A Tech Support Manual for Problems with People Part 3

Monitoring your own attitude and engaging in active listening are useful tools to have in your communication and management toolbox. Practicing both on a regular basis will prove useful inside, and outside, work.

As a lawyer, there are often touchy issues. Sometimes you know of them in advance, and sometimes opposition flares unexpectedly.

Create safety for discussion. When people don’t feel respected or fear that their needs, goals or interests are at risk, safety and trust are lost and communication tends to break down. That’s when avoidance, passive-aggressive resistance, sabotage, argument or attack develop. Here are some steps you can take to start the conversation well, and return safety to the discussion when things go awry.

  • Apology. If you have stepped on someone’s toes, take responsibility for it and apologize sincerely. A simple apology can unclog a reservoir of resentment and resistance, and sometimes nothing else will suffice.
  • Contrasting. Contrast your actual intent with any inaccurate assumptions that they could be operating under. (Example: “I don’t want to control your schedule. I do want to make sure we produce a quality product on a timely basis.”)
  • Common needs and goals. Find the level at which you each want the same thing, and help them see that alignment. From there you may be able to see new options for both getting what you want, on the level of the conflict.

For more in-depth discussion of tools like these, check out Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, et al, and Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg.

As a final example, one of my in-house counsel clients experienced frustration and conflict in a new role. Here’s how she describes the impact of learning better communication tools:

“When I started in a newly formed position and proposed significant changes to established systems, I needed to ensure buy-in from the staff in my department for the changes to be successful. The more experienced staff in the department were skeptical about the new systems. Using the tools in Crucial Conversations, I was able to navigate conversations with key contributors and convince them that the changes to the system would improve the quality of our work and help us to meet our deadlines….Once we had reached a shared understanding, the transition to the new system ran smoothly. The lines of communication were opened so that all stakeholders felt comfortable suggesting additional tweaks and changes as the new system was implemented, which resulted in even more improvements and refinements.”

Featured image: “Paper family in hand, insurance concept” from Shutterstock.

About Debra L. Bruce

Debra L. Bruce is President of Lawyer-Coach LLC, which provides executive coaching and training for lawyers on leadership and management, team effectiveness, time management, business development and social media. Having practiced law for 18 years followed by coaching for 14 years, she’s in frequent demand as a speaker and writer on law practice management topics. Debra is on the ABA Law Practice Division’s Law Practice magazine board and the Division’s Career Paths Task Force. She has also served as the Vice Chair of the Law Practice Management Committee of the State Bar of Texas and the Chair of the Houston Bar Association’s LPM Section. Debra was the first lawyer in Texas credentialed by the International Coach Federation, and served as the leader of its Houston chapter.

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