiences in the event, the organization will contact guest and describe the new conditions, giving the guest the opportunity to revisit and change the commitment to attend the event.

The organization will set a schedule for the event that provides an appropriate time and setting for the guest to speak or lead a discussion. This includes confirming and communicating the amount of time available for the guest to speak. It also includes organizing any lunch, cocktails, or other refreshments so as not to interfere with the time and setting of the guest’s presentation.

One or more designated representatives of the organization will provide coordinated communication to any guests the organization may invite for the event.

Communication will be coordinated, meaning everyone within the organization with some responsibility for the event will stay in communication with others within that organization. Thus the organization will provide consistent, timely information to guests. The organization will facilitate directions and parking and any other logistical details, and will share this with the guest as soon as reasonably possible.

Ideally, the organization will share logistical details with the guest before the guest feels the need to contact the organization and ask for those details.

The organization will delegate to one or more individuals the task of preparing an introduction for the guest. This includes verifying in advance and then using the proper pronunciation of the guest’s name. It also includes the task of asking for a resume or C.V. or other biographical details, or collecting them from research.

Students who may be unsure of what an appropriate introduction is or how to deliver it should ask experienced professionals at their law school.

Digital Etiquette During Events

As a general practice, the organization will notify its members and others invited to the event, in advance of the event, about its policy for encouraging, permitting, discouraging, or prohibiting digital distractions including phones, tablets, and laptops.

Having no policy and leaving digital etiquette up to attendees is a possible option, but it surrenders the organization’s role in creating the appropriate environment at the event.

Prior to the event at an appropriate location near the entrance of the space where the event is taking place, members of the organization will post prominent signs stating the event’s policy on phones, laptops, and other digital devices.

If the organization believes the guest may wish to permit or encourage event-related digital activity during the event, such as tweeting and other social-media sharing, the organization should check with the guest before the event and adjust event policies accordingly.

For example, some guests may strongly desire that their presentation be shared on social media, and others may wish to discourage such sharing.

At the beginning of the event, a designated representative of the organization will announce the event’s policy for laptops, tablets, phones and other potential digital distractions.

This can be done in a friendly manner such as before theater productions.

Members of the organization will set the standard of respectfully focusing on the guest during the session.

If the event draws both members and non-members, attentive focus by members can create a respectful and positive environment for the guest.

If appropriate, attendees who are seen committing distracting behavior inconsistent with the norms announce for the event may be discretely asked by a member of the organization to stop.

After the Event

A representative of the organization will personally thank the guest and attend to any needs the guest may have in connection with the event, such as parking vouchers.

A representative will offer to accompany the guest to their next destination in the law school (or the building exit).

The organization’s leadership will thank the guest in writing after the event. Whether to email, type, or hand-write the note is a decision to be discussed among the organization and with others at the law school as needed.

The organization will contact the law school administration if appropriate to confer whether additional thank-you notes should be sent from administrators.

The organization will seek to build institutional knowledge about the relationship with this guest. Event organizers will create notes to disseminate to future leaders of the organization. This process allows relevant information to be handed down to future leaders within the organization responsible for planning new events.

Clinical legal educationCollaborationLeadershipLegal communicationLegal writing

What lawyers say, and what they actually do

How do lawyers transfer their knowledge? Lawyering scholars have been talking about “tacit knowledge” since the early 1990s. A recent ABA publication encouraged law students to use their externships and other practical experiences to interact with lawyers and try to glean some of that tacit knowledge via “extensive personal contact, regular interaction, and trust.” I touched on tacit knowledge in an early-summer blog post encouraging summer associates to talk with experienced lawyers about their work and to closely observe their nonverbal signals during these conversations.

This advice suggested perhaps the slightest hint of the idea that there might be dissonance in what lawyers say they do and what they actually do. An article by one of my law-professor heroes, Richard Neumann, Jr. explores this concept in depth.  The article is Donald Schön, The Reflective Practitioner, and the Comparative Failures of Legal Education, 6 Clinical L. Rev. 401 (2000). It attacks superficial notions of lawyering and legal education at multiple levels.

What is the difference between what lawyers say they do and what they actually do? The real tacit knowledge is in what they actually do—which they may not be willing to describe or even fully aware of.

This insight is from the work of Donald Schön, a now-deceased professor of architecture at MIT. Schon’s ideas and Neumann’s exploration of them aren’t new, but the insights remain relevant and helpful.

Schön sought a deeper understand of tacit knowledge, questioning its foundations:

[T]acit knowledge is not necessarily accurate knowledge. Because it is tacit, it is also unexamined.

And because it is unexamined, it may be worthy of the term “knowledge” only in sarcastic quote marks:

The tacit ‘knowledge’ of an ineffective professional might be nothing more than superstition—and correspondingly dangerous to clients.

Schön questioned professionals’ capacity to understand and describe their own work. What professionals think they do and what they actually do are often entirely different. Here he used two terms to categorize false and real tacit knowledge. (Neumann, while clearly a fan of Schön’s work, didn’t really like his terminology, and here you may feel a particularly strong urge to close this browser window. But consider plowing on.) Schön’s terms distinguish what a professional says about the work from how the professional actually does the work:

  • A “theory of action” is how a person describes the work they do.
  • A “theory-in-use” is what actually governs the person’s actions.

As a result, we can only learn a person’s true “theory-in-use” by observing their behavior. More broadly, this discrepancy “makes it harder to improve how professionals work.” A lawyer might resist making a change out of the mistaken belief about what she is actually doing. “Because our theory of action seems satisfactory to us, we do not see any reason to change.”

And willingness to change isn’t necessarily sufficient to make a real change. “[E]ven if we can be persuaded to change, we might be satisfied” just by changing our theory of action. This is a change in name only if “we continue what we were doing before because our theory-in-use remains unexamined and controls our actions.”

I’ve thought about this concept with legal writing, and writing generally. It’s much easier to change one’s nominal theory of action, especially if that means adopting new writing software or formats or labels about what one is doing. In an article titled Fighting “Tippism,” Stephen Armstrong and Timothy Terrell wrote about how superficial writing “tips” are no substitute for the real work of learning and using the lessons of rhetoric, logic, and cognitive psychology.

In the realm of listening, the problems equally difficult if not more so because listening is so difficult to observe and measure. One may have a theory of action that they are in fact a great listener and an active listener. They are totally on board with the value of listening.

But their theory-in-use could be quite different. How well someone listens can be described in three major categories, according to Melissa Daimler, Head of Learning and Organizational Development at Twitter, writing for the Harvard Business Review Blog:

Internal listening is focused on your own thoughts, worries, and priorities, even as you pretend you’re focusing on the other person.

Focused listening is being able to focus on the other person, but you’re still not connecting fully to them. The phone may be down and you may be nodding in agreement, but you may not be picking up on the small nuances the person is sharing. 

360 listening.  You’re not only listening to what the person is saying, but how they’re saying it — and, even better, what they’re not saying, like when they get energized about certain topics or when they pause and talk around others.

A lawyer may believe he is a 360 listener, when in fact he is an obstinately internal listener. This mismatch of belief means the lawyer does not feel any need to work on listening because how can you improve upon something already pretty terrific?

And if such a lawyer does read a blog post or attend a training on listening, she might pick up a new term of art for listening, such as “I’m a 360 listener,” while remaining rather poor at it.  This obviously connects to the Dunning-Kruger effect of being so bad at something that you don’t even know you’re bad.

Schön and a collaborator apparently tried to address this difficulty through seminars and training that guided participants to confront the differences between their theories of action and theories-in-use. They sought to help professionals recognize two major approaches to going about professional work:

  • Model I exhibits “highly developed rationality and a commitment to goals and winning.”
  • Model II “develops the largest amount of valid and relevant information and generates the largest number of options from which to choose.”

Model I sounds a lot like a stereotypical lawyer personality. That’s not good news. Model I—also known by Robert Condlin’s term “persuasion mode”—has a lot of problems. Persuasion mode is sometimes useful and beneficial, but as a default personality it has some significant pitfalls, as described in Neumann’s article:

[A] person in persuasion mode tends to act on hidden agendas and strategies; “to minimize self-analysis and to reserve it for private moments when it will not weaken instrumental effectiveness”; and to argue in ways that are subtle but “needlessly stylized and hyperbolic.” Persuasion-mode behavior is profitable in situations where the struggle is for control rather than insight, and where the “self-sealing properties of persuasion mode habits” minimize tentativeness and perplexity. “Persuasion-mode habits predispose lawyers to take evaluative stands automatically” so that they “make statements that, on reflection, they know to be false.” “It causes one to impute rather than explore others’ ends, shut off rather than encourage legitimate objection, . . . and accumulate rather than share decision-making authority.

The other possibility is the learning mode, also known as the inquiring mode. Neumann’s essay on Schön explores how the inquiring mode is more consistent with curiosity, open-ended thinking, and exploration of ideas regardless of consequences. A number of benefits accrue to clients and lawyers, with more meaningful and effective collaboration at the top of the list. The collaboration is better in at least two ways: First, the lawyer does not have to maintain a “professional façade” of being the expert. “The ‘expert’ will want “deference and status in the client’s response to [the] professional persona,” while the reflective practitioner will prefer a ‘sense of freedom and of real connection to the client.’”  At the same time, a client may feel more comfortable with a lawyer in persuading mode because the client can sit back and rely on the assumption the lawyer is the expert and will do everything right. A more reflective lawyer can create a more reflective relationship with the client. In these relationships, lawyer and client “join” in making sense of the case. The client gains “a sense of increased involvement and action.”

With the inquiring mode, lawyer-client collaboration is better in at least two ways: First, the lawyer does not have to maintain a “professional façade” of being the expert. “The ‘expert’ will want “deference and status in the client’s response to [the] professional persona,” while the reflective practitioner will prefer a ‘sense of freedom and of real connection to the client.’” At the same time, a client may feel more comfortable with an “expert” lawyer in persuading mode because the client desires the comfort of passive reliance. A more reflective lawyer can in turn create a more reflective relationship with the client in which lawyer and client “join . . . in making sense of the case.” The client gains “a sense of increased involvement and action.”

Neumann’s review of Schön’s work ends on an extended exploration of how difficult it is to teach any of this in a formal curriculum—especially the curricula of medical and law school as distinct from the arts and architecture. Teaching reflection and modeling it in experiential classes are crucial. One way to start is simply by sharing with law students and lawyers Schön’s essential and upsetting insight that the way we intuitively explain what we do may not be very accurate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CollaborationEmotional intelligenceLaw firm managementLeadershipPeople skills

Is teamwork the same as collaboration?

 

Earlier this week Listen Like a Lawyer discussed Google’s teamwork study investigating the qualities of effective teams. In the post I mentioned that teamwork is so important in part because many cases are too complex for one person to manage. One bit of feedback on the post agreed that teamwork is “vital now for successful legal practices.”

Shortly thereafter I ran across this post from Lisa Needham at the Lawyerist, “Too Much Teamwork is Terrible.” The post ends with a plea:

Ban teamwork. Or at least reduce it drastically.

Both the Google article in praise of effective teams and the Lawyerist post against teams cite the same Harvard Business Review study concluding “the time spent by managers and employees on collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% or more.”

So if teamwork is so good, why is it so bad?

I think the real issue is the difference between formal teams and informal collaboration throughout an organization.

The Google study profiled in the New York Times seemed to focus on formal work groups—groups formed by assignment to address some specific task or role over time. These work groups seem analogous to a group of lawyers assigned to a client service team or a specific deal, trial, or other project.

The Harvard Business Review article on collaboration appears to be addressing a much broader phenomenon. It’s not just about the dynamics inside individual work groups assigned to discrete projects, but also about collaboration throughout an organization. Collaboration may take the form of sharing information, sharing social resources, or sharing one’s own time and energy—which, unlike the first two categories of collaboration, is a finite and exhaustible resource. These can happen within a formal team or in broader, more diffuse ways throughout an organization. A person who is willing to collaborate with others may be subject to “escalating citizenship” in which workers who want to help become so over-burdened that they become a burned-out bottleneck. To quote the article, the “virtuous cycle” of collaboration turns “vicious.”

I’m no Adam Grant, but if this distinction is correct, then the Google study and the Lawyerist post are also both correct. Complex long-term problems and strategic goals cannot be solved by lone-wolf lawyers. Therefore, lawyers working in formal teams can benefit from studying their group norms and seeking to collaborate most effectively. These types of teams should not be disbanded or reduced in scope.

On the other hand, managers should monitor the collaborative burdens across their organization to avoid inefficient, inequitable demands on “extra milers” (quoting the HBR article) being asked to collaborate beyond the scope of their roles.

Of course there is a challenging question in the middle of this: work groups formed not for direct legal service but for internal firm/agency management. In other words, firm committees. These groups can certainly benefit from studying dynamics in the spirit of the Google study. But the HBR study and Lisa Needham’s critique raise the question: what is the reward structure of the firm or organization, and is collaborative committee work compromising individuals’ capacity to participate in that reward structure?

For insight into this question, I would first recommend Helen Wan’s great novel The Partner Track.

On a more quantitative note, the HBR study suggests collecting and assessing data about who is doing what. It also suggests employee surveys and 360 feedback. To take a 50,000-foot view of these suggestions, it seems that one way to begin to address this question is by listening.

 

 

CollaborationEmotional intelligenceLaw firm managementLeadershipPeople skills

Mindful interactions with colleagues

Mindfulness and listening go together in a lot of ways, some obvious and some subtle. A recent HBR Blog post, “See Colleagues as They Are, Not as They Were,” challenged readers to be more mindful in working with colleagues, especially longtime colleagues.

The post defines mindfulness as “noticing what is happening in the present moment, without judgment.” And thus the post raised the question: when we interact with colleagues, are we present and mindful of who they are now? Or are we substituting our own mental shortcuts of who they were and what they’ve done in the past? The post encourages readers to “See your colleague as they are today, not how you remember them from yesterday”:

[A]s an experiment, simply notice your colleague afresh. How do they look today? What is their tone of voice? What are their facial expressions? Are they really saying the same old stuff, or is there something new to be heard that you could notice and appreciate?

Noticing colleagues afresh is a challenge. This is partly general human nature: “By the time we have worked with someone for a few months or years, we have developed expectations for what they will say and do.” It’s always been that way, of course.

The ever-present role of email only exacerbates these expectations. The author, Duncan Coombs, describes his findings that email communications reinforce and solidify expectations about coworkers:

I’ve previously written with my good friend and colleague, Darren Good, about the “flash images” we form about people when we see their names in our inboxes. This flash image, based on past experiences, happens before you even read the content of the email, and then influences the way we read the email. While this is a normal part of brain functioning, it has a potentially adverse impact when our negative lens leads to negative interpretations.

I believe the legal workplace suffers from these issues as much as any other industry, and maybe more so (at least in law firms).

An associate does good work, and she builds the “halo effect” around everything she does—whether the work remains stellar or not. Another associate produces a weak assignment or two, and she her billables just start fading away. The effect cuts the other way too: Associates may develop positive expectations about working with a particular partner, which lead them to enjoy the work and do it well. Conversely some partners may engender a sense of existential dread among associates prodded onto their teams. The same effect influences relationships with paralegals, administrative support staff, and legal professionals throughout the firm. And the e-mail “flash image” reinforces all of the above.

Many would say this is far from a problem; in fact it is (a) reality and (b) a good thing.

In a law firm, an associate builds her reputation—for better or worse. Keith Lee wrote about the difference in personal brand (what you say about yourself) and reputation (what others say about you) . The work inside a law firm flows toward the individual lawyers with strong reputations, and away from others. Individual lawyers’ reputations are important because they contribute to (or detract from) the overall health of the law firm.

This is true in any business of course, but the competitive reality of law practice and the pessimistic mindset of lawyers may exacerbate it. As one lawyer stated to Law360 in giving advice and admonitions to new associates, “what takes years and hard work to build can be lost in a second with one bad decision or lapse of judgment.”

I don’t think the HBR post is arguing against a lawyer’s earned reputation and its deserved effects. Nor am I, here in this post.

I think the post is digging into the process of how a reputation happens in the first place. If a reputation comes about from non-mindful, even lazy mental shortcuts of others based on insufficient, incomplete, or inaccurate information, reputation is not only not a good thing but actually bad or at least far from optimal. Consequences that come to mind include frustrated individual working relationships that result in less accurate information, less effective distributions of work, wastefully “writing off” legal professionals despite achievements and potential, and shrinking or illusory opportunities for professional development.

Is working with someone for “a few months” enough to accurately define that person’s capabilities and, accordingly, their reputation? Even if a working relationship has lasted years, could a person actually change?

These questions open up numerous discussions on assessment and evaluation, as well as a “growth” or “fixed” mindset about human capacity, with implications too big for one post. At the individual level, the HBR post goes on to some positive recommendations for interacting more mindfully with colleagues:

As an experiment, consciously seek to notice something positive about the person. What is one thing about this person that you appreciate? What is one thing they say that is helpful? What is their contribution to the organization? What is their single greatest strength? Focus on that and pay total attention to that one thing. Hold that focus and make that your first “foothold” on the path to an improved relationship.

These are recommendations that some skeptical lawyers may find naive. Supervisors who complete and sign semi-annual evaluations simply don’t need to make this effort. There’s a path of less resistance: directing their work and their time to other associates and legal professionals where the positive reactions come more easily and naturally. (Thus it’s very good advice for new attorneys to treat partners like clients from day one, and try to avoid this situation in the first place.)

But for attorneys and legal professionals who are committed to—or stuck in—working arrangement for some time, this positive advice may be helpful to frame more mindful, constructive interactions.


For more on mindfulness, see the work of Jeena Cho. Her book, The Anxious Lawyer, will be coming out this year. Her course on “Better Lawyering through Mindfulness” touches on mindful listening and many other topics. She writes for Above the Law.

This article originally from the Vermont Bar Journal and now posted on the Ohio Supreme Court’s website also touches on themes of mindfulness in interacting with others.