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New Hire Tips: Dos and Don’ts of Combating Defensiveness

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New Hire Tips: Dos and Don’ts of Combating Defensiveness

You’ve wanted to be a lawyer for years. You studied and worked your tail off. Now, your job is to defend the law. You’re doing grunt work, boring things that believe it or not will teach you about the law. Right now, it is not your job to be defensive. It is known that working at a law firm is stressful. Leopard has covered that many times (the entire month of September 2018 practically!).  The stress from feeling overworked may cause some attorneys to become a bit oversensitive or defensive when feedback is given. That defensiveness can create conflicts, ruin relationships, reputations, and harm careers. No one wants to be known as “combative Candice” or “sensitive Sam” at work. We provide a few tips to help in combating defensiveness when you feel it coming on.

  1. Don’t assume the worst. When you’re defensive, you may have the tendency to assume the worst. Resist this temptation. There is no way you can know what your colleague’s motivations are or their thoughts.
  2. Don’t take it personally. People get defensive when they take the feedback or criticism they received as a personal attack. Criticism is never about you personally (at least it shouldn’t be) but rather about helping you perform your best.
  3. Do ask for specifics. When you find yourself becoming defensive about criticism or feedback you’ve received, ask for more details. You may ask, “Can you please give me an example of how you want the task completed?” or “Can you show me how I did it incorrectly?”combating defensiveness
  4. Do look for the truth. Instead of immediately jumping to conclusions, try to look for the truth in the feedback. Perhaps some of what was said is correct – own up to it. The parts that aren’t correct clear it up and move forward. Find truth in the feedback and state your agreement before pointing out the misunderstanding or miscommunication.
  5. Don’t offer a counter-argument. One of the most common tactics of defensive people is to counter-criticize the person giving them feedback. Don’t do it. Instead of counter criticizing, focus on what you can do to listen to the feedback and use it to improve your work performance.

Overcoming defensiveness will help your receive and utilize constructive criticism so you can advance your lawyer career. Subscribe to the Leopard Blog for discussions about diversity, law firm insights, and other relevant topics.

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