Event: Don’t Throw Gasoline on the Fire: Communication Tips for Stressful Situations (Nov. 2, 2007)

The American Association of Nurse Attorneys
26th Annual Meeting & Educational Conference
Hyatt Regency Newport Hotel & Spa
Newport, RI
November 1-3, 2007
For more information, go to www.TAANA.org

The legendary psychologist Abraham Maslow said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” Most law schoolsonly teach adversarial methods of communication and conflict resolution, which stress hammering the other side. As a result, we lawyers tend to view everyone as an opponent, we pick apart their ideas and opinions, and we try to beat them instead of collaborating with them. Those strategies tend to exacerbate problems, so we often avoid discussing issues until they reach the explosive stage. Debra Bruce will share communication tips you can use with clients, partners and even opposing counsel to douse the fire instead of fanning it.



Event: Why Does Tiger Woods Have a Coach? (And What Does That Have to Do with Law Practice Management?) (Oct. 25, 2007)

Advanced Drafting: Estate Planning and Probate Course 2007
October 25-26, 2007
Westin Oaks Hotel
Houston, TX

Dining Out in France: Go with the Flow

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

It seems that a number of clients and readers like reading about my adventures in France. Over 8 years ago I took a sabbatical from practicing law from which I never actually returned. I segued into becoming a coach for lawyers, eventually. During that sabbatical in France I did some travel writing. The following article appeared in the Orlando Sentinel in 1999.

Successful dining in France requires one of two personal qualifications: (a) extensive training in French linguistics, etiquette and cuisine, or (b) a devil-may-care attitude. In my case, hunger and impatience mandate the latter. Forget etiquette. I cannot comply with the only rule I have learned. Here in France it is impolite to place your hand in your lap while dining. My mother would tell you I never did that anyway, but my hyper-conscious teenager has been repeatedly mortified by my infractions of this rule. Evidently the nudity on French beaches, billboards and television commercials subconsciously affects the French as much as the Americans, because the French wonder what you are doing with your hand if it is under the table.

All menus contain a number of indiscernible choices, even if I can literally understand the words (which I often can’t). A dictionary does not help. What kind of lunch item is a ”crunchy mister” or a “crunchy madam?” Or a “hot goat?” The answers: a croque monsieur is sort of a toasted ham sandwich with cheese melted on top, which populates every brasserie menu. A croque madame is more of the same, with a runny fried egg on top of the cheese. The French don’t eat fried eggs for breakfast. They prefer them on top of their pizza…or sandwich…or salad. Salads abound as a main course during the day. Chevre chaud (hot goat) is actually a green salad served with goat cheese slightly melted over small pieces of toast. Quite tasty and, again, found on every brasserie menu. In fact, I suspect some French regulation requires every brasserie to have the same ten menu items, after which they are permitted to add two items of individual preference.

A similar regulation applies to pizzas. A pizza with mushrooms and ham is La Reine. A pizza with cheese, tomato and olives is a Marguerite. There are ten such named varieties of pizza. There is no such thing as “the works”, and inventing your own pizza ingredient combination is Pas possible. Pas possible – literally “impossible” – is French shorthand for “That’s too much trouble unless you can come up with a convincingly sympathetic or amusing reason why I should bother.”

The mystery intensifies in a dinner menu. As a rule of thumb, I choose something that I have at least a chance of pronouncing. According to my best translation, I have ordered “pork with soy germs” and “filet of Pekinese.” The latter seems unlikely, however, because the French love their dogs so much that they even take them into restaurants. Maybe I had dog food… Maybe it said “filet for Pekinese.” If so, in France even germs and dog food taste delicious.

I have drawn the line at trying hamburger cheval, however. Cheval means horse. (I think I accidentally tried that menu item once in a Mexican border town.) My French neighbor assures me that hamburger cheval just means it has the ubiquitous fried egg on top. That’s strange enough, but I’m not taking any chances. French butcher shops and even grocery stores sell horse meat.

Emboldened by the safety of numbers, I participated in a group of four Texans trying out an expensive Parisian seafood restaurant recommended in the guide books. Don’t tell my teenage son, but I had both hands under the table as I surreptitiously consulted my pocket dictionary. It was easy enough to discern that the mixed seafood platter with huitres ouverts (“open oysters”) had raw oysters on the half shell, a Texas gulf coast staple. I knew that would work for me. I determined that the platter also had clams, mussels, langostino, shrimp, and some other yet unidentified items.

The waiter had already come by twice to take our orders, so fearing ejection, on his third pass we gave up on the translation and just did it. I at least tried to pronounce my choice. The others committed the faux pas of just pointing at the menu. We chose our wine by the only reliable criterion we knew: price.

Our waiter returned and meticulously rearranged my silverware. He spread the utensils out, reordered them, then changed his mind and rearranged them again. This was going to be an etiquette challenge, if even the waiter was having trouble. He then played a similar shell game with the next person’s setting.

Perhaps we should have requested a recommendation on our wine, because either it or the stress of ordering gave us the sillies. Whenever the waiter turned his back slightly, we moved our silverware back to the original position, or maybe to a completely new position, all the while snickering hysterically. Then he turned too quickly, and caught one of us in the act. He pointed a reproaching finger, and said his only English phrase: “No dessert.”

Soon we understood why he did so much rearranging. He was making room for all kinds of new items. A cocktail fork. A copper wire with a circle on the end. Other unfamiliar implements. Scented finger wipes. Little bowls of minced purple onion in a vinegar sauce. Then he got the last laugh. He brought out a huge tray of seafood on ice. Raw. Unknowingly, we had all ordered the same thing! The langostino and the large shrimp were cooked, but we had raw tiny shrimp, clams, mussels, conch, escargot, and who knows what those other things in sea shells were?

Maybe it was the wine, the atmosphere of being in a foreign country, or just hunger, but even our finickiest eater laughed and dug in. Some of it was delicious, though we found that it was pas possible to get red cocktail sauce. (How do you say “horse radish” in French?)

We really enjoyed our meal, partially because it was just so much fun. I probably won’t order the same thing again, however. It’s not as funny the second time around.

Get Remembered

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

Years ago at an early morning meeting Jimmy Brill, a veteran estate planning lawyer and the founder of Solos Supporting Solos, asked each of 30 lawyers to introduce themselves and their practices. I didn’t know any of them, and they all faded into a blur, except for one tall gentleman in a straw hat and seersucker suit. He said, “I’m a proctologist in the courtroom.” He got some chuckles and my attention.

I often ask the attorneys I coach on business development to analyze their client list to determine how they obtained their previous clients. Most of them report that the majority of their new clients come as referrals. If your business depends on referrals, your success depends on the likelihood that others will remember you when someone has a problem you can solve.

A couple of months after that morning meeting, I asked someone in the group, “What’s the name of that guy who’s the proctologist in the courtroom?” “Ted Hirtz,” he responded immediately. Ted’s introduction stood out and triggered the memory of enough people for me to locate him again.

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