Discovering “fit” between square pegs and round holes

I often request new clients complete the DISC assessment, both to give the client a sense of his or her natural tendencies and how much he or she feels the need to adapt to the current work environment and also to give me the background for communicating by using the client’s language.  As I outlined in a post earlier this fall, the DISC is also particularly valuable to clients who are seeking to enhance their business development skills, those who are experiencing some sort of personal conflict with a team member, and those who want to improve their relationships with clients, colleagues, and staff.  The profile requires an investment of just 15 minutes to complete the assessment and less than an hour for a thorough debriefing, and it pays off on that investment for years.

Interestingly, I’ve recently debriefed the DISC with a handful of clients who, after learning about their natural tendencies, feel that they’re unsuited for law firm life.  (And such a reaction is one reason why I always provide an oral debrief of the DISC, even though each client receives a detailed written report as soon as the assessment is completed.)  The reasons for these feelings varies; some feel they aren’t “dominant” enough, some feel that their preference for a slow and steady pace at work conflicts with the realities of practice, and some feel that they’re too “people oriented” to do well in a setting that requires a lot of solo reading, analyzing, and writing.  After discussion, though, each client has discovered a different interpretation.

You probably glanced at the photo I selected for this post.  Go back and look at it.  Really.

You’ll notice that the proverbial square peg has been altered to fit into the round hole — and that the alteration wasn’t easy, that it permanently changed the square peg, and that (by virtue of the hammer lying nearby) the process probably wasn’t all that easy.  But you’ll also notice that the square peg is still square above the hole.  And the percentage of peg above the hole appears to be more than that in or below the hole; in other words, although part of the peg was changed irreparably, most of it remains in its native state.

When I work with clients who feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, this imagery comes to mind in two respects.  The first is: ok, you can make yourself fit by smoothing down some corners, shaving off bits and pieces, and adapting until you conform to the mold.  That’s what some clients choose.  And frankly, those clients usually choose not to work with me, because that process isn’t one that I wholeheartedly embrace and a client who’s decided to take that route usually requires the assistance of someone who agrees that the proper approach is to pound away at the “offending corners” until they’re gone.  Fair choice, but not mine.

The second approach is a quite different.  It calls for examining the discrepancy between the mold and the client, deciding whether it really exists or whether it exists only in the client’s perception, and then determining whether the client must change, whether the mold can stretch, or whether the client can change and the mold can stretch.  For instance, if a client is a nonconformist who enjoys marching to the beat of her own drummer — not always a popular path in law firms — we might examine whether her beat can coincide with her firm’s culture and goals (perhaps even putting her into some type of leadership role since her beat might inspire others to dance along) or whether she’d prefer to create her own rhythm elsewhere.

Few easy answers exist in this area.  However, I’ve found that lawyers who enjoy significant aspects of practicing law are generally able to find ways to adapt themselves and/or their circumstances so they can get more of what they enjoy and lead from their strengths, even when those strengths may not be the first that come to mind when envisioning law firm culture.

If you feel like a square peg, ask yourself questions along these lines:

*  What are the areas of disconnect?
*  What value is in those areas?
*  Do I want to create change, in myself or in my environment?
*  What can I do to develop a fit?  What support do I need?
*  How can I use my strengths in a way that serves me and my environment?

Sometimes the answer is to leave the “round hole culture.”  And sometimes the answer is that the gap isn’t as broad as it may appear to be, that relatively small adaptations create a more multifaceted and thus stronger set of skills, and that the fit may be imperfect but nonetheless good.  That’s the secret that happy lawyers often discover.

1 reply
  1. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hi, Julie,

    I’m a real contrarian when it comes to the “develop and leverage your strengths” school of thought. In my exprience, focus on strengths alone keeps one strong and solid where they are. Exploring and working on one’s weaknesses is what allows one to forward the action of their life, gain z greater degree of self-awareness and forge ahead.

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