Management Lessons Learned from the Texas Lawyers Creed

State Bar of Texas
Webcast panelist
Austin, TX
April 29, 2008 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM CT

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Clues You Can Use to Soothe Clashes

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

We all have someone we have to deal with who is somehow blocking us from getting what we want. It may be opposing counsel, but it may just as likely be our own partner or a staff member who isn’t performing to our expectations. In those situations our frustration levels mount, and some of us sneer or explode. We go from dealing with a difficult person to being a difficult person.

Many such problems can be solved or prevented if we can improve our communication skills. Here are some “clues you can use” to improve your communication and reduce the conflict in your office.

1. Deal with annoyances while they are small.

This concept particularly applies to people we interact with frequently. Sometimes someone does something that annoys us, inconveniences us or hurts us, but because it is a small matter, we think it would be too petty to bring up. By the time it (or something like it) happens the tenth time, we have a big stack of grievances to address, and our emotions run high. We appear to react out of proportion to the incident, but actually we are reacting to ten incidents. Ambrose Bierce, an American author and newspaper columnist, said, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” If we simply address the issue the first or second time it occurs, we usually can discuss it calmly, casually and without a lot of emotional investment.

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Does Lawyer-Speak Create Workplace Dysfunction?

Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.

Dan told the group what he thought was the appropriate course of action to take. No one voiced any opposition, so he took steps to set the plan into motion. Later he was surprised to get feedback that Karen thought he was controlling and railroaded the group into doing things his way. Dan felt dumbfounded and frustrated. If Karen had another idea, why didn’t she speak up in the first place?

Have you ever been in Dan’s shoes? Or do you identify with Karen’s perspective, acquiescing to someone else’s way of doing things when you don’t really want to? The problem may be as much a matter of conversational styles as substantive disagreement, according to Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., bestselling author and linguistics professor at Georgetown University.

In her book Talking from 9 to 5: How Women’s and Men’s Conversational Styles Affect Who Gets Heard, Who Gets Credit, and What Gets Done at Work, Tannen points out that many people expect ideas to be explored through verbal opposition. “When presenting their own ideas, they state them in the most certain and absolute form they can and wait to see if they are challenged,” says Tannen. “Their thinking is that if there are weaknesses, someone will point them out, and by trying to argue against those objections they will find out how their ideas hold up.”

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