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Law People

Better Law Practice Through Better People Management

Building Your Emotional Vocabulary

Posted in Assessments, Client Service, Coaching, Communication, Conflict, Culture, Decision-Making, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Mentoring, Retention, Wellness

One of the ways to improve our emotional intelligence, and therefore improve our decision-making, our productivity. our personal interactions and our well-being, is to expand our vocabulary with respect to emotions.

We experience hundreds of shades of emotion every day. While five to seven emotions are considered basic, combinations of those emotions blend together to produce a multiplicity of emotional experiences. So anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, shame and joy, for example, can morph through combination and intensity into feelings of frustration, rage, distress, sorrow, apprehension, uneasiness, anxiety, embarrassment, mortification, annoyance, contempt, contentedness, admiration, confidence and ecstasy.

In the workplace, emotions tend toward the negative–anxiety, fear, anger, disappointment, resentment, jealousy. These emotions can have profoundly negative impacts on our bodies and minds, particularly if we are saturated with them and their related fight-or-flight hormones over time. Unfortunately, joy and its correlates, which can bring positive benefits, may be the emotion least experienced in the workplace.

Being able to identify emotions is a key step to disarming them. “Naming our emotions tends to diffuse their charge and lessen the burden they create.” And managing emotions requires first that we know what emotions need to be managed. As psychologist Dan Siegel has said, “you have to name it to tame it.” Yet a study by TalentSmart found that in a test of over 500,000 people globally, only 36% were able to accurately identify the emotions that were influencing them at any given time.

How accurate are you in naming your own emotional landscape, or that of those around you? In emotional intelligence assessments, lawyers score not only low generally compared to other professions but our lowest score is on the subscore relating to accurately perceiving one’s own and others’emotions, putting us significantly below the general population’s 36% awareness.

Why is it that we are so woefully out of touch with emotions? The emotional vocabulary is not one that is used or prized in our industry.  In fact, the law tends to scrub its language of any words that relate to emotion. And unfortunately our workplaces reflect that tendency, not only in the absence of emotion words but also in how emotionally arid they often feel.

Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence promotes a simple acronym for improving emotional intelligence in school settings: RULER, which stands for Recognition, Understanding, Labeling, Expression and Regulation.  By giving students a more extensive and accurate labeling vocabulary, the Center has determined that the students are then in a better position to recognize emotions in themselves and others, understand the causes and consequences of emotions, express emotions appropriately and regulate their emotions effectively. In one exercise targeted at expanding their labeling ability, students are encouraged to check in with themselves every hour and write down what emotions they are feeling.

Lawyers can expand their emotional vocabulary in the same way.  There are apps that facilitate checking in with yourself emotionally, such as MyMoodTracker for iPhones, which allows you to name, gauge and track your emotions, complete with a reminder on whatever schedule you prefer. Asking a friend, colleague or spouse who seems sensitive to emotions to comment on an interchange by using emotion words is also helpful. Verbally noticing what you or others are experiencing–“I am feeling overwhelmed and distracted by my daughter’s illness,” or “You seem discouraged by the turn the case has taken”–also helps expand awareness and vocabulary. You can try out your emotion vocabulary by watching a movie in another language or with the sound off (great to do on the plane) and seeing how many emotions you can name based on facial expressions and body language.

One CEO who has gone on a personal crusade to be more aware of his emotions confessed, “I still have occasions when negative emotions rise up in me outside of my awareness. The impact shows up in the tone of my voice or my choice of words, and my solution has been to turn to colleagues for help. Any time they sense that I might be feeling negative emotions, I’ve asked that they simply ask me, ‘How are you feeling?’ That’s usually all it takes for me to notice. By noticing, I’m almost always able to manage whatever is going on inside me more gracefully.”

So you can always ask yourself or others, “How are you feeling?”

 

 

Moral Disengagement and the Law

Posted in Client Service, Conflict, Decision-Making, Emotional Intelligence, Ethics, Law Education, Leadership, Management, Professional Development, Risk Management

Commentators have remarked for years on the decline in ethical standards among lawyers, leading to increasing charges of fraud, theft, breach of fiduciary duties, among other crimes, and also pure incivility.

Even lawyers have long thought that lawyers are behaving inappropriately and should be more closely monitored: in one survey, 62% of the lawyers surveyed believed lawyers are inadequately policing lawyer misconduct.  Not the least of those bemoaning the state of professionalism in the law was Warren Burger in a 1993 Tennessee Law Review article entitled The Decline of Professionalism. The economic recession that began in 2008 is viewed by some as a monument to unethical practices by banking and legal professionals, one that damaged the general economy and individual organizations involved, as well as industry reputations. And one that hasn’t resulted in raising the level of our professionalism. See our entries “What’s Ethics Got To Do With It?” Part 1 and Part 2 for further discussions of the ethical state of our profession.

Why is there at least a perceived level of ethical failings among lawyers? Albert Bandura, the David Starr Jordan Professor of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University, has developed a line of psychological research called “moral disengagement.” It focuses on what makes some people “disengage” from what they know to be the morally appropriate path–convincing themselves that in a particular instance the normal ethical rules don’t apply. “This new knowledge provides better understanding about the psychological mechanisms which deactivate moral self-regulation and allow people to make unethical decisions more easily,” which is “highly relevant to understanding unethical behavior in 21st century organizations.”

Moral disengagement occupies the place between normal ethical behavior on the one hand and the absence of ethical restraints exhibited by Machiavellians, sociopaths and psychopaths, on the extreme other.

Bandura has identified “eight cognitive tactics,” i.e. things we tell ourselves, that deactivate our ethical standards:

1. Moral Justification – making the harm appear more morally justifiable
2. Euphemistic Labeling – using morally neutral language to make bad conduct sound benign
3. Advantageous Comparison – trivializing one’s unethical behavior by comparing it with more harmful conduct
4. Displacement of Responsibility – blaming someone else for bad behavior
5. Diffusion of Responsibility – claiming no one individual but the whole group was responsible
6. Distortion of Consequences – trivializing the harm by noting limited consequences
7. Dehumanization – not recognizing the target of the harm
8. Attribution of Blame – blaming the victim

Nearly all of these tactics can be found to some degree in the various exampcited in our ethics entries noted above.  There’s also the story of the staffer who worked in a law school’s career services office tracking graduate job statistics, among other things. The dean repeatedly pressured her to record those statistics other than as dictated by the ABA regulations, she said, saying among other things that padding numbers was ok because “everyone does it.”

Lawyers are, of course, by both training and practice, particularly good at defending and justifying their own actions, including their most suspect ones. “Successful people tend to have that ability to compartmentalize and juggle competing demands and loyalties. And lawyers, in particular, are very good at it. There is no group I can think of that practices the psychological act of compartmentalization with more dexterity and willingness than lawyers,” according to James Dolan, a psychologist who specializes in treating lawyers. “Indeed, it may be the basic intellectual act of law practice.”

This compartmentalization is of course what many lawyers see as necessary in order to be effective advocates.   By separating their personal values from what they consider to be solely rational arguments, they can represent morally repugnant clients and causes in furtherance of their professional duty to render competent representation.

Yet this ability to compartmentalize away their personal morals and rely almost entirely on rationality is also what may lead lawyers astray in their own conduct.

Bandura contends that people with one or more of the following four attributes will be more predisposed to moral disengagement than others:

• Low Empathy – less ability to recognize others’ feelings
• High Cynicism – a general attitude of disillusionment and distrust
• Lack of Control – belief that chance or powerful others control outcomes in their lives
• Weak Moral Identity– lower standards expected of oneself

Of Bandura’s four predispositions to moral disengagement, lawyers are likely to exhibit the first three: low empathy, high cynicism, and feelings of lack of control, and may possibly also exhibit the fourth—a weak moral identity. We have sound data that lawyers score low on empathy and high on cynicism. Feeling little control is often associated with highly structured practices–it is, after all, the supervising partner or the client or the executive committee who are ultimately in control of decisions, we often tell ourselves.  We are just the vehicle to make what they want happen. A strong moral identity is often not promoted in our business, neither in our law school training nor in our professional development. The Carnegie Foundation found in 2007 that “a number of studies have shown that law students’ moral reasoning does not appear to develop to any significant degree during law school.”

Exhibiting low emotional intelligence scores, lawyers are also less likely to hear their own “gut” feelings about ethical propriety, in addition to being out of touch with how their actions may affect others.  Guilt, fear and anxiety can be helpful signals telling us that the path ahead is not without risks.  Shutting off our access to those emotions can hobble our ability to make moral decisions. One study demonstrated that those with the ability to feel guilt, empathy and other emotional states were less likely to advocate a corporate misdeed or participate in deception or misrepresentation in connection with their company or colleagues.

There are certainly heroes of ethical conduct among us. In a UK case involving the bankrupting of a company, a British regulatory tribunal issued a severe reprimand and a record fine against Deloitte  LLP, as well as the disbarment of and fine against its corporate finance partner. Deloitte and the partner had “placed their own interests ahead of that of the public and compromised their own objectivity… a flagrant disregard of the professional standards expected and required.” The company directors convicted in connection with the case contended that a partner in a prominent English law firm that was advising the company kept them from receiving their full, and suspect, compensation package. Their position was that “it wasn’t her position to be raising questions about the directors’ remuneration and that she had done it on a number of occasions in a way that… was inappropriate.” The law firm, they asserted, “was not anybody’s moral guardian.”  The court’s response: “We do not accept this.”

Congratulations to this English lawyer for having the courage to refuse to facilitate the looting of a public company. Ethical and moral questions in the practice of law are by their very nature both tricky yet imperative to sort out properly.  Being a lawyer may be the biggest risk factor involved.

 

More on Love and the Law

Posted in Client Service, Conflict, Culture, Decision-Making, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Productivity, Professional Development, Profitability, Retention, Risk Management, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Wellness, Work Satisfaction, Work/Life Balance

In our 2013 entry “The Law: What’s Love Got To Do With It?“, we noted the movement toward integrative law, which  “Pauline Tesler, director of the Integrative Law Institute, believes… is the next ‘huge wave coming to the legal profession.’ As she explains, this type of practice is aimed at ‘out-of-court solutions and the well-being of all players in the legal system, lawyers and clients included.'” Meditation was noted as one of the practices being embraced by the movement to improve practitioners’ ability to be compassionate or loving, both towards themselves and others.

Compassionate?  Lawyers? Well, what if being more compassionate resulted in better results, for our clients and ourselves?

In Making the Case for Love in Your Law Firm, Christy Cassisa notes a study at a large nonprofit long-term health-care facility and hospital that explored the influence the emotional environment has on employee, patient and family outcomes, which went on to compare results in a number of other industries as well. As one of the study authors concluded, “Overall, we found that — regardless of the industry baseline — to the extent that there’s a greater culture of companionate love, that culture is associated with greater satisfaction, commitment and accountability.”

Cassisa argues that lawyers start out compassionate. “We are a profession that is supposedly comprised of counselors and advisors. Many of us were drawn to the law by an internal, idealistic desire to do good and to help others. And our clients are very frequently in great emotional distress… [but] burnout and compassion fatigue are very real in our profession.”

Law firms can take a page from the companies that are making “love” part of their culture. Google offers emotional intelligence courses for employees, General Mills has a meditation room in every building on its corporate campus, and even hard-nosed firms like Goldman Sachs and BlackRock are teaching meditation on the job. These programs are trying to make employees more “present” in their work, more inclined to make better-considered decisions and generally nicer to work with.

As reported last month in The New York Times, Mark T. Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna, overhauled both his own personal health regimen and the culture at Aetna after a personal near-death experience. The company now offers free yoga and mindfulness meditation classes, which are in huge demand, with more than 13,000 employees participating. “Meditation is not about thinking about nothing,” Bertolini is quoted as saying. “It’s about accepting what you think, giving reverence to it and letting it go. It’s losing the attachment to it. Same thing with pain.” Aetna is also selling the same classes to the businesses that contract with Aetna for their health insurance.

So what is the impact of this touchy-feely culture on a competitive company like this? After the first three months of offering these classes, Aetna analyzed data they found “astounding.” Employees participating in the yoga and meditation classes report a 28% reduction in their stress levels, a 20% improvement in sleep quality and a 19% reduction in pain. They also become more effective on the job, with each gaining an average of 62 minutes per week  of productivity that Aetna estimates is worth $3,000 per employee per year. “All employees who stuck with either the yoga or the mindfulness reported significant reduction in perceived stress and sleep difficulties… the study also found that physical measures of heart rate variability and cortisol levels had both decreased.” In addition, after a year, paid medical claims per employee were down 7.3%, or roughly $9 million. The results of Aetna’s study were published in The Journal of Occupational Health Psychology in 2012. Then in January, after reading “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the treatise on inequality by the French economist Thomas Piketty, Mr. Bertolini gave his lowest-paid employees a 33% raise.

So that must have taken a toll on the company’s bottom line that wiped out all those feel-good gains? “Aetna’s stock has increased threefold since Mr. Bertolini took over as chief executive in 2010, and recently hit a record high.”

What specific steps can we take to build more compassion into our lawerly lives? Cassisa gives a roadmap in 10 Strategies for Bringing More Love into the Law. As she notes, “some will conflict with your legal training — and maybe even your personal upbringing. Science backs every single one.” Here are excerpts:

1. Understand biology. From day one in law school we are conditioned to believe competition and fear are inevitable, but those states trigger basic survival strategies that can actually lead to inferior performance. Understanding it is the first step in managing this biological programming.

2. Accept evolution. [W]e are also wired to share emotions, and this means what I feel will be transmitted to you, whether you or I want it or not. The fact that we have social brains means that we must learn to be aware of what we are feeling to better control what we are sharing.

3. Increase self-awareness. This one is tricky for a profession notoriously low in emotional intelligence. But self-awareness can be cultivated and improved. It’s a challenge — looking oneself in the mirror and really seeing what is there. But we can develop self-awareness with conscious effort and practice. Take a personality or emotional intelligence assessment. Practice reflection and journaling. Ask respected colleagues what they see. Open your ears and mind to receiving what is there to be learned.

4. Practice mindfulness. Become aware of both the internal landscape of your experience (automatic habits, recurrent thought patterns, emotional reactivity) as well as the external environment and stimuli. You might take a conscious breath every time you leave your office, meditate for 10 minutes before launching into your day, eat a meal mindfully, or take a five-minute mindful walk. By inserting small steps like these into your day, you can experience immense improvements in your awareness, resilience and state of mind.

5. Choose responses. [I]dentify your own habitual reactions. For example, becoming defensive when that client calls incessantly, feeling panic when facing an inbox overflowing with emails, hiding in the bathroom when you have an upcoming deposition, competing with colleagues in meetings or eating a cookie at 3 p.m. Pick one habitual response and work on noticing the impulse right when it arises. Then before acting, take 10 deep breaths. This allows the brain to re-engage so you can choose your response.

6. Create new habits. Choose one behavior that you’d like to see more of from yourself and practice it for one month. Perhaps it’s learning to compliment your significant other. Or exercising in the morning. Eating healthier. [B]e intentional and construct a plan to integrate these behaviors into your life and make them permanent. For example, set an alert on your phone to remind you to compliment your partner. Calendar those exercise appointments. Schedule a day off with nothing planned other than curling up with a good book.

7. Practice gratitude. Research shows that those who practice gratitude have stronger immune systems, sleep better, have lower rates of depression and anxiety, are more resilient and are happier overall. Gratitude blocks negative emotions like envy and aggression and promotes altruism and goodwill toward others. Practice gratitude by keeping a journal of what you are thankful for, or just saying a sincere thank you to people in your life.

8. Build social relationships. Yes, at work. (And no, not necessarily over drinks.) Taking time to get to know co-workers on a personal level builds social community,  helps you better understand and empathize with one another, and makes it more likely that you will take opportunities to help and even lift up one another. So take the time to foster those relationships. Send notes of encouragement and support, celebrate birthdays, offer an ear or a hug of support. These small moments will build a more caring and satisfying work environment.

9. Practice compassion. Research shows that people who practice compassion are mentally and physically healthier, recover more quickly from disease and even live longer. But it’s hard to nail your adversaries to the wall when you have compassion for them and empathy for their case. Putting oneself in another’s shoes and wanting to alleviate their pain seems counter-intuitive in our adversarial system of justice. What the law is really about. Only you can answer that for yourself.

10. Give yourself a break. You’re human, just like the rest of us. Beating yourself up for making a mistake is actually detrimental to performance. Research shows that practicing self-compassion, or kindness toward yourself, leads to greater motivation to improve after failure. Lawyers in particular can be perfectionists, and that can lead to depression, substance abuse or worse. Try letting that go and see how it changes the way you relate to other humans.

In the competitive, hard-charging world of modern legal practice, couldn’t you and your firm use some profit-stoking compassion?

Leadership: What Really Matters

Posted in Conflict, Decision-Making, Leadership, Management, Profitability, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Work Satisfaction

According to an article in the January 2015 McKinsey and Company Quarterly Newsletter, Decoding leadership: What Really Matters,”[o]ver 90 percent of CEOs are already planning to increase investment in leadership development because they see it as the single most important human-capital issue their organizations face. And they’re right to do so: earlier McKinsey research has consistently shown that good leadership is a critical part of organizational health, which is an important driver of shareholder returns.”

But one of the questions raised by legal departments and legal firms, as well as companies the world over, is what type of leadership training really impacts performance?  What exactly are we trying to train our leaders to do?  McKinsey and Company has an answer, which we quote:

“Our most recent research… suggests that a small subset of leadership skills closely correlates with leadership success, particularly among frontline leaders. Using our own practical experience and searching the relevant academic literature, we came up with a comprehensive list of 20 distinct leadership traits. Next, we surveyed 189,000 people in 81 diverse organizations [in location, size, industry and effectiveness] around the world to assess how frequently certain kinds of leadership behavior are applied within their organizations. Finally, we divided the sample into organizations whose leadership performance was strong (the top quartile of leadership effectiveness as measured by McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index) and those that were weak (bottom quartile)…

“What we found was that leaders in organizations with high-quality leadership teams typically displayed 4 of the 20 possible types of behavior; these 4, indeed, explained 89 percent of the variance between strong and weak organizations in terms of leadership effectiveness.”  Those four are:

“1. Solving problems effectively. The process that precedes decision making is problem solving, when information is gathered, analyzed, and considered. This is deceptively difficult to get right, yet it is a key input into decision making for major issues (such as M&A) as well as daily ones (such as how to handle a team dispute).

2. Operating with a strong results orientation. Leadership is about not only developing and communicating a vision and setting objectives but also following through to achieve results. Leaders with a strong results orientation tend to emphasize the importance of efficiency and productivity and to prioritize the highest-value work.

3. Seeking different perspectives. This trait is conspicuous in managers who monitor trends affecting organizations, grasp changes in the environment, encourage employees to contribute ideas that could improve performance, accurately differentiate between important and unimportant issues, and give the appropriate weight to stakeholder concerns. Leaders who do well on this dimension typically base their decisions on sound analysis and avoid the many biases to which decisions are prone.

4. Supporting others. Leaders who are supportive understand and sense how other people feel. By showing authenticity and a sincere interest in those around them, they build trust and inspire and help colleagues to overcome challenges. They intervene in group work to promote organizational efficiency, allaying unwarranted fears about external threats and preventing the energy of employees from dissipating into internal conflict.

We’re not saying that the centuries-old debate about what distinguishes great leaders is over or that context is unimportant. Experience shows that different business situations often require different styles of leadership. We do believe, however, that our research points to a kind of core leadership behavior that will be relevant to most companies today, notably on the front line. For organizations investing in the development of their future leaders, prioritizing these four areas is a good place to start.”

Looking at law firm and law department leadership priorities, the last two behaviors outlined by McKinsey are ones that may not be fully appreciated.  Seeking different perspectives involves a degree of listening to others and encouragement and validation of others’ opinions that not all lawyer leaders exhibit.  Often, the lawyer leader operates from a more hierarchical, authoritarian orientation: “I know what is best and my job is to get you to acknowledge and do that.” Even without questioning the truth of that proposition, different perspectives are invaluable in vetting it.

The failure in the legal workplace to support others or recognize that trait as a valuable leadership skill is even more apparent. The operative word here is understanding and sensing how others “feel,” a recognition and exploration of emotions that is often anathema  to the legal mindset of “only the facts, ma’am.”  The typically low resilience of lawyers makes us particularly in need of the kind of leadership support that inspires and helps overcome the myriad challenges omnipresent in legal practice.

Leadership training is a valid exercise that legal firms and law departments should realize substantial returns from IF the training is for the appropriate skills.  Which is not to say that business development success or financial expertise or subject matter competence is irrelevant, but let’s make sure our leadership training and succession programs are focusing on all four of these priorities that McKinsey has identified.

 

Stress for Better and Worse

Posted in Books, Client Service, Communication, Conflict, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Mentoring, Productivity, Profitability, Recruitment, Retention, Teamwork, Work Satisfaction

The Center for Creative Leadership’s 2013 White Paper on “The Surprising Truth about What Drives Stress and How Leaders Build Resilience” lists stress and burnout as the top two issues leaders worldwide wrestle with. “Burnout” is a syndrome caused by excessive stress which can produce physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.  Burnout is the end game of deepening stress.

The Devastation of Constant Stress

The effects of prolonged stress on our bodies and our minds are well documented.  Rather than experiencing just a shot of cortisol, the fight or flight hormone that revs us up to deal with a problem, uncontrolled stress can put us into constant cortisol overload. Abdominal fat builds up, we become insulin resistant, our arteries stiffen and blood pressure rises, heart rate and blood flow increase, often damaging and eventually blocking vessel walls, all putting us at higher risk for coronary disease. We may speak more loudly or experience lapses in judgment or logic. Hands and feet grow cold as blood rushes to the body’s core. Research shows the heart often beats erratically, spiking again and again. White blood cell production and therefore immune functioning is impaired, making us more likely to succumb to all sorts of illness.

Just the avalanche of negative thoughts that stress can provoke can impact our health.  In Mind Over Medicine, a book about the power of placebos, Dr. Lissa Rankin found that negative thoughts have physiologically damaging impacts while positive thoughts set off the release of powerful healing hormones and neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, nitric oxide, and endorphins into our blood stream. “Our bodies’ natural repair systems can’t work properly if we’re chronically stressed or pessimistic.”

A 2004 study conducted by Dr. Elissa Epel and Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California at San Francisco found the first piece of biological evidence establishing a direct link between high stress levels and rates of aging– those suffering from long-term stress had shorter, more deteriorated telomeres (a piece of DNA that is found at the tip of chromosomes in each cell in the body).  According to Denis Novack, Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean of Medical Education at Drexel University College of Medicine at Drexel University, “there is no such thing as a separation of mind and body — the very molecules in our bodies are responsive to our psychological environment.”

High stress unequivocally reduces our intellectual functioning. According to researcher Coutu in a 2008 study, “Stressed people don’t do math very well. They don’t process language very efficiently, and they have poorer memories, both short- and long-term.”  Math and language abilities can drop as much as 50% because of excessive stress. As Rick Hanson PhD, a California-based neuropsychologist, explains, “stress is like fine sand being drizzled into the brain. It might keep working, but if you dump enough sand in there, it’ll freeze up at some point.”

Stress also exacts an emotional price, which in turn can be physically and intellectually debilitating. Researchers are finding that emotional pain produced by stress is felt and processed in the brain just as physical pain is and in the same area, the anterior cingulate cortex.  To the same extent that physical pain is debilitating, so is the emotional pain associated with depression, substance abuse or disengagement that stress can cause.

Stress has an outsized impact on our organizations’ productivity and profitability, as well. According to an article in the HBR, a Gallup survey found disengagement and stress to be major inhibitors of productivity and retention. “The American Institute of Stress reports [in 2013] that stress is the main cause underlying 40% of workplace turnovers and 80% of work-related injuries, costing companies millions of dollars annually.”

The typically high stress in the American workplace has been exacerbated by the recession and high unemployment rates.  According to a Forbes article, another Gallup poll “indicated that ‘U.S. Workers are Least Happy with Their Work Stress and Pay’ out of 13 aspects of work conditions. Well over a third of those surveyed said they were ‘totally dissatisfied’ with the amount of on-the-job-stress…”  In a 2012 StressPulseSM survey by ComPsych Corp, which provides employee assistance programs, 63% of the employees polled said they had high levels of stress with extreme fatigue and feeling out of control. According to Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, CEO of ComPsych,  ‘people who currently have jobs – many of whom have taken on extra work – are starting to show signs of prolonged stress. This can result in burnout and reduced performance.’”

One study found that those who are depressed are particularly hampered in their ability to recognize and therefore manage their and others’ negative feelings, including the very feelings that are fueling their depression. An interesting NIH-funded study published in 2011 in Psychosomatic Medicine also found that in people with high blood pressure, “the emotion-recognizing ability [is] reduced… even after taking into account medication use and other factors.”  Leading to “emotional dampening,” hypertension evidently “reduces the ability to recognize anger, fear, sadness, and other emotions in people’s faces.”

Whether caused by one’s own depression or high blood pressure, this emotional dampening can lead to further difficulties. According to the authors: “In complex social situations like work settings, people rely on facial expressions and verbal emotional cues to interact with others. If we have emotional dampening, we may distrust others because we cannot read emotional meaning in their face or their verbal communications. We may even take more risks because we cannot fully appraise threats in the environment.” The authors believe that emotional dampening may be implicated in clinical disorders of emotion regulation, such as bipolar disorders and depression.

A recent article in the WSJ points out that our stress can also have adverse consequences on those around us, as well.  When under stress, subjects in an experiment were less likely to “feel another’s pain.” As one of the researchers note, “It’s rare to find individuals in whom stress brings out the best—fostering calm, rational thinking, deep humanity and the notion that strangers are just friends you’ve yet to meet. More typically, stress literally and metaphorically narrows our field of vision; it tends to makes us less generous and cooperative in economic games, more xenophobic, more likely to interpret ambiguous expressions as hostile ones, and more likely to displace frustration and aggression onto those around us. As this new study on the biology of stress found, it also makes us less likely to feel someone else’s pain.” Burnout’s emotional exhaustion has also been demonstrated to produce negative attitudes and lowered empathy, and to lead to depersonalizing clients and colleagues.

It is no surprise, then, that one of the tragedies of stress is that the debilitation it causes often robs people of their ability to be securely connected socially, which in turn produces further anxiety and depression and debilitation. “People who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression; studies show that they also have higher self-esteem, are more empathic to others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. Social connectedness therefore generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional, and physical well-being. Unfortunately, the opposite is true for those who lack social connectedness.”  So, for example, “[d]ampening of positive emotions may rob one of the restorative benefits of close personal relations, vacations and hobbies.”

Sound familiar?  Lawyers have higher rates of distress–in large part arising out of poorly managed stress– than any other profession.  The debilitation that many lawyers experience because of their distress may further exasperate their professional and personal functioning, which then in turn fuels their distress.

Stress for Good 

There is, however, a good side to stress. People experiencing beneficial or “adaptive” stress feel pumped. The blood vessels dilate, increasing blood flow to help the brain, muscles and limbs meet a challenge, similar to the effects of aerobic exercise, according to research by Wendy Mendes, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and others.

Finding the right balance between the kind of stress that produces optimal performance and that which devastates is one of the better tricks for all professionals to learn.

There are a number of steps to take to try to rein in the negative effects of stress.  Recognizing when one is highly stressed, and the triggers that produce it is a start. Being able to step back enough to decide how best to deal with a stressful situation or person is a good next step.  Focusing on positive thoughts during the stressful event and then making sure that you recharge or rest afterwards help moderate the constancy of stress. Deep abdominal breathing and training in meditation and mindfulness, which help develop an ability to regulate one’s own mental and physical states, also help moderate stress.

Creating constructive emotional states, such as a sense of having control, has been demonstrated to be important in effectively dealing with stress.  Hundreds of people participating in Harvard’s executive-education programs reported less stress and anxiety than did the general population and were also found to have cortisol levels comparable to the average levels of the general population. “Moreover, the higher their rank and the more subordinates they managed, the lower their cortisol level.” Why? “Most likely because the leaders had a heightened sense of control—a psychological factor known to have a powerful stress-buffering effect.… Such leaders face troubles without being troubled. Their behavior is not relaxed, but they are relaxed emotionally.”

Setting positive expectations of stress can also ameliorate the bad and promote the good impacts. One study coached college students to believe that feeling nervous or excited before a presentation could improve their performance, and in fact it did, and they also had increased dilation of the arteries and smaller rises in blood pressure compared to the control group. In a similar study, students who received the same coaching before taking graduate-school entrance exams posted higher scores on a mock test in the lab and also on the actual exam three months later. They also posted higher levels of salivary amylase, a protein marker for adrenaline that is linked to episodes of beneficial stress.

As one legal consultant has pointed out, stress is no doubt with us always but we can still watch and learn–and manage our attitudes about stress, sometimes even to hilarious effect.

Many workplace wellness programs have begun coaching people on how to hit an optimal performance zone with enough stress to stimulate success but not take a physical or psychological toll. Has your firm taken that important step?

Muir to Speak at ABA Webinar on Emotional Intelligence

Posted in Announcements, Books, Business Development, Client Service, Coaching, Communication, Decision-Making, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Mentoring, Productivity, Professional Development, Profitability, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Teamwork, Work Satisfaction

On Friday, February 13th, at 1 to 2 ET, Muir and psychologist Rob Durr will be presenting a program on EQ: What it is and Why it Matters in an American Bar Association Career Advice webinar.  They will be discussing how high emotional intelligence can transform a good lawyer into a great one. Learn:

  • What emotional intelligence is and how you can improve yours
  • Why EQ adds practical value for judgment, problem solving, and decision making
  • How EQ enhances collaborative workplace dynamics, profitability, and client service

The program is free for ABA members.

Join us by registering here.

Making Teams Smarter

Posted in Assessments, Client Service, Decision-Making, Diversity, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Productivity, Teamwork, Uncategorized

On January 18th, The New York Times  published  an article entitled “Why Some Teams are Smarter than Others” that has some lessons for all of us who have the occasion to work in groups.  That means, essentially, all of us. These days almost every decision of consequence is made by a group. And what we’ve all learned is that groups of smart people can make horrible decisions — or great ones. So what is it that makes the difference?

A Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business professor, an M.I.T. Sloan School of Management professor who is also the director of the M.I.T. Center for Collective Intelligence, and a professor of psychology at Union College conducted a study published in Science in 2010 that confirmed that some groups are just smarter than others, regardless of the task before them. What makes them smarter?  A number of theories were tested. But it was NOT IQ scores or extroversion or being more motivated that mattered.  However, smarter teams did have three characteristics in common:

  1.  Teams whose members contributed more equally to discussions, rather than being dominated by a few, or “more heads are better than one.”
  2.  Teams whose members were able to read complex emotional states, a determination made based on assessments involving viewing facial images with only the eyes visible, which it turns out truly are the  windows of the (emotional) soul.
  3.  Teams who had more women members.  That’s it.  Not just some or an equal number of women members–the more women, the better. The researchers speculated that that may perhaps be as a result of characteristic 2, in that women were better able to read those elusive emotional cues.

That study was replicated with two sets of teams and those results were published last month. In the new study, one set of teams worked face-to-face as in the original study, while the other group worked only online, never speaking to or seeing each other.

Surprisingly, the same criteria came up in distinguishing the smarter teams in both groups, even among the online group–the smarter teams were more communicative, more equally participative, and had better emotion-reading skills, skills that were demonstrated even without seeing or hearing their colleagues. And they also tended to have more women.

Is there a message here for law firms and law departments on how to build smarter teams? Apart from the awesome confirmation of “the more women, the better the team decisions,” note the critical skill that being able to read emotional cues brings to the team table. Collaboration is less a matter of identifying the one person (usually the loudest) who “has the right answer” and more a matter of efficiently assembling collective information in an atmosphere that allows the group to process and evaluate it without the distortion of unrecognized or unresolved emotional factors.

Give your teams the advantage of a clear collective head, and they will bring the best results home.

Tips for Starting Off the New Year Right

Posted in Business Development, Client Service, Communication, Conflict, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, Law Departments, Law Education, Leadership, Management, Mentoring, Professional Development, Teamwork

Shake off that New Year’s hangover–a whole new year lies ahead for making progress in your career! To help you start out right, former President of the College of Law Practice Management Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has put together 49-Tips-for-the-New-Lawyer, which are good advice for the not-so-new lawyer, as well.  Print them out, hang them on your wall and turn a page a day. If you pay attention, you are likely to have a very good year indeed.

Fixing the Leaky Pipeline and Other Gender Developments

Posted in Books, Diversity, Leadership, Management, Professional Development, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Uncategorized, Work/Life Balance

There’s been some good news in the women-in-law category over the last few years. For years, women hovered in the range of 15%-18% of partners in most law firms. Both Debevoise and Cravath have been leaders in changing that–with women comprising a solid 50% average of both firms’ new partners over a five-year period.  The 2011 NAFE/Flex-Time Lawyers Best Law Firms for Women survey recognized the following six firms for having 25% or more female equity partners:

different study by the National Law Journal did not include some of the firms above but found additional firms whose women equity partner ranks  exceeded 24%:

  • Fragomen at 42%
  • Jackson Kelly at 28%
  • Ice Miller at 27%
  • Best Best and Krieger at 27%
  • Ford & Harrison at 26%
  • Holland & Hart at 25%

Among the highest grossing firms, Skadden was one that in the last couple of years had women comprising fully 20% of all equity partners. The firm’s hiring of Chicago lawyer Sheli Rosenberg, a powerhouse legal figure, to mentor its women didn’t hurt. Her mission, she said, was to “help women have successful careers and achieve balance in and out of the office.” On the other side of the pond, at Allen & Overy, 40% of their new partners were women a couple of years ago, giving Slaughter & May, who has been the UK leader in women partners, a run for their money.

Back in the States, part of Debevoise’s secret to greater female participation may be that it has long had a part-time partnership policy, formalized almost 30 years ago, that allows any associate, without making a case to the firm, to work part-time and not lose or delay their eligibility for partnership. And the same may be said for Allen & Overy, which has a part-time policy for lawyers, including one for equity partners that allows partners to work a four-day week, or full-time but with the addition of 52 days of vacation every year on top of the usual 30 days. In 2010 Sidley had 24% of its women on reduced hours who stayed on partnership track, and a number of equity partners worked on reduced-hours schedules. Another leader in part time flexibility is Fredrickson & Byron, where flex lawyers remain on partnership track at the same rate as peers.

But these flex-time policies don’t work everywhere, unfortunately. The 2012 Annual Yale Law Women Study, which recognizes the top 10 family friendly law firms in the Vault Top 100 Law Firms, found that only 5% of partners who were promoted in 2012 were then working part-time and only 7% had ever worked part-time.

Powerful women-only professional networks have begun to enjoy the same success that the men’s networks have. In 2007, the Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF) was founded to educate and provide networking opportunities for women in law firms. In 2014, they are recognizing through a tiered certification program almost 50 firms (at this date) that meet various milestones with respect to women.  Although Devevoise and Cravath aren’t on the list yet, Skadden and many others have seen their emphasis on female hiring and promotion recognized.

Added to these professional networks are also educational programs for women lawyers who have been out of the workplace and the recent introduction of a re-entry program. “The OnRamp Fellowship, created in December 2013, aims to address the ‘leaky pipeline’ issue in law firms by replenishing the number of mid to senior level women lawyers” by matching experienced women lawyers returning to the profession with law firms for a one-year, paid position. “Four major law firms – Sidley, Cooley, Baker Botts, and Hogan Lovells – signed on as the founding sponsors of the Fellowship… [T]he four law firms hired nine Fellows who are working in six practice areas across six office locations through Summer 2015. More than 10 additional AmLaw 200 firms have signed on for the second round of the pilot program.”

Of course, these developments don’t fully reverse the age-old challenges that women lawyers face. One of the firms listed in the WILEF, Reed Smith, which meets all six criteria for gold certification status, settled a sex discrimination and harassment law suit by one of its female partners in 2011.  She had contended that not only were male partners paid more at the firm than their female counterparts, but female attorneys were given work based on their willingness to “engage in sexual relations with members of [Reed Smith’s] management,” according to reports at the time by The Intelligencer.

Then there’s the claim that continues to pop up that it is women themselves who are keeping other women down. PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi has been quoted as saying, “The glass ceiling will go away when women help other women break through that ceiling.” One researcher posits that women in the workplace  may feel their scarcity puts them into direct competition with other women for the few “women” spots, and/or that women who are not high performers degrade respect for all women, in each case producing a spiraling circle of woman-on-woman criticism. On the other hand, a third concern may be that women fear being accused of playing favorites to other women just because of their gender.

“There’s a place in hell for women who don’t support other women,” according to Sheli Rosenberg, Skadden’s mentor for women.

What some firms still seem to be losing sight of is the bottom-line importance of diversity: “Organizations with more women leaders produce better financial results,” as a Korn Ferry book “Women in Leadership” found.  Yet despite their value, as consultant Victoria Ruttenberg has pointed out, women are still held to standards beyond what men are held to.  She notes the authors’ finding that a senior female leader is expected to be strong in 22 or approximately 33% of the potential 67 leadership skills, while only three of those 67 leadership skills are rated as “important” for male executives. In other words, a senior male leader has to be strong in only approximately 4% of the potential 67 leadership skills, compared to a woman who has to show strength in 33% of those skills. “The same surveys showed that female executives are rising to this inequitable challenge and are outperforming male executives in 17 of those 67 leadership skills,” while males outperform women in only 4 skills, as Ruttenberg notes.

Given these odds, then, is it any wonder, as a 2014 McKinsey report on eBay’s diversity in leadership initiative found, that “women were significantly less likely than men to believe that their opinions were listened to and more likely to doubt that the most deserving people received promotions”?