JW Way Fundamental #16: Don’t be a jerk – always take the high road. “Maintain professionalism at all times. Keep emotions under control. Advocating forcefully for the interests of our clients does not require bullying, condescension, foul language, or temper tantrums. This applies to co-workers, opposing counsel, and vendors. Always be a “mensch”. “
This is wise advice, and certainly makes many of our other goals more possible, and sometimes even easier. While many fundamentals are directed at what we can do, or do better, this one is also about what we can and should do even if someone else is not playing by this rule.
Face it, we are in a high-conflict environment. In the best of times, that conflict is between parties and we do our best to manage it. Stress often kicks in, and we find ourselves surrounded by jerks, be it the other side, our client, opposing counsel, or the courts. When that stress gets to us, we may even turn on our own, and be jerks to our co-workers, our vendors, and even our family and friends. We know we shouldn’t, but sometimes it is so tempting.
This is especially the case when we are trying so hard, but there is a real jerk on the other side of the problem. Even when we so want to punch back, we must remember to try to take the high road, in service of our ultimate goals.
One of the best ways to do this is to identify the jerk and how that jerk is acting. A great acronym for JERK is Judgmental, Egotistical, Rude, Killjoy. Recognize when you are dealing with a JERK, and try your best to remind yourself that you did not do this to them. They may act like this most of the time and are comfortable being a JERK. You can’t expect to change them, but you can refuse to let yourself travel down to their level.
There are times that we can be the JERK. What can you do when it is you who is the JERK? One great resource is to have someone you trust, who you are accountable to, and who will call you out when you are in “JERK mode”. They can help you identify what got you there. Another good assessment tool is to find someone who has known you a short while, between 6-18 months and ask them what their first impressions were of you, and how those have changed since they knew you. What people see in you tells you a lot about how you are acting.
None of us are perfect, and this Fundamental requires a lot of work, and a continuing commitment. If we commit to keeping this in mind, and we each strive to be a mensch each day, we will reduce stress, have happier clients, obtain better results, and have more fun doing it.