Legal Career Killer No. 1 – Making Assumptions

March 24, 2014

Lawyer CommunicationI am amazed by how often I am amazed that the assumption I make, the conclusion I draw or my analysis of the situation is wrong.  Truly, I take pause every time it happens and it happens all too often.

If it happens to me, it likely happens to you, too.  Actually, given my executive coach training which was intended to develop my ability to understand people, assess situations, and read the climate in the room, my margin of error rate is presumably lower than yours as someone with no formal training in human behavior.  In fact, this seems quite true based on what I have seen through my extensive work with attorneys.

In my role as counselor, confidant and consigliere, I am afforded a peek behind the curtain of human interaction.  To be more accurate, I am behind the scenes so often that it frequently feels like I am a permanent resident of “This is what is really going on.”

You know that saying, “There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.”  Well, it is 100% dead-on.  Through my work with named partners, torrential rainmakers, and rising stars, I am able to meet the primary actors in most unfolding dramas and have found that so many times the truth is that our many years of life experiences cause us to miss the mark.  We decide that 1 + 1 = 2, yellow and blue make green, and pigs do not fly.  But, alas, this is not so.

In truth, lawyers have become jaded, we have seen it all, we think we know best and this results in our misreading situations, misjudging people, and wrongly anticipating reactions and responses.  Like in so many other instances, we are our own worst enemy.  Our preference for making assumptions over asking questions is a form of unconscious self-sabotage.  In our quest to seem all knowing we instead reveal how little we actually do know for sure.

While serious indeed, there is a quick fix.  It involves a return to childhood – a time when we still were open and willing to learn.  We simply need to assume less and ask more, withhold judgment and wait and see, go into each and every situation tabula rasa and learn anew time and time again.

If you employ this approach you certainly will be filled with delight and wonder at how often you thought you understood exactly what was going on and what the end was going to be, but did not.

A powerful partner at a powerful firm recently told me that he has two criteria for selecting people to work on his team, one of which is curiosity.  After I got past my initial surprise and pleasure with his answer, I recognized that I was in total agreement.  What is curiosity if not the art of posing internal and external inquiries?  After all, curiosity is checking assumptions realized. It is not only a shame, but a career disability that we have lost our corner on the curiosity market.