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Tips for managing difficult people

Tips for managing difficult people

By Claire Walczak and Alexandra Metherell

Wellbeing Workplace Workplace Relations 


Lawyers need to develop skills and techniques to manage adversaries in the workplace. Dealing with difficult people in legal practice, whether it be a client, colleague, your opposition, or the bench, is an essential skill for a lawyer. If we do not develop skills and techniques to manage adversaries in our workplace, these experiences can have a wearing effect on mental health and wellbeing. We have put together some useful tips that we employ in our daily practice which may assist other legal practitioners: 1. Breathe. It sounds like a cliché but whether you are confronted by a difficult opponent in person or in correspondence, taking a deep breath (or getting a cup of tea) before you respond will hold you in good stead. 2. Don’t manage difficult people electronically. Shooting off a retort in a text or email is guaranteed to be misconstrued, read in the worst possible light, shown to other people and, if in the context of legal work, likely annexed to affidavit material. Opt for picking up the phone – difficult people (generally) lose their bluster in person. If the email really requires a written response, wait until the next day, when the heat has gone out of the issue. 3. Smile. It is a disarming tool. When you have an opponent who is hot under the collar, getting upset or frustrated is exactly the reaction they are seeking. If you can smile, not only does it encourage your own good endorphins but it takes the wind out of their sails. 4. Don’t argue with your opponents. Save it for the judge. If you aren’t getting anywhere, it is OK to call it. 5. Don’t argue with your clients. Let them know that you are outlining the options but ultimately they are the masters of their own future. 6. Ask for help. The practice of law generally occurs in a collegiate environment. Reach out to a colleague even as they walk past - you will be surprised how willing people are to assist. 7. Figure out what gives you a confidence boost. Is it wearing a bright shade of lipstick? Having a double shot coffee? Going for a run in the morning? Build time for this into your day so that you start at a high. 8. How to manage when your judge is the difficult person? Three words: Judges are human. Insist on having your argument heard, if you can. Otherwise, hold your head high, pick yourself up (refer to point 7), and go back and do it again tomorrow. Tips Don’t manage difficult people electronically. Don’t argue with your opponents. Don’t argue with your clients. Claire Walczac is a lawyer at Lander & Rogers and Alexandra Metherell is a barrister.

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