Although I represent both employers and employees, I spend much of each day meeting with people who have recently lost their job. They are going through, in one way or another, the typical stages of grief. By the time they see me, either a few or ten days after they got the news, they could be in any stage of the process…denial, anger, depression or acceptance.
I would never liken the loss of a job to the news of a death of a loved one but the reactions are the same even if they are lesser in scale.
Some hide it well, some wear it on their sleeve. It is not just that they are panicked to the core at the economic prospects for themselves and their families. They have also lost, no matter how high or low the job, a big part of their self-identity…their sense of self-worth. The vast majority took pride in their jobs and thought they were appreciated. Their sense of themselves was all tied up with what they do and the contribution they make. For most, the people they work with every day are part of their social support network. Now in one fell swoop they have been marched out the door without even a chance to turn around and wave goodbye to the people with whom they shared a big part of their lives for many years.
You would hope that after doing this job for 21 years and meeting with anywhere between 15 to 20 such people a week that I would get better and better at it. Sometimes I feel I get worse. I know what I’m doing. I know the law. I’m good at strategy. But there is no job in the world that is not repetitive and does not threaten to make you jaded after a time. I’m not sure I listen as well as I used to.
To be fair, the danger of letting people talk to me endlessly about how awful they feel, how good they were at their job, how nasty their boss was and how unfair it was that they were chosen instead of someone else is that if I listen long enough, they will start to believe it makes a difference to their case. Why would I be letting them go on so long about these issues if they don’t matter?
On the other hand, while it’s true that I am a lawyer and not a counselor, if I don’t take the time and expend the energy to connect with them on a human level, to let them know that I do empathize with what they are going through, how can they know that I am truly on their side?
So to keep me on balance, unjaded, on course and, I hope, worthy of the role people let me play in this difficult part of their lives, I am going to post these words on my office wall:
Remember that whether they show it or not, most of your clients are in pain and afraid.
Take more time. Listen a little more. You have a job tomorrow. They don’t.
Don’t talk so fast. You may have spoken these sentences a million times but your client
has never heard them before.
Knowledge is power. Empower your clients. Share the information clearly.
Don’t pass over their outrage, anger or anxiety. Acknowledge it but be clear about
what matters at law and what does not.
Never be arrogant but always be as confident and clear as the law will allow, only then will they truly be able to take some of the worry from their shoulders and place it on yours.
I like to think that I mostly get this right but I know that sometimes on a bad or particularly busy day, I don’t. Maybe this new wall hanging will help. If you ever have to come and see me and you don’t think I have achieved success, just point at the picture frame.