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Q: I am a male senior associate, and I feel that I am too nice. Specifically, I feel I get taken advantage of because I’m not a screamer/demander type. I do many of the things that people always wish lawyers would do — ask people whether they have time to do an assignment, answer questions patiently, don’t mind having things in late so long as it’s not an emergency. What I notice is that other people, who act like incredible jerks, get prompter and more attentive work done by lawyers and support staff. I want to remain a decent person but am feeling resentful about this state of affairs. What do you suggest? A: It’s great that you are a nice person, and you need not abandon being a nice person merely because you’re a lawyer. However, you will need to devise more savvy ways of managing others to make sure that work is done appropriately and promptly. Remember to clarify why you are at work. It’s not primarily to have a good time, nor to relate well to others, but to produce superb legal work as efficiently as possible. Fostering a congenial work environment is a laudable secondary goal, but it is not primary. Therefore the question is, how can you be effective in getting work accomplished without having to overhaul your personality. Your assumption has been that your nice approach will result in efficient work results, and that hasn’t materialized. So you will need to re-channel your personality to emphasize approaches more likely to result in work getting done. Here are some tips: Find some admirable role models. Instead of focusing on the screamer types who get quick responses, try to identify someone who has a more palatable approach and analyze what it is about their approach that’s effective. Get used to “alternating roles.” You may feel an obligation to remain true to your own personality regardless of circumstances, reasoning that you must always be friendly and warm. In fact, you can be all business at appropriate times — only discussing an assignment and not talking about personal matters, keeping your tone clipped and direct — saving more social interaction for different times. Agree on the details. Make sure that you get an explicit agreement from the beginning about what’s to be accomplished, and include it in an email. If there’s a problem, refer to the agreement rather than making it personal. Devise your own checklist about quality work. Along the same lines, tell people you work with exactly what you expect in terms of work performance. If people deviate, refer to the checklist. Again, this is a way to avoid unpleasant confrontation and instead to rely on specific criteria for a top performance. Give feedback. Perhaps you are too nice to tell people they are disappointing you. They then don’t realize what’s going on and may assume that they are doing well. Tactfully phrased, fact-based feedback is a great career developer, and can help people advance as superb lawyers. So make sure to close the loop after working with individuals and let them know what they did properly and where they can improve. This will also signal that you are keeping a close eye on them and that a poor performance won’t go by unnoticed. Sincerely, Holly English Holly English is a former practicing lawyer and Principal Consultant at Values at Work, www.valuesethics.com.

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