When Great Minds Think… Differently
If you want your growing law firm to be successful, the first step is employing a group of intelligent, strong-willed associate attorneys, paralegals, legal assistants and other staff because strong minds make for a truly awesome team. The catch is that it isn’t uncommon for that same group of individuals to have extremely different opinions from time to time. If your team is anything like ours at Wallace Pierce Law, discussions about how to solve various issues ranging from client contact to marketing techniques can get a little heated. Before you put your foot down or give in for the sake of peace, consider that there is a middle ground for solving healthy debate in the office.
See the Value in Opinion
In an office environment, having a particular opinion or idea is not a bad thing. Chances are, anyone who spoke up at the latest employee meeting had a unique viewpoint and valid concern to bring to the table. Bouncing ideas off one another not only yields incredible discoveries but also keeps your employees engaged. Employees who feel like they have influence over the firm’s decisions will work harder to meet goals, keep clients happy or do whatever else is necessary to keep the firm successful.
The bottom line is that if someone has an opinion, they are thinking about how their individual actions affect the business. Even if you do not agree with their opinion or if their opinion needs to be redefined, an employee with an opinion is always better than an apathetic employee who is just another body to fill a desk chair. If the suggestions or discussions get too out of hand, remember that you can always give guidance or suggest discussing one particular area of focus at a time.
Always Listen Carefully… And Remind Your Staff to Do the Same
Everyone wants to feel that they are heard. You probably know from personal experience that it’s easy to get frustrated if you have worked hard on an idea or presentation but can’t seem to get anyone to listen to you. Remember that the other attorneys and staff in your office feel the same way. If you and your team are sitting around the table discussing office plans, it’s easy for the conversation to trail off or for someone’s comment to be overshadowed by a bolder speaker.
Remind everyone to not jump to conclusions or immediately begin asking questions when someone else is presenting an idea. Interrupting someone can make them lose their train of thought and can hinder the concept of the whole presentation. Instead, let them finish completely before opening the conversation up to discussion with the whole team. If the presenter and the audience both know there will be a time set aside afterward to ask questions and discuss the details, everyone stays focused and has a chance to get all the facts. If you and your teammates are courteous and respectful to one another, ideas will flow freely and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
Explain Your Position
When you are discussing an idea, be sure to explain your position thoroughly. This may be the most overlooked aspect of healthy debate in an office, and we are all guilty of failing to do this properly. Don’t just determine how something has to be—explain why it should be a certain way. Understanding the background behind a particular problem is essential to getting everyone on board. It’s too easy to forget that while a particular aspect makes total sense to you, other people aren’t inside your head and weren’t able to see the thought process behind your decision. Even the slightest bit of confusion can lead to uncertainty, miscommunication and doubt.
Recently in our office, we undertook a massive data collection project in order to get a better sense of where our clients came from and what types of cases we were handling. One of the data points was to track the source of each client. We had one client who came from a particular marketing source, and upon meeting with that individual, we were able to hire a few other family members who were involved in the same accident. Our office manager and client relations manager were discussing how to classify these clients and agreed that the source should be “client referral” because the subsequent client was signed after speaking to the original client.
However, the other attorney and I disagreed and told them the source should be the original marketing company who provided the lead. After some healthy discussion, I explained that the reason these clients should be classified that way is because the point of that particular data set was to compare which marketing source yielded the most clients compared to the cost of the marketing source. In other words, we were trying to determine what advertising techniques gave us the best bang for our buck so that we could determine how to divvy up our marketing budget. Neither my office manager nor my client relations manager had considered this, but once it was explained, they both agreed it made total sense. By simply explaining the reasoning behind a decision, the whole team was able to get on board, and we were able to complete our data collection project.
Next time your team decides to discuss firm-related plans, remember to be excited every time someone has an opinion or suggests an update in a worn-out process. A great business is a place of open discussion where everybody is encouraged to speak up when they have an idea. And if you’ve already hired great employees, chances are they all have strong opinions and new ideas they want to run by you. As long as everyone is respectful of one another and gives their full attention to a speaker, it won’t be long before the creativity in your office starts to thrive. Within reason, healthy debate is actually great for your business and can lead to new innovations you may not have ever considered.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success. Anyone who has ever met Jared will tell you h