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Communicating

The Monster Under the Bed

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Once past the age of trick-or-treating, we like to think we’ve kissed our last bogeyman goodbye. After all, we now know that zombies are merely figments, and it’s only dust bunnies populating the space beneath the bed. Regrettably, a white-knuckle grip on adult reality often brings a more complex set of fears — and these bogeymen are worthy opponents, indeed! It takes more than a warm hug or a bag of fun-size treats to get past the monster fears we encounter every day.

So what will help you wrestle these ghouls to the ground? Adult things: determination, a measure of common sense and some perspective. Let’s take a look at three of the things professionals commonly find terrifying — and some useful tips for mastering them.

Fear 1: Calling Someone You Don’t Know

You know it’s true. Even the most competent extrovert can experience a little telephone twinge. Even when you are the one in the so-called power position, just picking up the phone can feel like pulling your own teeth. Overcoming those telephone goblins can take determination. Here are some things to try.

Determination:

  • Just hold your breath and do it. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid.
  • Practice makes perfect. If you do most of your communicating via email, naturally you may feel awkward on the phone!
  • Write down your key points beforehand. That way, you won’t get lost and forget them.
  • Rehearse. Really. Memorize your “Hi, I’m …” lines. Then you won’t have to think about it.
  • Change how you talk to yourself. With a little work and practice, your pre-call “Ack! I have to make a call!” can become, “This call is going to be successful.”

Fear 2: Speaking in Public

Virtually everyone is nervous at the thought of standing before others to speak. Even Seth Godin struggles with that queasy pre-speech feeling. While nothing is going to totally eliminate the massive pre-speech adrenaline hit, if you work at it you can use that rush to improve your performance. Here are some hits of common sense from the master of speechifying, Dale Carnegie. 

Common Sense:

  • Make brief notes of the interesting things you want to mention.
  • Don’t write out your entire talk.
  • Never, never, never memorize a talk word for word.
  • Fill your talk with illustrations and examples.
  • Know far more about your subject than you can use.
  • Research your talk by conversing with your friends.
  • Instead of worrying about your delivery, find ways to improve it.
  • Don’t imitate others. Be yourself.

Fear 3: Asking for Help

Get Merrilyn’s book in the Attorney at Work shop.

Gender issues aside (I really do know numerous men who will pull over and ask for directions), asking for help in the workplace is difficult for many people. Of course, you don’t want to bother someone who is already very busy. But worse, you don’t want to confess to actually needing the help! After all, you are supposed to know the answers, right? Well, let me give you a little perspective.

Perspective:

  • There is no way you could possibly know all the answers to everything. Even if you did go to law school.
  • Asking for help shows that you are more focused on solving the problem or doing the work than on preserving your image.
  • Everyone loves to be asked to help. I promise. It makes us happy when it is revealed we know something important, or possess a useful skill. Or have something to offer a really competent person!
  • The modesty required to allow you to ask for help breaks down barriers to better relationships — barriers that are too often reinforced by a need to believe you know all the answers.
  • Once asked for help, many people will continue to feel invested in your success and cause opportunities to come your way.

Of course, there are a million other scary things in the workplace. Each day brings new opportunities for those winged anxiety demons to do their frantic dance in your stomach. But the difference between grown-up you and whimpering 10-year-old you is that now, when the lights flicker out, you know where to find the candles. With some perspective, common sense and determination, you can think your way through most things.

If not, there’s always Reese’s Pieces.

Illustration  ©istock

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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. Learn more about Merrilyn here and follow her @astintarlton.

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