Inside the Lawyer’s Mind: Managing Our Traits

Following up on his previous week’s posts on lawyers’ personality traits (autonomy, skepticism,urgency), sociability, and resilience.) Ian Hu (practicePRO and Claims Prevention Counsel at LAWPRO) looks at how lawyers face an uphill battle to keep turnover low, keep colleagues happy, and maintain civility across the profession.

I spoke with consultant and blogger Dr. Larry Richard, who provided strategies to manage or overcome these problems in his LAWPRO article. Dr. Richard pointed out that personality traits are expressions of preference. As such, we are not stuck with our personality traits forever. We can learn to manage our strongest preferences by toning them down.

The best strategy is to become aware of the thought that leads to action. For example, if upon being criticized your first thought is to defend yourself because you feel you are under attack, change that thought to understanding the content of the criticism instead. This in turn stimulates a neutral or better feeling, which leads to better behaviour. This sequence is called cognitive-behavioural therapy (“CBT”). Mindfulness strategist and lawyer Jeena Cho discusses in this article about how CBT helped her deal with anxiety. It is a strategy which can help you make a positive change in yourself, whether it’s a personality trait you want to change or breaking a mental barrier that’s holding you back.

A second strategy is to put in place an approach to hiring that provides opportunities for diverse candidates. Dr. Richard notes that “a diverse firm with a culture that truly values diversity will provide a greater competitive advantage than a firm filled with one basic personality style.” This ensures that your law firm will not be plagued by skepticism, autonomy, urgency, unsociability and inflexibility.

Finally, it helps simply to identify in others that their behaviours may well be personality traits. Simply knowing that “this is who they are” can be helpful to feel empathy and establish civility. It is easier to be forgiving when we know it is not personal and not our fault.

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