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September 05, 2018 Asked and Answered

Lived and Learned: How difficult conversations can save working relationships

By Stephanie Francis Ward

Are you dreading talking with a colleague about an issue you're having with them? When approaching a difficult conversation at work, reframe it in your mind as a discussion that can help improve your relationship with someone, says Michele Coleman Mayes in this episode of our special podcast series.

“You need to go in, again, with this mindset of ‘This is something that I’m doing because I want to improve a situation,’” Mayes tells the ABA Journal’s Stephanie Francis Ward. “And likewise, be open-minded. Don’t go in assuming you know the answer or what the person is going to say to you.”

Mayes is the vice president and general counsel at the New York Public Library and a former chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. In her work on the commission’s Grit Project, Mayes studied the science behind the grit-and-growth mindset, and encourages lawyers to use those skills to handle interpersonal disputes.

“Simply keeping your head down and accepting your fate is not what we’re advocating,” she says. “Indeed, you owe it to yourself—and potentially your career—to figure out what’s really going on here.”

“You have to work harder to listen to someone you’d rather not hear talk,” added Mayes. You also may need to have multiple difficult conversations for a situation to improve, she says. But as you repeatedly speak with the person, you can learn what sort of communication works best.

In This Podcast:

Stephanie Francis Ward
Michele Coleman Mayes was appointed vice president, general counsel and secretary at the New York Public Library in 2012. Before joining the New York Public Library, Mayes served as general counsel for Allstate Corp. and Pitney Bowes, Inc. From 1976 to 1982, Mayes served at the U.S. Department of Justice as an assistant United States attorney in Detroit, where she rose to chief of the civil division, and Brooklyn, New York. Mayes has been the recipient of numerous professional honors, including the American Bar Association’s Margaret Brent Award. She has been involved with many ABA entities, including as former chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. In 2011, Mayes co-authored Courageous Counsel: Conversations with Women General Counsel in the Fortune 500.

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