Whether it’s as a boss or as a colleague, you know that people in the office don’t tell you the truth.
At first, it started with sudden silence around the water cooler. Then, whispers turned into a hush as you passed in the hall. Finally, you noticed your subordinate employees giving you nothing but fake smiles with their positive feedback and blind “yes” responses to each assignment—even when you yourself thought the task seemed foolish.
Now you need advice and professional help, but you don’t know who to turn to. When consulting on a case, did your team truly agree with your big idea? When assigning a task to a first-year, did he really understand what to do and what’s at stake? During performance evaluations, do your employees actually appreciate your leadership or are they afraid of negative repercussions?
In the end, you’re forced to worry and wonder, why are your employees uncomfortable being honest with you?
Well, it’s likely your associates are picking up on some verbal and nonverbal cues that you’re sending across space like microwaves. Luckily, these mixed signals are all within your control to change so that the office can resume as a conduit for communication, not combustion.
The following are a few reasons why you may be driving the dishonesty at your firm.
1. You name names
Your idea of productive management is to know exactly which associate is responsible for which task. As a result, you find yourself frequently asking your teams, “Who wrote this?” And, “Who was in charge of that?”
Unfortunately, there’s no right answer to these seemingly innocuous questions. Because, if the job was done well, employees won’t claim individual credit when most success, in truth, belongs to a group effort (and credit-hogs just look like jerks).
Also, in the event the job was done poorly, employees are especially hesitant to absorb total accountability when—once again—more than one person is typically involved in dropping the ball.
As the boss naming names, you may think you’re gathering specifics for management purposes only. In reality, your employees believe you’re asking them to betray peers and place friends in front of a firing squad (perhaps literally).
This would drive any loyal employee to bite his tongue.
2. You punish mistake-making
Whether knowingly or unknowingly, you’re the type who can’t forget mistakes.
So, when an employee finds an error in his work, he’s reticent to fess up.
Naturally, mistake making leads a boss to trust an associate less. Unfortunately, this can destroy—especially in young attorneys—a person’s confidence in their own work.
As a leader, it’s important to encourage employees to take risks, assume responsibility, and admit to failure. Then, good leaders help employees recover from mistakes and learn from them. Bad leaders stop assigning important work to that same employee in the future.
Don’t penalize people for inexperience. Cultivate their skills and help develop their career.
If you earn a reputation as an understanding mentor, you’ll see increased enthusiasm and productivity on the part of your associates, which will lead to higher performance at the firm in a more organic way.
3. You’re too busy
When it comes down to listening to employees, your schedule is just too tight to spend quality time discussing issues.
Usually a nod in consent or the shake of a head is enough to brush off the majority of requests. And, when somebody disagrees with your casework strategy? Well, you just don’t have the time to discuss alternatives.
As a senior attorney or law firm professional in a supervisory position, you must be an ace at time management. If you find yourself impatient during brainstorming sessions or client meetings, it’s time to reevaluate your caseload and priorities.
4. You aren’t social
Whether as a first-year associate or law firm partner, the quickest way to alienate peers is through anti-social behavior.
You abstain from happy hours. You shut your office door all day. You don’t learn the names of other employees—certainly not those in outside departments.
Law is a social industry that depends on personal interaction and charisma. Whether it’s to practice winning juries or to learn this week’s gossip, attend social functions organized by employees.
When you aren’t friendly, you won’t win friends. And, we all know that only true friends tell you the truth.
5. You can’t keep a secret
Finally, if employees aren’t honest with you, maybe it’s simply due to your inability to keep a secret.
Honesty and integrity go together. When a person gives you one, he expects the other.
Like with case information, confidentiality is vital to your reputation and success as a professional.
Since honesty in communication is key to running a successful law firm, be the kind of person that employees run to with juicy rumors, out-of-the-box ideas, and—because it’s bound to happen—casework mistakes (so you can fix them in a timely manner!).
Remember, what you don’t know actually can hurt you…