November 01, 2017 Feature

How a Judge and I Agreed to Do Better

By Nance L. Schick

I’m an attorney and mediator, and in my holistic, integrative law practice, I’ve coached several clients and colleagues to resolve internal conflicts. I also wrote my book, DIY Conflict Resolution, for people who might be in these situations and possibly a bit reluctant, or even resigned, to seek help.

I believe you can change your thinking and behavior to improve your individual experiences. Often, we find that this shift also slowly shifts others’ experiences.

START BY SETTING THE TONE

Refusing to participate in gossip can have a profound effect on group dynamics, and you can do it in a way that invites others to take similar stands. Imagine that a co-worker comes to you, complaining about another co-worker, partner, assistant, client, or vendor.

Without getting upset or making the person wrong, you can politely say something to the effect of:
"I’m trying something new at home that I’d like to try here, too. I have an agreement with each family member that I won’t have my relationship with them through anyone else in the family so that I’m not forming opinions about them or their situations based on someone else's opinions.
"It’s kind of what we do as lawyers, too, right? We listen to what our clients tell us, but we know they’re biased, just like we are.
"I’m happy to help you sort through an issue you have with someone, but I’d rather not know who it is. And I encourage you to speak directly to whoever it is to work things out, including if it’s me.
"I’ve found this has really made our family more peaceful and effective as a team, and I think it might work really well here, too. What do you think?"

IT'S A WORK IN PROGRESS

I used a similar technique with a judge who was notoriously abusive and unprofessional in proceedings. I’d lost my cool and interrupted him with my arguments.
A few days after the appearance, I acknowledged to him that I shouldn’t have disrespected him in that way, admitted that I have a lot of respect for him, acknowledged the stress he must be under, and promised to be more mindful of all of this in the future.
I then asked him to join me in setting examples that elevate the professionalism of the proceedings and the profession. We’re not perfect at it, but making the commitment has improved the experience for all of us, including the parties we’re there to serve.

Nance L. Schick

Nance L. Schick is an attorney and mediator at The Law Studio of Nance L. Schick in New York City who focuses on employment and business disputes.