Prehistoric man developed the critical capacity to instantly assess “friend or foe” when encountering the unknown. That capacity, while possibly more subtle, is still part of our fundamental human nature: Fight or flee? Trust or no trust? And lawyers, as a matter of training, bring an even greater caution to every situation than most. Avoiding risk is what we are paid to do, after all.
But this hyper-vigilence, while useful when tangling with a bear, can get in your way when building relationships with new clients, approaching the negotiation table—or even making dinner plans. Dealing with every situation from a position of fear and mistrust, expecting the worst, can ruin or at the very least complicate relationships.
Imagine If You Risked Trusting Instead: 10 Ways To Try
Think about how much mental space is occupied by paranoia and worry about others’ untrustworthiness—and how often you take defensive or protective actions because of lack of trust. How can you break the habit? Here are 10 things you can try. See if they don’t improve your effectiveness as well as your quality of life:
- Trust and acknowledge your spouse, kids and parents—then observe the response.
- Approach an adversary with a positive expectation. (Doubt the power of this? Read Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box.)
- Engage in a random acts of kindness.
- Believe in yourself and then move on. Don’t look back, wondering if you made a mistake.
- Enjoy what you like about the human part of a client—beyond what they did or want to do.
- Trust your instincts, they are informed by your real experience.
- Rely on your values to guide you so you can sleep at night.
- Have faith in the folks close to you. Ask for their opinions and realize you don’t always have to be the “Lone Ranger.” (Read You Don’t Have to Do It Alone: How to Involve Others to Get Things Done.)
- Know that all of us together are smarter than any one of us alone.
- Remember that being effective is better than being perfect!
No doubt you are thinking I must be a real Pollyanna. Certainly there are times when it would be folly to automatically trust. But if you unconsciously allow the habit of not trusting to permeate all of your interactions, the damage to yourself and others can be incalculable.
Stewart L. Levine is founder of ResolutionWorks, a consulting and training organization dedicated to building strong organizational cultures. A former litigator, Stewart has served on the Council of the ABA Law Practice Management Section and is a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management. He is the author of Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict into Collaboration and The Book of Agreement.
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