Are there times you feel you could be likened to a “boxer” and that your work environment to that of a”boxing ring”? You speak with your opponent on the phone and there’s aggression, you receive correspondence and its “aggressive talk” you appear in Court and they “up the ante” in “combat”! It appears that to get “anywhere” as a lawyer, you need to be combative and aggressive, with “gloves on” at all times! [It may not always be your opponents in another office, it may equally apply to your colleagues in the same office!] Whats your initial approach and response…….assertive or aggressive? What gets the best results for your client and for your career success, long term?
I was asked to “Judge” international and national law students at the ALSA National Conference, Clayton Utz Negotiations, where I was requested to judge participants in negotiation, which lead one team to ultimately progress forward in the competition, based upon specified criteria which included “Team Work” and “Relationship Between The Teams” with the following questions asked “How did the team manage the relationship with the other team? Did it contribute to or detract from achieving the client’s best interests?” One of the participants informed me that he was told on the last round he was “too aggressive” and therefore adjusted his responses. I was impressed to hear such important details were provided to students to allow them to learn; aggression is one way to respond but there are other ways available, more importantly assertiveness when problem solving. Interestingly, how would you answer those competition posed questions personally? Would you say your preferred style is “aggressive or assertive“? Do you know what aggression and assertiveness looks like?
What Are Some Examples of Aggressive Behaviours?
- Use fear tactics
- Use guilt
- Name calling
- Angry/Raised Voice
What Are Some Examples Of Assertive Behaviours?
- Ask/Request for help, clarification, resolution of “issues” etc
- Respect for others
We are in an adversarial system, where there is one winner and one loser, does that mean we have to be aggressive with our opponents to “win”? Is the dispute “our” dispute or are we the professionals who provide objective advice to assist our clients reach resolution in a “cheap, quick and just manner“? One way we can accomplish this is by aiming to narrow the issues by respectful and assertive communication? Do we remember our opponents are humans who are engaged to represent their clients, in the same position as us?
We may be competing with others in our organisation for promotion, this also may foster aggressive behaviours. Will aggression assist you professionally in your own organisation/firm to progress, at what cost?
Whats in it for you if you choose to be assertive?
- When you choose to be assertive you adopt a realistic self-image. You do not see yourself as superior to others (aggressive) but you also do not see others as being superior to you (passive). There is a saying ‘There is nobody better than you but you are no better than anyone” which means that you accept that you are of equal value to others and your own sense of self worth reflects this. This allows you to realise that everyone in the world has their own preferences so you will not be able to always have your preferences met, its give and take and negotiation.
- Rather than seeing others as a threat, you realise that others are simply trying to achieve their own objectives. Rather than view others as competitors, you may start to see them as potential collaborators. People may offer you the opportunity to work together to achieve greater benefits for both parties and their clients.
- The more assertive you are, you gain a better awareness of your identity, your values, your beliefs, your likes and your dislikes. You are comfortable expressing your views and where others disagree, you are happy to agree to disagree, respectfully.
- When you are aggressive, you see others as a threat and you constantly fear some form of attack. This creates a lot of stress, wastes a great deal of energy and loses you a lot of productive time. Assertiveness allows you to deal with “issues” (legal and people issues) properly at the first opportunity, they are dealt with respectfully then and there with the appropriate person. Assertiveness allows you to be the best person and lawyer that you can be while helping others to get the best from themselves. A win/win situation can be achieved for all, under the umbrella of respect, both personally and professionally.
I believe the saying “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” is worthy of consideration. People will work against us if we act aggressively and that is a huge cost to us personally and professionally.
The choice is our own individual decision, however, what we decide will impact positively or negatively on our professional reputation, our ability to negotiate robustly and fairly for the best results for our client. Our choice will also impact on how harmonious and successful our relationships will be, in the office and with our opponents. Our choice will cost us positively or negatively, professionally and personally. I endorse assertiveness, every time!
I write a blog on diverse legal topics at http://www.sydneybarrister.net.au, which I encourage you to subscribe to, so you don’t miss out!