You would think having hard conversations would come easy to lawyers. We spend our days having them with opposing counsel, clients and elsewhere in our lives. But just like people management skills, having hard conversations is difficult and not intuitive for many. While some hardened litigators may relish constant conflict and contentious exchanges, many lawyers are content putting their heads down and doing their work in a collegial atmosphere. But for all lawyers, knowing how to have a hard conversation is just as important as remembering to celebrate the success of others or just to say thank you for a job well done. Negative feedback can often have surprising benefits, and learning how to deal with criticism is also a skill that everyone should strive to excel at.
“I have a lot of fun with this blog – and I hope that comes through. But every once in a while, I like to delve into something more challenging, more serious. Today is one of those days. Last year, I wrote about how to deliver “bad news” to the business. A year or so before that, I discussed how to fire someone. Neither is a particularly pleasant topic, but if you are going to succeed in the in-house world, these are conversations you will have and you need to know how to handle. Now it’s time to discuss the last of the trifecta of pain, how to have hard conversations at the office. It’s a close cousin for the first two but, as you will see below, requires a slightly different skill set and mentality. Hard discussions for in-house lawyers usually fall within a handful of categories, i.e., you are acting as a manager (or the subordinate), as a co-worker in the legal department, dealing with a co-worker outside the department, or you are dealing with someone outside the company (like outside counsel). Regardless of who you are dealing with, most of us (including myself, even today) avoid these types of discussions because they are not fun and because no one wants to be the bad guy. For in-house lawyers, it’s an even more arduous chore because – while lawyers are usually great when arguing for a client or for a client’s position – we are the worst at having discussions involving ourselves. No worries though, grab some coffee and stick with me; we’ll get through this because this edition of “Ten Things” discusses how to have hard conversations at the office….”