“There have always been, and inevitably will be, a certain number of bullies, braggarts, brutes and bigots who manage to insinuate themselves into any assemblage of humans, the legal profession not excluded. In the past, these misfits have been dealt with by peer pressure and sanctions; however, as the rude, degrading behaviors creep ever closer to becoming a norm, there is cause to ring the warning bell.”
— Bruce Campbell, Counsel Columbus, Ohio, Bar Association
The latest issue of The Complete Lawyer has been released, with a focus on “No Jerks Allowed!” The quote above (lifted from this issue) illuminates the theme: too many law firms and legal departments include at least one jerk, and we (as individuals and as a profession) must find a way to deal with those jerks. I’m delighted to have an article included in this issue (more about it below), and I find myself in august company.
Here are some of the featured articles:
Robert Sutton, author of The No Asshole Rule (recognized as one of the best business books of 2007 and a must-read for lawyers) and the terrific Work Matters blog, writes on Power Breeds Nastiness. Remember the observation, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” made by Lord Acton in the late 1800s? There’s merit to it, and Bob’s article (edited and updated from his book) explains more.
Victoria Pynchon, author of the fabulous Settle It Now Negotiation Blog, provides a breathtakingly transparent article titled Why Lawyers Are Unhappy… And Make Others Unhappy, Too. It’s about why and how nice people (especially litigators) can become jerks, and how to identify a path out of the unhappiness that underlies nasty behavior. This is a personal article, and I so respect the honesty in it as well as the insight that points to the way out.
Gary Namie, co-author of The Bully At Work explains how to Create a Blueprint for a “Bullying-Free” Workplace. This article draws the distinction between jerks who perpetuate incivility and bullies who “maliciously destroy people and organizations” and lays out a 4-step plan to correct and prevent bullying at work.
“Recovering defense attorney” Allison West promises, Yes, There Are Ways To Reform Workplace Jerks through sensitivity training that’s designed to “give jerks direct feedback about their conduct, highlight the impact of their behavior on the workplace and provide tools to fix the problematic attitude and behavior. After that, it is all up to the jerk.”
Garry Mathiason and Olga Savage of Littler Mendelson help to establish some bright lines about behavior in Defining And Legislating Bullying. The article begins with a vignette of a rainmaker who defended the harsh comments made to two associates: “I sometimes raise my voice,” the rainmaker says. “If the associates can’t handle that, how will they ever hope to hold their own in litigation?” Mathiason and Savage’s articles helps to clarify the continuum between acceptable behavior, abrasive behavior, and bullying and to propose some solutions when the behavior falls on the wrong end of that spectrum.
My article is titled How To Spot And Deal With Jerks: Learn when and how to confront, disengage, and manage the jerks in your life. One aspect of coaching for lawyers involves workplace communications, including deadling with the jerks in practice. Many of my clients have encountered these jerks (as have I), and I’ve recounted a few of the more flagrant stories — all true, though edited to protect confidentiality.
The crux of the article is this:
Know What Kind Of Jerk You’re Dealing With And Choose The Best Strategy In Response
The first step is to notice when someone’s behavior leaves you feeling bad and then to identify the kind of jerk you’re facing.
The practice of law is often stressful, and even perfectly nice people may, on occasion, be rude under stress. Generally, though, nice people are aware of their bad behavior and apologize at least indirectly. These people may be situational jerks whose behavior unintentionally causes discomfort and pain. Dealing with such thoughtlessness is often relatively simple because situational jerks typically don’t mean to be jerks and may not realize the harmful effects of their actions.
Habitual jerks are more damaging. These people commonly yell, use sarcasm or mean-spirited teasing, engage in personal insults, or otherwise act in a demeaning or disparaging manner. Habitual jerks may strike out at any time. They don’t apologize, and they don’t notice or acknowledge the pain they inflict because they simply don’t care. Dealing with habitual jerks is difficult. Because of the habitual jerk’s disregard for others, the victim has fewer resources to call on to try to end the damaging behavior.
One of the following two options usually works best when dealing with a jerk: confrontation or disengagement. Regardless of the response you select, you must manage the stress that results from the jerk’s nastiness.
This issue of The Complete Lawyer also includes articles on business development and marketing, career management and planning, and work/life integration. It’s great reading.