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  • Writer's pictureScott R. Mote, Esq.

5 things lawyers need to know about reacting

By Scott R. Mote, Esq., Executive Director of the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program

The way we react to life events shapes others’ perceptions of us. Most of us lawyers want our colleagues, friends and acquaintances to think of us as friendly, well-mannered, and balanced professionals. How do we accomplish this?

Be aware. Reactions occur constantly in our lives, even when we are not aware of it: in meetings, in conversations, while we drive or someone else drives, in relationships, in how we treat the barista at the coffee shop. As you react to the events that happen in your life, think about the following five tips, and there’s a good chance that others will perceive you in a positive manner.

Be aware of your body language and actions

You know the old saying “Actions speak louder than words.” Most of our communication in life is non-verbal. Dr. Albert Mehrabian determined that human communication consists of 7% spoken words, 38% tone of voice, and 55% body language. This means that 93% of communication is non-verbal. Think about that as you go about your day. Did you slam the door when you went back to your office? Do you cross your arms during meetings and slump in your seat? These actions can make others perceive you as angry and bored, but you probably want to be perceived as trustworthy and approachable, right? Use positive body language. Use consistent eye contact, sit up straight, rest your arms at your waist. Don’t frown, smirk, or slump. Successful and positive communication is crucial for a lawyer’s success.

Watch your tone

The tone of your voice is so important when you are having a conversation with someone. Whether you are speaking with your client, child, friend, mother, etc., it’s important to be cognizant of the tone of your voice. Different tones of voice convey different information. For example, when you raise your voice or yell, the person will probably think you are angry. Speaking in a quiet tone of voice projects a sense of weakness or awkwardness. Speak with a confident and firm voice, and you will most likely be thought of as influential and distinguished.

Be compassionate

In the book “To Kill a Mockingbird,” lawyer Atticus Finch says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” You are compassionate if you are able to empathize with others as they go through the ups and downs of life. How do you react when your associate calls in sick because all three of his children have the flu? If this invokes feelings of anger and disappointment, you need to work on being more compassionate. A compassionate person would show kindness and empathy to the associate by letting him know that he should take the time he needs to care for his sick children.

Understand social cues

Social cues are another type of body language, but they focus on how others react to you. For example, you might notice that people tend to inch away from you during a conversation. This is a social cue that you are stepping into their personal space. Try to maintain a good distance, usually around three feet. If people fidget when you are speaking, they might be uncomfortable, either talking to you or about the topic of the conversation. If you notice this, change the topic or end the conversation. If people furrow their brows, they might be confused or annoyed with you. Help them better understand what you are saying, or end the conversation.

Know when to speak up, but not in an aggressive way

Think of a time you became angry, frustrated or disappointed. How did you react? If the first thing you did was gain your composure and assess the situation in a rational way, you are on the right track. If the first thing you did was start yelling, slamming doors or punching walls, you need to work on how you react to situations. It is important to react in an assertive way, not an aggressive one. Assertive people speak openly and to the point with a conversational tone, showing respect to others. Aggressive people tend to speak loudly, interrupt, glare and intimidate.

Another thing to contemplate is if it is even necessary to speak up. If you are driving to work and a car cuts you off, is it really necessary to start swearing, following the other car and yelling at the driver? The best thing to do is move on. The other driver probably did not intentionally do this. It was probably an accident. You really don’t need to speak up in this situation.

On the other hand, if a person in your staff meeting blames you for a mistake and it is not true, this is a good time to speak up, but not in an aggressive way.

Treat others the way you want to be treated

Remember that barista? The one who gave you the wrong change, and you reacted incredibly rude to her? She might know a current client, a judge, someone at your law office or in your family. You wouldn’t want these people to think of you as rude and impatient, would you? Be aware of your reactions.

If you are unhappy, depressed, suffering from substance use disorder, burnout, or stress, and you believe it is affecting your life, the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program can provide CONFIDENTIAL help. For more information, go to or call (800) 348-4343 or (614) 586-0621.

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