In a world overcome with competition in the workplace, competition for jobs, competition for bonuses, raises, recognition or being named partner; even competition to get a case, retain a client and to win; personally, as lawyers, we argue, fight and play offense and defense, all of the time. Recently, I came across an article about lawyers and mental health and I was shocked by the content and felt compelled to share with you all. Interestingly, when discussing attorneys, the reports indicate that we have the highest rate of depression of any other occupational group in the country! In fact, a study of more than 100 professions indicated that attorneys are 3.6 times as likely to be depressed in comparison to other professionals. For instance, surgeons clearly experience stress, however, being an attorney is almost akin to having another surgeon across the table from you trying to undo your operation. In the legal field, we are unfortunately financially rewarded for being hostile. This hostile "work" environment, transcends to the way we react, interact with each other, deal with personal problems and professional issues. I know, often times, I am accused of feeling personally offended, in a professional environment. I admit I am guilty of this. Call it a personality flaw or trait and one that is not able to be carved out and left at home, every single day of my professional career. So, this year, one of things I want to work on, is "get along better with others" or at times we say in jest, "play nice in the sand box."
Let's talk about "resolutions." As I admitted, one of mine is to "work better with others." In my personal and professional life, I am often confronted with adversaries, such as opposing counsels, clients, colleagues and even peers in other positions, socially and, unfortunately even in volunteer settings.
I firmly believe it is absolutely possible to build productive relationships with even the most adversarial of individuals. Regardless of a person's original intent, opinion or position, the key to closing a positional gap is simply a matter of finding common ground in order to establish rapport. Building rapport is easily achieved assuming your motivations for doing so are sincere. I have found, although not always easy, that rapport is quickly developed when you listen, care, and attempt to help people succeed.
While building and maintaining rapport with people with whom you disagree is certainly more challenging, many of the same rules still apply. I have found that often times, conflict resolution simply just requires more intense focus on understanding the needs, wants and desires of the other person. If opposing views are worth the time and energy to debate, then they are worth a legitimate effort to gain alignment on perspective and resolution on position. However, this will rarely happen if lines of communication do not remain open. Candid, effective communication is best maintained through a mutual respect and rapport.
What seems to be lacking among professionals in the legal field, is mutual respect. I find that the most frustrating thing in this profession, is the blatant and adversarial nature of lawyers interactions with one another across the board. The inability of all of us, as professionals, to step back, take a deep breath and stop with the ugly, abrasive, chest thumping, name calling, letter writing, campaigns of attack and simple disrespect toward one another. It is astonishing to me!
We are all representing clients, running practices, working for others, employing others, all while also being involved in cases, that by their nature are conflict oriented, inevitably resulting in litigation. Litigation, which is stressful, time consuming and severely intense, for all, in and of itself, and this is just our "day job." Many of us also have families, friends and other personal and professional commitments.
At times, I often tell myself, step back, take a deep breath, realize that my professional reputation is important, came with a lot of hard work, professional development and being committed to my practice. Our reputations are important, but we need not forget, that "reputation" is among both other professionals, as well as clients. Of course, clients are important to all of us, but it is, colleagues, peers, judges and others who are equally, if not, more important to our client-based reputations. Remember that the next time you personally attack another, bash an opposing lawyer, the other party in a case or socially degrade another person, to gain some perceived benefit, it is not worth it. It likely will not accomplish what you feel, in the moment, may be achieved by such acts. All of this, in addition, to those aware of the circumstances, likely will think more highly of you reacting with couth, professionalism and maturity, rather than being abrasive, pounding your chest, name calling, letter writing, campaigns of attack and showing disrespect to another.
This holiday season, with the New Year approaching, reflect, consider and realize what is important. Apologize to someone whom you've attacked, offended or treated badly; admit your faults, make amends, request a refresh or restart on that relationship, start anew in 2019 with a clean slate, to the best of your ability. It is more rewarding than it sounds, may seem like an impossible feat, but it is overwhelmingly relieving, refreshing and invigorating.
So with this Season of Holidays approaching, our life, as marital and family law attorneys in particular, can be overwhelming, stressful and at times, all consuming. In the interest of keeping this season joyful, in addition to my attempt to reflect, consider and realize, what is important, I vow to apologize to those I may have attacked, offended or treated badly. I absolutely commit to admitting my own faults, making amends, where possible, and requesting a "restart" with those with whom relationships may have gone awry, or off to a poor start. I am hoping to start "anew," in 2019, with a clean slate, in those areas of my life that I am able.
In addition to my proposal for some new year resolutions, suggestions for making efforts to keep to those resolutions, here are a few tips, to try and use, to handle the extra stressors of holidays, as well, to avoid conflict, experience unenjoyable holidays or unnecessary family battles:
We are most unhappy when we argue with reality - when we think things should be different than they are. But they aren't. Especially when it comes to dealing with other people. You know, when your in-laws shouldn't comment on the way you parent your children. You wish your brother or sister wouldn't drink so much and be so loud. If your cousins, nieces or nephews were your children, you would not allow them to sit at the dinner table with headphones. But they all do.
So, accept that these things will happen. Try and develop compassion for these people or, at the very least, the ability to not judge and not be bothered. You'll be much happier.
Keep your sense of humor.
After you've accepted the reality of your holiday environment, remember not to be so serious about it. Oftentimes, these things, that seem so stressful or unbearable, are actually funny later on, when we look back, even if they really were not funny when they were happening. Try to remember that, and go ahead and laugh about it now.
Step away from the chaos.
Simply stepping out of the chaos - to walk, or sit, or meditate, or even exercise - can help you calm your mind and improve your perspective. Whatever makes you feel more mindful and calm, do that. You'll be able to manage your emotions better and connect with others more successfully, remaining calm when you return to the chaos without letting the holiday stress overwhelm you.
Say no sometimes.
Don't try to squeeze in more "holiday" than you can handle -physically or emotionally. We want to, or feel we need to, attend every holiday event. We want to have fun. We want to please others. We want to help. It's the holidays, after all. But sometimes saying no is very important for your well-being. When you are selective, you'll more fully enjoy events because you won't be over-tired or emotionally drained. When you don't attend an event, you can show the hosts you appreciate the invitation by sending a small thank-you gift, like a bottle of wine, flowers or even a nice box of chocolates, along with a handwritten note.
Give yourself a break.
I often say I will do this, want to do this and plan to try, because it's so important. We are all doing the best we can under the circumstances. So give yourself a break. Yes, you want to lose five or ten pounds, but with parties, delicious foods, champagne at every party and desserts after every holiday dinner, give yourself a break if you drink a bit and eat too much. No, you don't want to snap at your siblings, parents or in-laws, when they push our buttons, but we often fall back into family dynamics without even thinking about it. So move on and try to do better.
Whatever you do, do your best, and when you don't, just try again.