The Importance of Kind Words


thank you note

Sometimes in the legal profession we create ourselves a little fiction.  It takes a number of forms, but by and large it can be summed up like this: “It’s not personal – it’s business”.

When pressure is high, blood is pumping, deadlines are looming, we easily lose sight of some of our basic humanity.

Sure – we power through the task, we accomplish the goal, we submit the document, and we arrive at the hearing.

But what about the carnage that we have left behind us?

The secretary that we were rude to for 3 hours because we were stressed spends the rest of their day feeling used and abused. As a result they are less productive, less helpful, and less inclined to ignore that slight sniffle that might give them an excuse to take tomorrow off.

The junior staff member that copped a mouthful because they didn’t get a document perfect the first time spends their weekend wondering if “law is really for me”. They jump on job hunting websites and speak to their friends about how much they hate their job.

The administrative assistant who was called and abused for posting a letter in the wrong post box, therefore decreasing their already diminished “care factor”. They spend their time looking for alternatives to a career that involves you and your firm.

All of these are avoidable with some simple words, and some basic manners. Not because the words themselves are that important – but because the words you use and the way you use them betray your underlying attitude to the people around you.

Ask Properly

It’s a little unnerving how often professionals forget to say please. I don’t mean you need to necessarily use the word “please” all the time – it’s more about the manner of your request than the exact words.

Just because someone is your “junior’ at the office, it doesn’t mean they are your junior in life. Show some respect, and if you’re going to ask them to do things then ask politely.

Of course they are going to do it – it’s not like you are begging. After all, that IS what they get paid for. But if you barrel up to people making demands, are you really building a team and raising the standards of interaction among you peers, or are you just an egotistical self-entitled jerk?

You being stressed is a rubbish excuse.

You having hard times at home is similarly terrible.

The fact that you are tired doesn’t matter.

Please should be a common word, in all offices, always.

Be Grateful for your Colleagues

This shouldn’t amaze anyone – the flip side to saying please, is saying thank you.

If something requires correction, then say thank you anyway.

If something is wrong and needs to be re-done, say thank you anyway.

And if someone has really gone above and beyond the call of duty, or produced something is spectacular – then take 4 seconds out of your day and praise them properly for it.

Be grateful for the gift of service that people have given you, and encourage them to do more and better whenever you can.

Show Compassion

We’re not very good at the emotions thing as lawyers, but sometimes we need to. Mostly I’m talking about the office here, but this is just as true for establishing client relationships.

If you are going to build a team of enthusiastic professionals and staff around you, then you need to understand a bit more about what makes them tick, and what ticks them off.

That means sometimes you’ll need to spend more time than you might be comfortable with listening to the emotional rant, the crying person or the aggravated colleague.

Show some compassion, because you’ve either been there yourself, or you will be at some point in the future.  And when that time comes, if you need a shoulder do you really think that anyone will offer you one if you are unapproachable on an emotional level? No – you’ll be alone to deal with your issues, which is rarely a great thing.

So What are you Going to Do?

Staying kind is easy when everything is going swimmingly. So take the opportunity to use those occasions and develop good habits in kind words.

But next time you’re running around the office madly in a rush to finish 1000 tasks that are all urgent – take a breath, and make sure that the words you are using are kind, encouraging, and motivating to those around you.

If you need one – give someone permission to call you on your rudeness. They won’t do it if you don’t say they can (and even then they might not) – but sometimes a quiet word from a trusted peer can calm you down and make you a bit more self-aware.

Happy Lawyering!

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