I know it’s Monday, and no one despises starting the week off down in the dumps more than me, but let’s just get down to brass tacks here: Attorneys are, statistically, one of the most depressed and stressed groups of professionals and the profession with the fourth highest suicide rate in the US, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Not really a bright, shiny kind of #MondayMotivation, huh?
Depression and suicide among attorneys has become such a concern that eight State Bar Associations (California, Montana, Iowa, Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Kentucky) have taken measures to stop the pattern, such as adding “mental health” components to the annual mandatory CLE requirement, and adding presentations to State Bar meetings about suicide risk and prevention.
So where’s the ray of sunshine in all this?
Depression and suicide are not situations to joke about, and if you are having depressive thoughts or thoughts about suicide, please call (800) 273-8255 to talk to someone 24 hours a day. My bit of advice today, however, should at least help alleviate some stress from your day-to-day operations.
So here it is: Your new favorite word. Are you ready to write it down?
No. It is so tempting – especially for less experienced attorneys – to accept any case or opportunity that walks through the door, especially if it shows up with money in hand. Plus, you are trained to help people! How on earth could you ever say no to someone?
The short answer? There is an art to saying no – and when done right it can sound an awful lot like yes. And knowing how to do so correctly could mean the difference between success and chaos in your practice.
Often the best thing we can do, both for ourselves and for others, is to say no to an opportunity or case in favor of managing our time and expectations. And this doesn’t just apply to potential clients but also to current clients who ask us to do things outside of our manpower or ability, or to other professionals who propose an opportunity that just isn’t in our best interest or able to fit on our calendar.
When saying no, however, there are plenty of ways to do so that allow you to take care of new and existing clients and centers of influence, and also say “yes! Just not right now”. All it takes is some careful consideration and a touch of tact.
Here are five examples of a “no” that sound remarkably like “yes”:
- Make a referral. Don’t just tell a client no and send them on their way. Give them names of other attorneys who might be able to help. Refer them to a social agency, public defender or mental health center. Not only will you be continuing to provide valuable service to that client, by referring cases to other attorneys or agencies, you can expect that referral to come back around at least once in the future 😉
- Say, “Yes and…” This assumes you receive a request that you want to accept (like a networking opportunity or a last minute endorsed seminar) but can’t commit to because of how many things you already have on your calendar. Rather than just saying no, say something like, “Yes, and let’s look at some time in the next couple of months when my calendar is a little more open and I can commit to giving this my full attention. Or, “Yes, and let’s do X, Y, and Z before we put a formal seminar on the calendar to make sure we make the most of this opportunity.” This way, you are not rejecting an opportunity and you are also protecting yourself and your time by arranging the opportunity for a time in the future that works better with your marketing calendar.
- Honesty is always the best policy. Sometimes a flat “no” can be misinterpreted as disinterest or aversion. In such situations, it might help to explain your reasoning. This shows empathy and lets clients and other professionals know they have been heard and you’re not just dismissing them.
- Ask questions. Mary Byers, consultant and author of How to Say No … And Live to Tell About It, says one should never be too quick to shoot down even impossible or imprudent requests, because it cuts off all other options and often shuts down others from coming to you with ideas in the future. “Don’t ever use the word no,” she recommends.
Remember that “no” can also be necessary when your team approaches you with new, crazy ideas and requests. Rather than simply shutting them down, restate the request as you understand it, and ask some questions to point out some areas of concern or trouble. For example: “I appreciate your idea, have we thought about how we would implement that change in the firm?” Or, “I understand what you’re saying. Have we considered any alternate approaches to that issue?”
- Take some time. Even if you cannot fully commit to a client’s request, a team member’s idea, or another professional’s invitation, perhaps there is a middle ground that is mutually acceptable. Don’t be afraid to simply say “let me take some time to think about that. I’ll get back to you with some ideas on Friday. Does that sound acceptable?” This way, you haven’t said no, you have made them feel heard and like their issue/request is important to you, and you can take some time to think outside the box about some creative alternatives or compromises.
Always remember, if your oh-so-polite “not no” no turns out to be too subtle or is simply ignored, move to Plan B – go with a solid “No”. Better to be safe than over stressed!
Practice Building Consultant
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128
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