Posts tagged - common sense

Tell the truth

This is simple and there are no exceptions. Tell a lie once and all of your truths become questionable. Early in my career I heard a very experienced attorney say “a half-truth equals a whole lie.”  He was correct because anything not 100% true is a lie. Another benefit of telling the truth was summed up to me long ago by a friend who once said he never lies because it’s far easier to remember the truth than a lie.

I know some of you are thinking of situations where you may soften the truth to try not to hurt someone’s feelings. You are right that some situations are more nuanced than others, making a one-size fits all rule difficult. I am not speaking to those type of outlier situations, but to general day-to-day life in which your reputation is at stake.

Your honesty is part of your reputation. You may not be called out or caught every time you aren’t honest, but it will catch up with you. You may lose relationships or opportunities that you know you lost or that just don’t come your way because of your reputation.

Trust is important, and like your reputation, it’s earned. The difference is people will assume you are honest unless or until they believe you aren’t or hear you aren’t from people they trust.

Once trust is lost it will either take a long time to earn back or it can’t be earned back. Once that happens it negatively affects and taints relationships. People may still deal with you (mainly if they have to, i.e. family or in the workplace), but it won’t be the same. Even if it feels like it, a lack of trust permeates a relationship for into the future.

This goes back to “think before you speak.” Lying is a choice. You can call it embellishment or whatever you want, but if others think you stretch the truth, know you have just made your road forward harder.

 

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To get the story you have to ask questions

We are all good at telling a story, especially our own story. We are not as good at actively listening to others tell a story. This is true even when we are being paid to listen.

This is why it is important to remember how important it is to listen, which also means asking questions, especially asking the right questions. What the right questions are will depend on the situation.

If it is in a personal setting, you should view the person across from you as wearing a hat that says “make me interesting.” If it is in a business setting, you need to look at the person across from you and visualize them wearing a hat that says “I have an important story to tell you.”

For instance, as an attorney, the story and facts I am learning from a client, especially a new client, are integral to my ability to be able to properly advise and represent their interests. If I don’t ask the right questions or actively listen, I will miss important facts I need to do my job, and to do the best job for the client. These types of issues exist no matter what your line of work or profession is.

The next time you are dealing with someone new, whether a client, a sales opportunity, interviewing a new hire, or meeting someone personally, make sure you ask more questions than they do, and let them talk more than you do. Make sure you actively listen so that you can ask necessary follow-up questions and see where it gets you. My guess is it will lead to better business and personal relationships, and, in business, it will help you make sure you have the information you need to do your job.

 

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Criticize constructively and not in front of others

I always hope to learn from my mistakes. Similarly, anything I count as a failure in my career has been a great learning experience. There also have been moments where I have received constructive criticism, which helped me in the long run, because I was open to hearing it. I feel lucky that the people who provided this type of feedback to me did so in a professional and meaningful way.

In doing so, they both complimented me and criticized me because it is important to provide positive feedback if you are going to provide negative feedback. They also do this in private, i.e. not in front of others or in manner meant to embarrass someone. This is important.

I have worked at firms during my career where partners thought young associate attorneys would be motivated by providing negative feedback in group settings. It came across as “so and so did ________, and you should too if you want to have problems too.” Of course it had the opposite effect, scaring other associates and, at one firm I worked for, caused a number of the associates to look for and find positions with other firms. I am not saying the feedback was wrong, but criticizing someone in front of others is harmful to that person and negatively affects other similarly situated employees.

The next time you need to provide criticism to an employee or someone you manage, do it in private, as well as in a constructive manner. I would never think to broadcast an issue to others instead of directly and privately with someone I work with or who works under me. The goal is to help the person improve and succeed, but how you deliver the message may or may not have your hoped for and intended results. You need to think through how you constructively criticize people because it can help your people and your business improve.

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Turn on, tune in and drop out on your vacation: vacation ≠ work

Do you vacation at least once or twice a year? You should. Your body and brain need a break. Most of us work hard, but are not built to work every single day without a some downtime. If you have a family, they may even want to spend some time with you!

I was speaking with another attorney recently who was lamenting an upcoming vacation with his wife and kids. He was complaining about what he had to get done before his vacation, making sure things were covered while he was gone and the catching up he was sure he would have to do upon returning. I understand what he was saying because all of us face the same issues when we go out of town. Plus we live in a time when everyone – clients, opposing counsel, co-workers – expect immediate responses.

But you still have to make time to take a break, stringing together a number of days when you can focus on friends or family and activities you don’t get to do all the time. Taking yourself out of the grind, even for short periods of time, can help your mindset and motivation when you return. Of course, this assumes you actually take a real break when away, i.e. not checking email, voicemail or otherwise working. This includes the “excuse” of making your inevitable return easier by checking your email to weed out spam and unimportant emails, which I admit I have done. If you do this, you will see the more important emails and then feel you have to review and respond, and then you are sucked right out of vacation and relaxation mode into work mode.

To avoid this, you have to address your availability, or lack thereof, prior to leaving your office for vacation. You can try to do this by setting expectations on your availability and response time for clients, co-workers and others you deal with. Do this before leaving. The idea is to put yourself in the best place to have a break and enjoy yourself.

As I am writing this I also am remembering the attorney who complained to me about going vacation mentioning he knew he would be working while he was away if I needed to call or email him. No shock.

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Be nice

Life seems to be made up of many rules, written and unwritten. Most are a matter of common sense, like just being nice to people you meet and deal with. It sounds so obvious you may be asking yourself why I would spend time even mentioning it. Despite being obvious, I’ll bet someone just came to mind who you dealt with recently and the dealings were unpleasant because the other person just wasn’t nice.

I know who that person is for me. It was an opposing attorney on a litigation matter. I know this can go with the territory, but most litigators actually are good to deal with and range from professional to really nice. It’s what makes the people who aren’t nice stand out. I have been known to say that it seems easier to remember nasty or obnoxious opposing attorneys more than those who are nice.

In my case, the issue being discussed seemed pretty obvious to me. It was procedural, dictated by rules, and is something that has to be done in every lawsuit. Even though it seems like that should make it an easy matter to deal with, it resulted in opposing counsel raising his voice with me and arguing with me despite me not arguing back. It also caused multiple conversations and emails on what shouldn’t have been a big deal. This wasted my time and increased the fees incurred by both of our clients.  Importantly, it didn’t advance any agenda he may have had or put his client in a better position legally.

In a different context, someone I have known for years and who always has been exceedingly nice to me, is not to everyone.  An example is that these person is very nice to people who he thinks can help him in some way or are “on his level.”  This manifests itself by him not always treating those he views as below him with courtesy or respect. I think it is so ingrained he really doesn’t know how he comes across and would be shocked if someone said something to him.

On the other hand, out of law school I worked for a gentleman named Jim Marlar. He later became a federal judge and is just a really nice guy. When he took me to the federal courthouse in Phoenix for the first time, when I was still in law school and serving as a law clerk for his firm, he introduced me to federal judges, but also to the court librarian and to courthouse janitors. Really. He treated all of them the same, knew their names, about them and had a real connection forged by years of simply being nice and treating people with respect. It was a great lesson I have never forgotten.

I know it can be easier said than done to be nice to everyone. It is even harder when they are not being nice to you. With the attorney I mentioned, I do my best not to raise my voice, get sucked into an unnecessary argument and remain professional. It hasn’t changed his behavior, but maybe if I continue to do the same he will realize his rudeness and posturing don’t help him and our dealings will be better. At least I am trying to be nice and not make the situation worse.

The next time someone is not nice to you or you encounter someone you don’t necessarily want to engage with, just be nice because it may help, and certainly won’t harm your reputation like sinking to their level or ignoring someone. It’s your reputation. What do you want it to be?

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Change is an opportunity

I met up with an attorney I know recently. She had switched firms, going back to one she had worked for previously. I was surprised because she seemed happy at her last firm. It turns out she was generally happy, but some colleagues she liked were changing firms and a call came at the right time to get her to consider leaving. She did, and seems invigorated from the change of scenery.

Now this attorney may be in the honeymoon phase of working for a new firm. However this seems unlikely for an experienced attorney who already spent a number of years at the “new” firm.

The point is that change in what you do or where you do it creates new energy and new opportunity. It can have an incredibly positive impact on you professionally if you recognize this and act on it. Change can breed excitement, even in the case I mentioned above where the attorney liked the last place she worked.

This type of opportunity can come from other types of change too. I know a different attorney who lost a client that was a large percentage of the work he brought in and worked on. This could have been a demotivating event or even a career killer. Instead, he looked at it as opportunity and redoubled his marketing efforts to create a broader practice less reliant on a single client. In doing so, he created opportunity where many people would have been left floundering. Over time this attorney ended up with larger and more diverse practice, and became much more successful.

There are many examples of this, but you don’t need significant change like the ones described above to have opportunity. You can create your own opportunities at any time by making changes or tweaks to what you are doing. In either scenario, there is no time like the present to spend some time thinking about what changes may benefit you and your business, and create new opportunities.

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Perfection breeds insanity

No one is perfect. We hear this all of the time, which is why it has become a cliché. It is true, but many people strive to be perfect. It simply is not possible, and is your idea of perfection the same as mine? I guarantee you it isn’t.

I know an attorney at another firm who is a perfectionist regarding the pleadings researched and drafted. By this I mean the number of times a draft pleading is revised is almost endless. By working this way, the attorney spends an immense amount of time on whatever pleading is being drafted. This ends up being bad on two levels. One, this attorney self-edits time, meaning that the entire time spent is not billed to the client, i.e. the client never will know how much work was done on the case. Second, all of us have important things to do, whether business or with family, that get lost in the shuffle when “extra” work is done that the client doesn’t know about and isn’t billed for. The idea of the perfect pleading also ignores the client’s budget because legal work, like many products or service, isn’t one size fits all.

What happens in the reality I just described is the attorney loses time for other work and activities, thereby billing less, making less money and having less time for outside activities. At the same time, the client likely is billed more than they can afford. These types of issues are problematic. The time issue is obvious, but time also is impacted by the money issue.

Attorneys don’t like dealing with billing issues generally. True statement. Plus, any time spent dealing with billings issues, whether with a client or your partners, is more time spent not getting work done for paying clients. The client wants to know why the pleading cost so much and your partners want to know why the pleading cost so much. Your partners also will want to know the client’s expectations of cost and why isn’t the client paying for the work. Despite these issues, many attorneys do this over and over, and have done so for years.

This is an example of how perfection breeds insanity in the legal profession. The definition of insanity I am thinking of is: doing the exact same thing over and over and expecting different results. Or maybe they don’t expect different results, and don’t know how to stop working in that manner. Either way it’s insanity.

Whatever type of job, profession or industry you work in has an equivalent to this. Instead of perfection, try to deliver the best possible service or experience to achieve the client or customer’s objections while keeping their ability to pay and any budget in mind. Do this and you have the best chance to meet their expectations, get paid and not waste time dealing with the issues that come with doing too much. You will save yourself headaches and brain damage by keeping these types of objectives in mind in your day-to-day work.

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5 things to check on or do with your attorney, insurance agent or work before you go on your summer vacation

Summer is fast approaching. At least it feels that way here in Phoenix. With summer comes the inevitable vacations, which include road trips and all kinds of fun (and somewhat) dangerous activities. Before you escape on a great adventure, here are some things you may want to think about and consider:

  1. Call your attorney if you are leaving minor children at home with friends, family or a babysitter. You need to leave insurance cards and information, but you also need to provide a limited power of attorney for the caregiver to be able to make medical decisions in the event a child becomes sick or is injured while you are in some exotic locale or otherwise unreachable.
  2. Call your attorney if your estate plan up is not up to date. If you’re not sure, you know the answer. Whether you are traveling alone, with a partner or with your family, it is important to have your estate planning documents in the form you want them. No one plans on something bad happening, but it is good to be prepared in case it does.
  3. Are you doing a short term or long term rental in-state, out of state or abroad? Call your attorney to review any rental contract or terms you are not familiar with or uncomfortable with (and this is important) before you sign the document. Rentals can cost a lot of money and you want to make sure you are getting what you think you are paying for.
  4. Call your insurance agent or broker and make sure you have sufficient life insurance in place prior to bungee jumping or skydiving during your vacation. Ditto for auto insurance before your road trip.
  5. Otherwise, remember to let your clients and colleagues know when you will be gone, and how to reach you (if you will be reachable and actually want to be reached…).

The point is that the more you know the better off you are. The professionals you use are available to advise and help you, and a few question can go a long way to protecting you and or your family.

That being said, I hope you are getting ready to go on or putting the finishing touches on a fantastic summer getaway!

 

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Disconnecting from technology frees your mind in a way you may have forgotten

Most of us are connected to our phones, tablets or computers from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep. I recently went on an annual trip where I try to disconnect for a few days. It is harder to do than you think. When I do, I am reminded we all need to do so. It is so relaxing and provides a much needed break from work and the continuous need to stay on top of email and various forms of electronic media and information. When is the last time you disconnected?

We walk around with these small computers in our pockets that we use to communicate with others, take pictures, surf the Internet, and stream video and audio content. Of course, we also use them for work, whether through email, text or something more substantive. Most of us really are connected all day long whether because of a level of addiction or the need to be accessible at all times to customers and clients.

As an attorney, I definitely have clients who think I should be able to immediately respond to any email or text at almost any time of the day. I try to set reasonable expectations of my availability and general response times, but many people think because a message was sent it will be immediately viewed and responded to. I had one client who used to text me “????” if I didn’t respond or call him within a few minutes of his text. When I would get back to him he logically understood I have other clients, a family and things going on, but because he is an instant responder on email and text, his knee jerk reaction is that everyone else is too.

Use your phone to Google it and you will find numerous articles and studies about how bad it is for your brain and, generally, your well-being, to be connected, using technology so much and accessible at all hours. How bad has it become? Someone my wife previously worked with used to (and hopefully, for her and her husband’s sanity, doesn’t) keep her phone under her pillow and answer texts at all hours of the night. That is so bad on many levels.

Just like your body and brain need you to take vacation, they need you to disconnect from technology for at least short amounts of time. But it isn’t easy to disconnect – our phones help us fill downtime or dead space. The problem is that the downtime is time we used to spend thinking, coming up with ideas, and being creative. In the big picture, for most of us, technology is a creativity killer. For me it may mean the great legal argument or idea for one of my cases won’t come into my head out of the blue like they used to. For you it probably means something different, but there is something you have lost from not taking time to let your mind be unoccupied.

At the same time, I am a big fan of technology both in my professional and personal worlds. I continually am trying to balance its use better, with varying results depending on the day. But I really look forward to the few times a year I know I am going to shut it off and figuratively “tune in, turn on, drop out,” as Timothy Leary famously said in the 1960’s. Back then Leary was referring to the hippie counterculture of that day, but I think it applies the same to technology. And it can go either way – you can be turning onto technology and dropping out of other parts of your life, or you could be doing what I try to, which is to tune into and turn onto real life without technology for a short time. It is a great way to drop out and reconnect not only with the people around you, but yourself.

Try taking a short break from technology and see what positive effects it has for you. I know some of you are saying to yourselves “but when I turn it back on I will be so behind and have to catch up.” You have to do that anytime you go on vacation between getting ready to be out and then upon return, so that is a given anyway. Most of you who try it, will come back looking forward to the next time you can do so again.

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Disagree and commit

Some of you may be aware of the letter to shareholders by Jeff Bezos of Amazon where he explains his process and the benefit of disagreeing and committing. A co-worker just told me about the phrase “disagree and commit” and it spoke to me. Whether you like Bezos or not, he clearly is a successful business person and his ideas are an example of why.

He encourages his employees to “disagree and commit” and does so himself. I found this to be great advice because most of us work in teams, which can consist of employees, owners or a combination of the two. In these work environments, it is disingenuous to think that every big decision will have 100% support.

Bezos explains that his teams don’t have to fully convince him on a particular project or idea. Instead they have to convince him just enough that he is willing to let them move forward. But once he agrees they can move forward, even if he doesn’t support their vision, he is willing to commit to their vision because to do otherwise would sabotage the team, wasting time and money.

The same should hold true for your business or team. If three out of five of you vote to go a certain direction, those who were against it need to work with the others to be cheerleaders for the plan. If not, the implications for your team or business are not good. If that team is five owners, what is the message being sent to employees if two are publicly not supporting the decision? Of course, the answer is “nothing good” – the team will have greater challenges than already exist to reach the approved goals and it will harm the culture of the business, which likely isn’t too good in the first place. This would be a company most of us never would want to work for.

So the next time you are outvoted on an important strategic decision, agree to disagree and commit to implementing the approved plan or strategy. Your team and business will be better for it.

 

 

 

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