In the daily life of a lawyer, events are scheduled that require varying degrees of preparation. Going to court, conducting a negotiation or mediation, interviewing a prospect, meeting with a boss or employee about performance and successfully marketing your services all require attention to detail. Every lawyer has an approach to the technical/action side of the task and focuses on effective, proficient preparation. Perhaps a checklist outlining areas to research, documents to review, or bullet points for discussion will be created in the process.
An element that is often ignored and can greatly improve outcomes is emotional preparation. We are, after all, human beings and our feelings, thoughts, intentions and expectations about how something is going to roll out affect what happens. Paying attention to your internal landscape is a habit worth cultivating. If you are doubting your value or skill, revisiting prior unsuccessful outings or telling yourself that it’s probably not going to turn out well, what part does that play in the results? How does your state of mind impact the outcome?
It is a game changer, according to Shad Helmstetter, author of “What to Say When You Talk to Yourself,” because our thoughts about ourselves determine the results we achieve. The brain is simply neutral and tries to carry out the beliefs as instructed. The sequence, according to Helmstetter, is: programming creates beliefs; beliefs create attitudes; attitudes form feelings; and feelings determine our actions and lead to results. In other words, be careful what you think because your brain believes you and tries to make it happen. There are levels of self-talk, according to Helmstetter:
- Level I is negative acceptance: “I can’t quit smoking.”
- Level II is recognition and need to change: “I should quit smoking” (but I won’t).
- Level III is the decision to change: “I no longer smoke” (starting to create distance from the previous negative thoughts). Helmstetter advocates stating, “I no longer smoke” even if you are simultaneously lighting a cigarette. The point is for your brain to get the message.
- Level IV self-talk is the “better you” stated in the present tense: “I am.”
- Level V is universal affirmation: “It is.”
Habit-changing self-talk is always in the present to give your subconscious mind the most finished, complete picture of what you want to create, covering every part of the problem from every angle. An example from Helmstetter: “I set goals and I follow them. I set my sights, take the appropriate action and achieve my goals.” He recommends a dozen or more combined phrases on the same topic, which, together, paint a detailed picture of what you want to become or that change you want to create.
Esther and Jerry Hicks, authors of “The Amazing Power of Deliberate Intent,” offer a similar philosophy in a practice called “Segment Intending” based upon the premise that every day is made up of a sequence of segments and becoming mindful about your intention as you move from one to another allows you to “pre-pave” future experiences.
It is a process that emphasizes the “Emotional Journey, while deemphasizing the Action Journey.” The process involves deliberately setting your intention for who you want to be in the next segment, how you want to feel, how you want others to respond and the desired outcome. In the case of a meeting, you might say, “I want to be punctual, clear, and focused. I want this meeting to feel productive and I want to feel happy about my attendance and participation.”
A new client contacted me recently who was concerned about his job-interviewing style. He had been in the market for a new job for quite a while and had a great resume that attracted interviews. After the interviews, the opportunities evaporated and he was collecting a series of “no’s.” I invited him to come to my office, resume in hand, wearing what he normally would for an job interview and conducted a mock interview specifically based on the resume, his qualifications and the type of job he was seeking. I also asked commonly used questions (sidebar: anyone who is interviewing for a new job should familiarize themselves with classic interview questions). Although I had no job to offer and there was no real pressure, my client was visibly nervous, sweaty and uncomfortable. It was obvious that low self-confidence was a big issue as he was clearly well-qualified.
During our subsequent coaching sessions, we focused on how to improve his confidence, ratchet down the anxiety level and steps he could take to prepare himself emotionally, carefully set his intentions, and shift his perception of an interview as more conversation and less interrogation.
Because he was working in a toxic environment, he realized that going straight from his job to an interview was counter-productive because it eliminated his ability to emotionally prepare. The stress of the current job followed him right through the door to the prospective one. Staying positive in a polluted work environment was also harming his ability to exude confidence. And, he discovered when he started paying attention, that he spent too much time focused on the current, negative circumstances he was in rather than imagining a positive future. After work, he continued to dwell on his unhappiness during and after dinner with his wife.
Here are some steps that successfully improved his emotional state, increased his confidence and led to great interviews:
- Delegating more to an uncooperative subordinate and standing his ground. His assistant, by routinely failing to do her job, had manipulated him into doing it himself. Sticking up for yourself sends a message to your brain that you matter and can improve self-confidence. Also, taking on a difficult conversation that you would rather not have helps to overcome fear of confrontation and many clients have found their personal lives also improve when they stop being doormats at work.
- Taking a lunch break during which he would go for a walk or spend time reading for pleasure. This provided a break from the dismal. When your work situation is not ideal, it helps to remind yourself that the world outside is better than the one in your office (and your head) so take breaks from it.
- Enlisting his wife’s support in closing down the work talk after a brief status update in the evening. By not allowing work to dominate his life, he shifted his focus and created a more positive internal environment that helped him imagine a better future.
- Setting limits on time spent with co-workers agitating over their collective unhappiness.
- Scheduling an interlude between work and interviews to set his intentions and detox from the atmosphere so he could present in a refreshed and upbeat manner.
My client’s story illustrates how we can be standing in our own way of getting what we want, despite our legal training, education and technical preparation and, also, how in a short period of time we can identify the issues and create strategies and steps to overcome them. If you ignore your emotional state you are missing an opportunity to show up as your best self. Pre-paving for successful outcomes will lead to better results.
Reprinted with permission from the July 10, 2014 edition of “The Legal Intelligencer” © 2014 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.almreprints.com.