Category: Resilience

DiversityGenderInclusionNon-verbal communicationResilience

‘Nanette’ is good

What’s the difference between a joke and a story? Hannah Gadsby teaches the difference in her new stand-up special Nanette. She brings up a lot of stuff going on in current political discussions in a funny, painful, compelling performance. You will get more out of it by listening not just to the “content” she’s written and delivered—and believe it or not, she has a funny joke early on about the idea of “content” itself. You’ve also got to watch Gadsby’s non-verbal signals, the wry smiles and fleeting, then burning, eye contact as she builds to her point.

One theme running through the show is Gadsby’s stated intent to leave stand-up comedy. She unrolls the reasoning a bit at a time, moving toward her central thesis: she’s got to tell her story, and comedy doesn’t let her do that.

Why not?

What better way to tell one’s story than with humor—specifically, with jokes? They make people laugh; they make people think.

Self-deprecating jokes are causing more hurt and Gadsby states her intent not to use them anymore:

“You do understand what self -deprecation means from somebody who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation.”

That’s one of many lessons about listening tucked up in her performance. If you hear someone using self-deprecating humor, listen more closely. Listen with empathy. Why are they doing that?

But beyond the content of the joke, Gadsby says, it’s the joke itself that is the problem. A joke has a two-part structure: First, the tension. Then, the punch line that relieves tension.

That structure is missing the third part, the rest of the story. Sometimes the rest of the story is satisfying, like when she came out to her mother (producing much joke material) and later developed a great relationship with her (happy but not at all funny). And sometimes the rest of the story is really painful, such that a comedian must ignore and suppress it to get anything joke-worthy at all.

So listening for more than a joke is one thing to take away from Nanette. Listening for a joke is a way to squeeze pleasure for yourself as a listener. Some audience members seem to get even more pleasure out of judging the jokes and offering “feedback” and “opinions” to Gadsby after her shows.

But listening for a story uses your listening to help the other person share and connect. How exactly to show you, as a listener, want the story not the joke seems like it must be drawn from intuition and empathy. If your listening skills suggest that all you want or all you can handle is a joke, you’ll never get the full story.

Asking questions certainly seems like a good start. Gadsby talks a lot about the unsolicited feedback she receives, but nowhere in the performance does she recount anyone asking her a question. In a way, the whole performance constitutes an exclamation by someone who has never been asked an open question, but only placed without her consent into certain boxes and stereotypes.

I’m still processing everything I took away from Nanette, and now I get it why someone said they were going to watch the show several more times. It’s not a spoiler to share the denouement, a clip of Gadsby on a sofa with her teapot and teacup and two dogs. After the work that went into Nanette, she deserves a moment to recharge.


Here are some other reviews of Nanette that may be of interest:

https://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2018/07/02/625298708/hannah-gadsbys-nanette-is-a-scorching-piece-on-comedy-and-trauma

Hannah Gadsby on the Real ‘Nanette’ and Whether She’s Really Quitting Comedy After Her Netflix Special

https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/7/5/17527478/hannah-gadsby-nanette-comedy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Bar exam prepResilienceSelf-care

Supporting those who failed the bar

It’s so difficult to balance empathy with advice. This post from Joe Regalia in the ABA Before the Bar Blog achieves that balance in addressing a very sensitive subject: life after failing the bar exam.

Joe acknowledges that the community of those who have failed the bar is something of a “secret society,” one that you can’t really understand unless you’re a member:

We need to have more respect for the toll failing a bar has on real lives. This is not just getting a bad grade. These people need our support.

Joe goes on to deliver a hopeful message—hopeful in the sense he compares failing the bar to getting a horrible flu but, eventually, recovering. And he describes some constructive advice for exactly how to do that.

This post came to my attention when Joe shared the reaction he’s gotten from the post. I’ll end here with Joe’s own observations:

The response to this article has been incredible this last year. It’s short and nothing special in the writing department. But I get a staggering number of emails from folks who stumble on it and ask to talk. Just this week I’ve chatted with three random people who wanted to talk about their experience.

I’m always struck by these conversations. I don’t do anything magical. I just listen and encourage. Tell them that all kinds of people have been where they are and give them a few practical tips for doing better.

But it always seems to help. For many of them, I think it’s just knowing that others have experienced this and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Like many things in life, just having someone to listen goes a long way.

Joe-Regalia Joe Regalia clerked for several years in federal district courts and at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. These days he keeps his plate full as an adjunct law professor, an associate at the firm of Sidley Austin, and a frequent speaker and consultant on legal writing and legal test-taking.

 

 

 

 

Legal communicationNarrativeResilienceSelf-careWork-life balance

Hygge for lawyers

Hygge has been called everything from “the art of creating intimacy,” “coziness of the soul,” and the “absence of annoyance,” to “taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things,” “cozy togetherness,” and … “cocoa by candlelight.”

Hygge is an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down. You may be having an endless conversation about the small or big things in life—or just be comfortable in each other’s silent company—or simply just be by yourself enjoying a cup of tea.

Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living (2017)

In my last post of 2017, here’s something I’ve wanted to do all year: write about “hygge.”

The quote above from The Little Book of Hygge gives a good sense of what it is; it’s also claimed as the reason the Danish people are apparently the happiest in Europe. It’s the opposite of self-help trends such as “eating clean,” according to The Little Book of Hygge’s publisher:

Hygge is about embracing things—enjoying cake, not checking work emails all weekend, spending time with friends and family. It’s about the simple, small pleasures that make life great, which perhaps sometimes pass us by.

For some, the holiday season is a time to embrace the hygge with family and friends. NPR has this article on how to host a hygge holiday party.

But the hygge experience does not have to be limited to a holiday respite. I had a really rough first semester in law school, and one saving grace was the hygge qualities of the rental house I shared with three roommates. We had lots of nooks with comfy seating, pillows and throw blankets, lamps all around with soft lighting, a friendly cat, tons of mugs for always-brewing coffee and tea, shared meals, and good conversation whenever you wanted, but no obligation to talk. While my perception of the 1L law-school environment got worse and worse, I was able to take comfort in our cozy home and the people in it. Looking back, the first semester of law school just totally sucked, and everything got better from there. I’m grateful to my roommates—now lifelong friends—who made the environment that helped so much during that initial low point.

Away from home, aspects of hygge can make an office more supportive. The Little Book of Hygge suggests maintaining a small office garden, adding a sofa rather than just office chairs, starting a Friday office potluck tradition, and—in a perfect world (that’s an editorial comment by me) even bringing your dog to work. One of the happiest lawyers I know started his own firm and does just that, pretty much every day.

IMG_7403

This is not my dog, but I stopped and had a hygge moment with him.

So having a “hyggelig” environment can help any lawyer with the behind-the-scenes wellness. Beth Padgett of South Carolina Bar’s Lawyers Helping Lawyers program wrote about hygge for lawyers in the March 2017 issue of the S.C. bar publication (page 9 here):

Many people find the work of improving their mental or emotional health (or even their attitude) to be daunting for a host of reasons. Hygge seems to be a simple and nonthreatening way to create some change.

Note: For those who struggle during the holidays, here and here are some suggestions on supporting them.