Fabulous Finds for February

Here are three resources that have made my life easier this month.  I hope at least one will be helpful for you.

  1. Last week, I needed to schedule a quick teleconference with five ABA contacts to plan a program.  Just imagining the back-and-forth emails that could generate made my head hurt.  So I used a simple, intuitive, free service called Doodle.com that allowed me to set up several options and send a link to each participant so they could mark their availability.  Within four hours, we had a time set — and best of all, I’d sent only one email and received none in response.  Win!  Doodle.com
  2. Planning to start an email newsletter or to send client alerts?  Check out this webinar that reveals the Science of Email Marketing.  You’ll pick up some good tips.  And be sure to read this post if you’re considering sending client alerts — because I agree that way too many lawyers send useless “me too” case analyses that don’t advance business development (but do create the illusion of useful bizdev activity, which is the worse sin).
  3. I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter (and the ‘net in general), and part of the “hate” side comes from the fact that I can wreck an entire day by checking out all the sites and resources that get tweeted.  I tried bookmarking pages, but that got unwieldy pretty quickly.  And then I found Pocket, which allows you to mark a page for later reading, even offline.  All it takes is a click (once you’ve installed the application into your browser), and you’re good to go.  You can read your saves pages offline, and there are apps for the iPhone, iPad, Droid, Blackberry — you get the idea.

Before the next conversation…

Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time Paperback

January 6, 2004
by Susan Scott

Have you ever been in one of those deadly conversations in which a lot of words fly about and yet nothing happens? Or when decisions are made and strategies are crafted, but everyone sitting around the table knows that nothing will actually change because everyone is talking around the real problem?  What a waste of time!

What’s even worse is when the dead-end conversation is one going on inside your own head. We can spend hours and years dancing around an issue, solving symptoms or even just pretending that we’re addressing the right question when in fact we’re skipping what matters most.  When you’re dwelling in the land of the unreal, even a minute is too long to spend.

Fierce Conversations revolves around the “Mineral Rights conversation.” This simple 7-step process can be used to get to the truth of a situation, create understanding about it, tackle the challenges in the situation, and enrich relationships in the process.  The seven steps (with some sample questions) are:

  1. Identify the most pressing issue.
    What issue doe we most need to resolve?
  2. Clarify the issue.
    What is going on?
    How long has it been going on?
  3. Determine the current impact.
    How is this situation impact me and others?
    What do I feel about this impact?
  4. Determine the future implications.
    What’s likely to happen if nothing changes?
    What’s at stake in this situation, for myself and others?
  5. Examine your contribution to this issue.
    How have I contributed to this problem?
  6. Describe the ideal outcome.
    What difference will it make to resolve this problem?
    What results will resolution create, for myself and others?
  7. Commit to action.
    What’s the most potent step I could take to move this issue toward resolution?
    What’s going to attempt to get in my way, and how will I get past it?
    When will I take this step?

The critical tactic to make a Mineral Rights conversation a success is to ask questions and not to comment on the answers until you’ve completed step 7. The reason is simple:  your goal is to interrogate (gently but fiercely — meaning powerfully, robustly, eagerly), to understand, and to assist in finding a solution.  This is your opportunity to listen and to provide uninterrupted attention, not to speak.  If your input is needed, you can provide it later.

And, as the author writes, allow silence to do the heavy lifting. We’re often quick to fill a gap in conversation, whether from desire to show how much we know or to avoid uncomfortable silence.  Don’t do it.  Silence creates the opportunity to reflect on the situation — on the cause rather than the effect — and to appreciate its scope.  Reflection often yields new understanding that leads to action.

Incidentally, from the perspective of business development, silence can be one of the most effective tools you can use. Of course you need to bring information and ideas to the table, but after you speak, allow them to hang long enough for your potential client to have the space to consider what you’ve said.

Imagine having a Mineral Rights conversation with a client, or having a modified version of it with a potential client. Imagine having it with colleagues representing a client with you, with staff, or even with your family.  Take a step today and answer this question:  What’s the most pressing challenge you need to resolve?  If it’s a situation that requires input from others, with whom should you have the conversation?

Fierce Conversations also includes other tools, including an exceptionally useful model for determining decision-making authority, which I previously described on the Life at the Bar Blog.  Please click here to read that post.

What’s Your Problem?

We all face challenges in the business of a law practice. We were taught in law school that we have to ask the right questions in practice to get the necessary answers for our clients.  (Litigators, you especially know what I mean!)  But somehow, we forget what that means for our own businesses.

I recently spoke with a lawyer who was looking for help in landing new business, who told me that she needed to improve the way she asked for business. That’s hardly unusual, but I wanted to be sure that she was presenting the right problem, so I asked about her sales conversations.  When we dug into it, I discovered that a very high percentage of would-be clients she met actually hired her.  The diagnosis of her sales problem?  None.  She needed to have more sales conversations, not better ones.

Another client once told me that he just didn’t have time to get everything done. After checking into his daily activities, I realized that lots of little tasks were eating up his time and he wasn’t effectively using the resources at his disposal.  His problem wasn’t a lack of time.  His problem was a lack of focus on his top priorities.

Sometimes seeing the right question is as simple as shifting from “why won’t those cheapskates pay my fees?” to “how can I make my fees more affordable and still deliver value?” Or it can be as murky as recognizing that the problem isn’t your elevator pitch but rather that you hate networking so much that you unintentionally send out signals that you want to be somewhere, anywhere else — or perhaps even that you would prefer to practice a different kind of law or to do something else altogether.

What challenges are you facing right now? What have you told yourself about those problems?  What are you missing?  And, more specifically, who can help you see the truth of your challenges?

And if you’ve been trying to solve a problem, remember Einstein’s observation that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Just like it’s difficult to scratch your own back, it’s difficult to step outside a situation in which you’re intimately involved.  It’s critical to have a trusted colleague, a mentor, or a coach (ideally, a full “board of directors”) who can help you to examine your challenges so you know you’re working to answer the right questions.

Need another head to look at the obstacles ahead of you? I offer a limited number of complimentary consultations each month and would be happy to discuss whether I can help.  Email my team to arrange an appointment.