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The Friday Five

Five Ways to Be a Positive Professional

By Ryan Sullivan

I tend to think of lawyers as “brain gladiators,” given how we flex our mind-muscles for our clients on a daily basis. But frustration, negativity and the daily grind can bring even the best Russell Crowe look-like to tears. So how can you reframe your professional life and zing your brain back into peak performance? Here are five ways: No battle-axe required.

1. Rekindle an old romance, but keep your pants on. What’s your long-lost love from among your youthful aspirations? Still harboring fantasies about being a scientist? Playing the lead in a Broadway musical? Was Freudian analysis your thing in college psych class? Whatever it is, dig around and find out how to put some aspect of it into your practice today. Represent clean energy groups, play Clarence Darrow for your local bar, focus on building excellent relationships with notoriously hard-to-deal-with clients. Slowly incorporate more of your woulda-coulda-shoulda into today’s career.

2. Don’t just strategize, empathize. Any good lawyer tries on opposing counsel’s shoes when strategizing a case. Take it one step further to ease the wounds of frustration. If another’s antics are driving you bananas, pause a moment to think why this person might be making those choices. From your side of the fence, others’ decisions may seem illogical—but they’re not on your side of the fence, so find a smidgen of peace with why they might be motivated to do what they do. And then move on.

3. Don’t pooh-pooh the positive. A hundred times a day we discount something good. We rationalize away positivity by telling ourselves somehow this or that good thing doesn’t count, it’s not that great, or it isn’t exactly what we wanted. But the positive is all around us, like god or mosquitoes—ignore it at your peril! Ignoring the positive is like walking over $100 bills without bending down to pick them up. Quit pooh-poohing and pick up the money, people!

4. Pass on the show-and-tell. We may be weary, sometimes bitter, often frazzled. But beware the temptation to unnecessarily unload burdens on your fellow professionals. Be a source of encouragement to others in the workplace, not a toxic dump. There’s a fine line between friendly commiserating and emotion-filled rants. Heed the line.

5. Make Audrey Hepburn proud. In addition to the little black dress, Miss Hepburn had a few other things going for her. Make like Audrey and be a persuasive, intelligent and charming advocate. There’s nothing more effective than showing genuine, competent warmth towards those around you. Know your stuff, but don’t be a robot—the art of persuasion isn’t about the head, it’s about the heart. Marry this with hard facts and you can’t be beat.

Ryan Sullivan is an attorney and the founder of Positive Professional, goading and cajoling others into combining positivity with strong professional skills to achieve a better workplace. Practicing indigent criminal defense for the past 14 years, Ryan has successfully wrangled with some tough customers (in addition to her own three children) and speaks and writes about conflict management, stress reduction and professional development

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Ryan Sullivan

Ryan Sullivan has been a trial lawyer for almost 14 years, practicing exclusively indigent criminal defense. A speaker, writer and trainer, Ryan believes a sense of humor and the ability to frame events positively, combined with solid professional skills, leads directly to career and business success. Her experience working and training others in challenging careers has given her the skills to manage the toughest customers, speak and present persuasively, and shine under stressful circumstances. Ryan and her husband have three children, three dogs and a home suspended in a perpetual state of DIY remodeling.

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