How to Have Difficult Conversations

The Future Law Firm Leaders Shared Interest Group (SIG) serves in-house legal marketers with fewer than five years of legal marketing experience by providing them with support, mentorship, peer networking opportunities, and relevant training. If you are interested in joining the group, please contact Ashley Briggs at Ashley.Briggs@arentfox.com.

On November 10, Kim Rennick, Director of Industry Sector Marketing, and Heather Reid, Director of Practice Marketing, both of DLA Piper, presented the brown bag talk “How to Have Difficult Conversations”  at the  Capital Chapter Future Leaders SIG’s final program of the year.

The discussion addressed how to effectively manage the expectations of stakeholders such as your firm’s attorneys and how and when to redirect competing requests so  that everyone’s expectations are met or, at least, everyone understands the situation and the competing priorities.

The key lessons from this event were:

  • Think of these as “powerful” conversations instead of difficult conversations. You are setting yourself up to succeed by setting boundaries and learning to how to truly listen during a conversation.  
  • Manage your emotions. Keep an open mind throughout the conversation so that you don’t cloud your judgment or impart non-verbal cues that can affect the other speaker.
  • Know your best yes. Since you only have so much time in your day, you need to understand that if you say “yes” to something that should be a “no,” you will then have to say “no” to a project that should be a “yes.”
  • Listen actively.  Listen closely during the conversation so that you can understand what is being requested and so that the other speaker knows that he or she is being heard.
    • Repeat back what was said to ensure you understood everything.
    • Ask appropriate follow-up questions to clarify anything that you didn’t understand . Avoid “why” questions as these are closed-ended.
    • Be aware of non-verbal cues, both the ones you are conveying and those of the other speaker.
    • Don’t immediately jump to solutions.
    • Don’t rehearse your response when you should be listening.
    • Predetermined attitudes and generational differences can impact conversations. Be aware of these and keep the other speaker’s perspective in mind while having the conversation.
    • Use it or lose it. The skills involved in having these conversations (managing emotions, knowing your best yes, active listening) require regular use to develop and maintain.  
  • Practice in low risk situations, such as with family and friends.
  • Use your resources or consider getting a coach to help you build these skills.
  • Prepare for high-stakes conversations. When possible, research before the conversation takes place so that you know whom you will be talking to and where they will be coming from.

By Kara Kane, Sr. Business Development Coordinator, Steptoe & Johnson LLP for the November/December 2015 Issue of the Capital Ideas Newsletter

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