Get to know how you play with others

Cheryl Foy
Getting to know who you are, what you’re good or not so good at, what your blind spots are, and how others perceive you is one of the best things you can do to enhance your effectiveness in any in-house role.
In the private practice of law, the emphasis tends to be on billing capacity and technical competence, and difficult personalities may be tolerated if they produce.  In our roles as in-house lawyers, we can’t afford to have bad people skills or be prima donnas. We need to be able to bring people on side and to effectively influence. In many situations we have only our ability to influence to get things done and to effect change.  

There are lots of tools out there to develop more self-awareness. A former executive I worked with placed a lot of weight on the Myers-Briggs profiling tool and insisted other members of the team take the test.  As part of a leadership training course, I underwent a number of personality profile tests, including one that had me categorized as “green red blue” or some such combination. Most recently, I participated in Kolbe exercises designed to assess an entire team of people on an individual level and as part of a team. The idea (if I understand it properly) is to assess the team as a whole to understand whether there is a balance of likely and desired behaviours on the team.  

This stuff is fascinating. Let’s face it; we are all interested in ourselves. Developing an understanding of what you have in common with, or how you differ from the people with whom you work most closely can make a huge difference in how you approach issues you face in your daily working life.

In addition to being fascinating, using profiling or behavioural analysis tools enhances your effectiveness in a number of ways:

Improved self-awareness

Understanding how you come across to other people can help you understand how you can change your style or approach to reach others. Before taking these tests, I had been given feedback about being too direct or blunt and thus intimidating.  My internal response to that was “but direct is good!” and “isn’t it OK to be a little intimidating as a lawyer?” The reality is that direct can be good and sometimes you may want to come across to certain people in an intimidating fashion, but where you want the lines of communication open and where you want to positively influence your colleagues and peers, fear and intimidation are counterproductive.  
Understanding where your comfort zone lies allows you to understand why certain things may cause you more stress or difficulty — just understanding the source of the stress may be enough to help manage it.

Improved ability to communicate

Another thing I realized was that I prefer to communicate in writing and there are many people who don’t receive and understand information unless they receive it verbally. Instead of continuing my rant about the fact that the vice president of marketing never read his e-mails, I changed my style and walked down to his office to reiterate the information in a conversation. It was productive because I was more effective at getting the message across and I improved my working relationship with this colleague.  

Understanding that extroverts may not wait to know an answer before they speak but will use the act of speaking to process the answer, is helpful. Being slightly more of an introvert, I would often marvel in school at the other students who would fling their hands up and recite answers that were wrong. I would be late to put up my hand but by the time it was up, my answer was well formulated. If I couldn’t offer a good answer, my hand would never go up. The beauty of extroverts is that their thinking process is shared and provides a great foundation for group brainstorming — a foundation that the “Hermiones” among us (those who like to deliver the complete answer alone) do not inspire.  

Increased appreciation for the contribution of team members

Understanding your own predilections gives you a framework for understanding the predilections of others. This can help when working on a team and when you’re building a team. If you know your own weaknesses, you can hire people who can do what you don’t do best. It gave me a framework for understanding abstract versus concrete thinkers — some people will grab on to abstract ideas and run with them while others glaze over thinking, “okay let’s talk about the practical application of this notion.”

When appealing to people, it’s ideal to understand whether the person you’re talking to makes decisions based on values versus making a decision based on empirical information. A big “ah-hah” for me was developing an appreciation for people who are better at starting things and others who are better at finishing them. There are people who like process and people who hate it. There are others who love detail and yet others able to quickly see the big picture. All of this knowledge about others and yourself is invaluable on a personal and professional level.

Don’t take it too far

The fear that many of us have about undergoing analysis is that we will be typecast or limited by those who understand our results. This is a well-grounded fear. One of my colleagues once told me that my Myers-Briggs score (which has me as a slight introvert) must be wrong because I am outgoing and friendly and appeared to be at ease when speaking in public. Well, this analysis is wrong on a number of levels.  While not very far over, I am a little more on the introverted side of the spectrum.

Until I took the Myers-Briggs test, I didn’t truly understand why earlier in my career it took so much effort and energy for me to prepare to speak in public — I was doing something against a natural preference. It didn’t mean I couldn’t do it or that I couldn’t do it well. It just meant that I had to work harder to be comfortable with it and that unlike others who might get charged up by speaking in front of a large crowd, for me it took more energy.

It’s an important point to remember — we are all complex beings — experts develop these analytical tools and only experts should be interpreting the results.  Any tool can be misused and abused and the tools themselves rely on the self-knowledge and level of self-awareness a person has at the time he/she provides the data for analysis. Remember that what we’re getting from these analyses is a framework for understanding others and ourselves, not a tool to categorize and limit either.

People evolve and learn and these tools help all of us do that. If you’re willing to take a bit of a risk and invest a little bit of time, the reward will be invaluable insight which will assist you in being more effective at what you do.

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