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Work/Life Wisdom

New York Lawyer
September 27, 2001
By Holly English

Q: There seems to be nothing one can say to one of my partners - particularly in partners' meetings - which he doesn't automatically disagree with. I actually believe that one could say, "The sky is blue," and he would object, "Oh, no, it's actually a silvery-grey, and in any event will be dark grey soon."

This habit is maddening. It gets in the way of effective communication in our meetings. Equally maddening is that often, having disagreed with an idea put forth by myself or someone else, he will later articulate the same idea in different words, this time framing it positively and adopting it as his own. He's very glib and smooth so it's hard to take him on without looking petty. What can I do?

A: Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., founder of and a psychologist who coaches lawyers, asks whether other people in the partnership group feel the same way about this person. If so, she advises, "The person with the best relationship with the partner, the person with most power, or the person with the best communication skills can meet with the partner. This person might point out that although the partner probably doesn't even realize it, he tends to be argumentative in the meeting and that this makes accomplishing the goals of the meeting more difficult. This person might thank the partner for helping the group consider alternatives and perhaps note that his adversarial abilities serve him well in court, but in the meeting it would be helpful if he were more aware of this and gave more careful thought to suggestions before he responded to them. If the partner accepts the feedback, the group is then in a position to gently remind him of the goals of the meeting - that cooperation and dialogue will help more than argument in this setting - if and when the behavior occurs again."


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Phone: 844-818-9471

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