Most parents are full of advice, aren’t they? Growing up, if your parents or those who had an influence in your life were anything like mine, they never failed to share their analysis on any given situation – solicited or not. They readily gave candid input on the daily to steer us in the right direction, avoid obvious mistakes we were destined to make and help us grow into self-sufficient, productive members of society.
And isn’t it interesting how their best advice usually came at the worst possible moments? How did they always have that uncanny ability to know exactly what to say, at exactly the right moment? Of course, now I realize these timely teachings were years in the making – recitations of lessons learned passed on from many generations before me.
Did we always heed that oh so savvy advice? Sometimes yes, but oftentimes no. At least not initially. Some of us had to learn our life lessons the hard way for it to really sink in.
Recently, my 80-year-old father had a major surgery, and I spent a week with him and my mom to help them both out. My dad was in quite a bit of pain one day, understandably, and was being short-tempered about something not being done a certain way. Without missing a beat, I jokingly fired back, “Careful dad, don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” It came out of nowhere like it was hardwired in me. His look told me he wasn’t quite as impressed with my quip as I was.
During my stay, a day didn’t go by where I didn’t hear some passing “dad’ism” or “mom’ism” – sage bits of advice or observations sprinkled into our conversations. It made me think about their shared wisdom over the years and how transferable those insights are to being a business owner, an influential mentor to others, or a helpful team member. Here are a few common ones I heard growing up that fit right into any business model, as well as our personal lives. See if some ring a bell for you.
Treat people the way you want to be treated.
Ah, this one was engrained in me early and always sits in the back of my mind as a reference point that I try to draw on when interacting with anyone. Maya Angelou summed this up beautifully, “People won’t remember what you said or what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel.” What a wonderful goal to strive for in every interaction we have, especially in the office… with clients, clients’ family members, and team members.
Even when the office is incredibly busy or there is a negative exchange between you and another person, you can never go wrong if you lead with respect.
Thinking about the client experience your firm creates, how do your clients and prospective clients feel when they leave a meeting or hang up the phone with your office? What is the look on their face? What would turn and tell the person sitting next to them about the experience they just had with your firm? Are they feeling less stressed, more secure, and happier or are they feeling the complete opposite?
Measure twice, cut once.
My father was a skilled general contractor, so this advice served him well in his craft, but it also taught me the value of being prepared and the importance of thinking several steps ahead to avoid potential mistakes whenever possible. This is why the idea of planning and creating workflow procedures is vital to creating consistencies with your work product and your clients’ overall experiences. It also helps to improve efficiencies and minimize last minute rushes, which often opens the door to errors or important items being missed.
In looking at your processes, how often are you putting out fires due to a lack of planning or systems? How often are you correcting the same mistakes over and over again? How well-documented are your procedures and how consistently does your team follow them? Are you operating as efficiently as you could or are you unnecessarily re-inventing the wheel with just about every client engagement?
Many hands make light work.
I hear many reasons (ah hum, excuses) on why some attorneys simply cannot let go of certain non-owner or non-attorney tasks. Just because you’ve always done something (like open the mail, order stationery, or handle signing meetings), doesn’t mean there isn’t someone on your team with the skill and talent who can do that same task as well as you, if not better. For some, this sense of control can be a hard one to let go of. Sound a little familiar?
Our focus is to help firms create unique ability teams where delegation is encouraged to allow others shine in their skills and abilities. So, thinking about your own tendencies, what activities are you holding onto out of habit or the need for control? Look around. Who on your team has the competence and desire to take on new assignments? The right team members will welcome those challenges and responsibilities.
Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill. Or… Don’t cry over spilled milk.
When something doesn’t go as planned or someone says something that doesn’t land well for whatever reason, it can be difficult to remain calm and not let our thoughts and reactions run wild. Often, we skip over the true reality and jump straight to assumptions or play through the worst-case scenarios in our mind. However, usually when you take a step back, that emotional hijack we’re feeling in that moment really isn’t anything more than just a thought. It is not necessarily reality. It is a feeling created by our thoughts. Unfortunately, we cannot simply stop our thoughts.
Since most of us are not wired to be so gracious and open-minded in these stress-inducing moments, how do we combat these natural tendencies? Before reacting, try instead to take a breath and assess the situation as objectively as possible. Ask yourself if you really need to respond or react in that moment, or can you instead create some distance from the situation to gain better perspective later when feelings aren’t running so high? If it is a snag in a project, can it be broken down into more manageable steps or phases? If it is a negative interaction with someone, can a calm conversation be scheduled later when you will be more open to hear their side and gain more insight from their perspective?
Often situations at work are about the systems (the how) and not about the people (the who). So, before you look at who to blame, look first at your system to see what may have failed. And if ever in doubt, ask why. Understanding the backstory and why something occurred the way it did can give you clarity about others and allow you to put measures in place to help avoid negative situations from happening again.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Assuming we know what someone is all about and placing them into a categorized box is where many conflicts stem from. Assumptions and judgements about clients, co-workers, friends, and family members can lead us down the wrong path before we even get started.
We each carry different experiences that uniquely shape us. Stephen Covey’s reminder “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is a helpful reminder to always start first with seeking out what is important to people and why. Only then can we really appreciate them, their journey, and their story – who they are as people.
The same holds true in your client meetings. One key mistake we see attorneys make is assuming they know what their client needs and diagnosing a solution before they understand what is truly important to them and why. Thinking about your consultations, how well do you really listen? If you were to estimate what percentage of time you spend listening and asking questions versus telling them what they need – what would that ratio be? If you are talking more than 30% of the time, you’re missing a big opportunity for greater connection and to have the client feel heard and supported.
These are just a few best advice tips given to me by my parents and those wiser than me over the years. What is some of the best advice you were given growing up and how does it serve you well in business today?
Practice Building Coach
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128