Lawyers have many special gifts, but one of the most vexing is the ability to “issue spot.” They are trained to take a proposition in both hands and then turn it upside down and inside out until they have identified all the potential problems. This is hugely helpful to a client who is trying to weigh the risks and benefits of a proposed business transaction. However, this tendency can be hugely challenging for IT and knowledge management personnel who are trying to persuade a lawyer to adopt a new tool or a new way of working.
Now don’t get me wrong — some of my best friends are lawyers. In fact, I’m a lawyer. Even so, I must admit that lawyers can be a little negative from time to time.
But lawyers are not the only ones. Tony Schwartz has observed that the negativity bias is something that all humans share and it can lead us to wallow in the slough of despond:
Because human beings have a strong “negativity bias,” we pay more attention to our bad feelings than to our good ones. It once clearly served our survival to be vigilant about what might go wrong and that instinct persists. Today, it may serve to buffer us from disappointment, but it also promotes disproportionate and destructive discontent. The simple question “What’s going right?” provides ballast in tough times.
So What’s Going Right?
This can be the best question to ask when you are seeking feedback on new technology or a new law firm knowledge management initiative. It can change the energy in the room and draw out the truly constructive comments. Best of all, it encourages the lawyers involved to use their considerable brainpower to focus on opportunities for growth rather than obsessing about potential problems that may (or may not) stop a project dead in its tracks.
Focusing on the positive is not intended to sidestep reality or allow you to bury your head in the sand. Its purpose is not denial. Rather, its purpose is to elicit feedback at an early stage — before the tool or resource is so fully baked that it cannot be adjusted. Asking about what’s going right can help the anxious stop obsessing about the impossible goal of perfection and start focusing on what’s necessary and possible.
If you want to be agile, if you want to innovate, start asking about what’s going right. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you learn.
[Photo Credit: Manuel Bahamondez]
Great idea, Mary. It’s a good way to start to work with or around the lawyer personality traits that Mark Sirkin and others have noted (see I’ve Got You Under My (Thin) Skin in the ILTA KM Blog.) http://km.iltanet.org/2012/02/09/ive-got-you-under-my-thin-skin-personality-and-motivation-in-lawyers/
Another approach I’ve come across is to posit, “What is the cost of not having the most effective / efficient approach to (communicating or sharing,or drafting or whatnot)?” That hopefully focuses attention on the problem rather than the problem with the proposed solution. It does however maintain a negative vibe, unlike your approach.
Thanks, David. Here we see a lawyer personality trait compounded by intense training. That results in a high hurdle of negativity that can be hard to overcome.
Here’s a link to another post I wrote on lawyer personality based on a presentation by Mark Sirkin: What Makes Lawyers So Challenging?