Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Keeping it Impersonal

One of the fastest ways of achieving conflict in any organisation (and I do sometimes wonder if some of my clients enjoy conflict...) is to allow a disagreement to descend into a personal argument.

I admit that it's easily done. Busy people squeezing management of the firm or chambers can sometimes feel that any criticism of them, their work, or work associated with them is a personal attack. In those circumstances I have seen counter-attacks launched on the flimsiest of justifications. Attack, counter-attack and counter-attack and before you know it partner A is not speaking to partner B or barrister C refuses to be in the same room as barrister D.

I know of sets of chambers where the management committee never meets with all its members present because of personal dislikes and I have run mediations between warring country offices of an international law firm.

Sit back and think about it and I am sure you will agree that, at best, this is very silly and at worst it is enormously damaging to the firm or to the set of chambers.

Working in business (and no matter what I am sometimes told, chambers and law firms are businesses) is a matter of compromise. Compromise involves listening without interruption to the other opinions in the room (which of course does involve being in the room) and finding the areas of agreement and working towards a plan that satisfies (note - not pleases) as many people as possible (and again note - not everyone).

The more often listening and compromise is done, the easier it gets. The more often negotiation is undertaken peacefully and calmly, the easier it is to see the other party as a human requiring understanding and even compassion.

One final point. If communication is difficult (and of course I rarely see organisations where communication is really good since they don't need my help in this area - they must be out there somewhere) please don't try negotiation by email. It's almost impossible to do it well when everyone gets on and respects each other. If there are already problems it seems that email simply fans the flames of disharmony and anger.

Two simple rules to follow. Firstly - try to respond to a situation not react. Take a moment to consider a reply and think about how it might be received. Second - if you can speak in person then do so; if you have to speak by phone then alright but don't do it angry; if you think you have to argue by email - please pick up the phone or meet in person instead.

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