In today’s episode I’m talking about law firm PTSD – which can be defined as that very tricky, undiagnosed mental health disorder that is seen when we are dealing with a new employee who’s come into our company and is still suffering the effects of their residuals from their previous employer.
Now I know a lot of you have had experiences where you bring in a new employee and you’re really excited to work with them as soon as they come in. But pretty soon in the process, you start to see some pretty unnerving behaviors, right? You start to see that the person is really jumpy or highly defensive, or the person seems to be terrified of doing anything without asking 15 different ways if they’re doing the right thing.
I want you to consider that there are a lot of things that can cause that level of distress in a person. We’re going to talk about what some of those are. But for the most part, I want you to just give yourselves the gift of saying that how these people move in the world, what their experience is when they first come into your business is something that you can respond to in a way that gives them a better experience and increases the likelihood that they will stay with you as an employee.
In this episode we discuss:
- Strategies to deal with a new employee who’s come into your company still suffering the effects of their residuals from a previous employer.
- Shifting some of those feelings of PTSD.
- Giving your new employee time to adapt and heal.
- The importance of not taking anything personally.
- How having a positive mindset will help you work with any PTSD law firm employee.
Allison Williams: [00:00:11] Hi, everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you grow your revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money.
Allison Williams: [00:00:25] Hi everybody it’s Allison Williams here your Law Firm Mentor and on this week’s episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, we’re going to be talking about law firm PTSD. Yes, that very, very tricky, undiagnosed mental health disorder that we all have seen when we are dealing with a new employee who’s come into our company and is still suffering the effects of their residuals from their previous employer. Now I know a lot of you have had experiences where you bring in a new employee and you’re all gung ho, you know the person’s great, you had a great sense of them in the interview process, references checked out well and you’re really excited to work with them and soon as they come in, they get going. But like, pretty soon in the process, you start to see some pretty unnerving behaviors, right? You start to see that the person is really jumpy or highly defensive, or the person seems to be terrified of doing anything without asking 15 different ways if they’re doing the right thing. And I want you to consider that there are a lot of things that can cause that level of distress in a person. We’re going to talk about what some of those are. But for the most part, I want you to just give yourselves the gift of saying that how these people move in the world, what their experience is when they first come into your business is something that you can respond to in a way that gives them a better experience and increases the likelihood that they will stay with you as an employee.
Allison Williams: [00:01:59] If we don’t handle it well, if we, if we get triggered by a person being triggered by us, or if we become anxious when we meet employees that are super sensitive or, God forbid, if we start toning our message down or altering what we have to say or almost hiding out from giving negative feedback, what can happen is the person gets lulled into a false sense of security and then when something happens that you absolutely have to address. Something that requires you to deal with their performance, that requires you to deal with the way that they’ve handled something and your response is more aligned with what you would normally respond with as opposed to what you’ve chosen to respond with this person that oftentimes will set you up for failure. It will set your employee up for failure and can cause a lot of frustration and turnover in your workplace.
Allison Williams: [00:02:54] So today I’m going to go through some strategies for you to actually incorporate for how to deal with employees that are suffering a little bit of that law firm PTSD. Ok, now this includes law firms, this includes employees that are suffering from a little bit of your law firm PTSD, right? So you are the cause of it.
Allison Williams: [00:03:15] You’re not off the hook, right? We have a whole series of things to talk about, including trainings on how we can get better in dealing with our employees when they’re not the high performers that we want. Or we may just simply forget to do things or they give us frustration because they’re not on top of things. There are ways to handle that, that will make you more successful as a business owner. But at least for now, I want to give you the opportunity to really contemplate how you can start to shift some of those feelings of PTSD so that that person ultimately can get over themselves fast enough to be effective for you before you get so frustrated that you tell them they have to leave.
Allison Williams: [00:03:58] All right, strategy number one, you want to give your new employee time to adapt and to heal. Now I want you to consider that they are joining a new employer, right? This is a new job for them and new jobs simply by virtue of what they are, our stress-inducing pressure cookers. Your new employee is coming into an environment where everyone around them is more established, more capable than they are. Now, maybe you say, Hey, I’ve got some average folks that my new employee is working with and my new employees are rock stars. But however, he or she feels about his or her performance keep in mind, they know that they are the new kid on the block. That doesn’t change because they happen to be good from their perspective at what they do. The other consideration is that you need, you know, as soon as a person comes into this type of environment, they need to prove themselves, right? There’s, there’s like a sense of I’ve got to do everything right. Or at least I’ve got to learn really quick, right? I’ve got to, I’ve got to find my way over to what my boss wants. And when the person is new, what the boss wants is still an enigma, right? Even though the boss may say something generic like, I want you to file this complaint or I want you to file this document. The person is still receiving that message through the filtered lens that he or she wore before they got to you, and they’re likely to conceive of that as a continuation of opportunity for them to fuck up. OK? We don’t look at it that way, but many, many, many employees do. So you don’t want to have them believe that there is no way for them to move forward other than to be instantaneously the rock star that you believe them to be in the interview.
Allison Williams: [00:06:00] The last thing I want to add when we talk about adapting healing is that for some people, for many people, I would say, starting a new job creates a trigger, a trigger for dysfunctional needs. So what do I mean by that? So there’s a whole lot of dysfunctional needs that people can develop when they are in a state of distress. So one is the need to please, to please people right? You may be thinking great! I have an employee who wants to please me. This is wonderful. And it can be. But oftentimes your employee is not just saying, I want to please my boss because I want to keep my job. They’re saying, I want to please my boss because it means something about me if I don’t please my boss, right? It doesn’t just mean that person was tired, didn’t quite get around to it, didn’t quite hit the mark. It is truly that they did not have what you require and when they are newer, there’s always a fear that that’s going to come with some reprisal. Perhaps the person is terminated, perhaps they are sent home, perhaps they’re demoted without pay, could be any number of things, right? But whatever is going on in the mind of your employee, those dysfunctional needs operating under the surface are not good for anyone. So the person has an excessive need to please, right? They’re bending over backwards. They’re never quite satisfied. They’re always looking for the next thing to be a service to. They may actually get so fixated on that, but they’re not actually doing their job. They’re not doing what you ask them to do.
Allison Williams: [00:07:39] You know, another example would be if you have employees who for some reason believe that you know they, they have to have a perfect answer before they give an answer, right? It has to be that they must be right, and they have now a fixation, a fundamental need to be right. And when a person has a need to be right, that isn’t saying, well, as a lawyer, I need to be right because I’m serving my clients and their client’s interests are protected when people believe I’m right. You know we can rationalize the need to be right, but what I’m talking about, the need I’m talking about a greater feeling than it would be beneficial for me to be right. I’m talking about just the very sense of if I’m not right, I will fight you over it, I will get aggressive, I will debate you. A whole lot of lawyers have a need to be right. Right? But when you attach to the idea of being right, you don’t allow yourself to be educated, you don’t allow yourself to grow and oftentimes that correlates with you not being comfortable and not being able to truly adopt the lay of the land. So it’s not good when someone has a need to be right.
Allison Williams: [00:08:56] Ok. Strategy number two, to deal with the law firm PTSD new employee, you don’t want to take anything personally. So I refer to Don Miguel Ruiz’s work a lot on this podcast and one of his books, the one that I think is the most pivotal, the most transformational is The Four Agreements. And in The Four Agreements, he talks about letting go of the need to personalize every activity, everything is not about you. In fact, nothing is about you. And what I love about this particular book, when he gave the framework of thinking about it from the perspective of, Hey, is this, is this something that I, that I believe is associated with me? Or is it something that I believe derives from the other person? When you start to see people’s behavior and reactions as being about who they are and not about who you are, it becomes a lot easier to move forward from negative behavior, from patterns you don’t enjoy and it frees you up, right? Continuity here is key, right? You don’t, you don’t want to bring in a new employee, and when you first meet them, you’re very reactive and emotional and responsive so if they get very upset, you start to pull back on your discipline and feedback. If they get very hostile, you might shut down emotionally, depending on what that relates to. Lots of different things can happen, but if your energy, if your time, if your money, if your stamina is focused on what other people think and you’re attributing a belief system from their thought process on to you, you are wasting time, money and energy that you don’t have to focus on things that are most likely wrong.
Allison Williams: [00:10:59] Ok? People oftentimes look to change others, that desire to change someone is usually out of a feeling that it says something about you, that this person is not exactly what you want them to be, right? And I want you to consider that even as your employee is experiencing whatever his or her distress is right, they can be sitting across from you and you can be talking to them about, you know, what they eat for breakfast if they discern, that you’re not happy or that you’re judging them harshly. Oftentimes, they will respond with a strong reaction, it could be anxiety, it could be begging and pleading, it could be any number of things, right? That you have no personal knowledge at. But the more you start to believe that your appropriate response to someone else’s distress is for you to alter yourself, the more challenging it’s going to be for you to be an effective leader because leadership doesn’t change from Monday to Friday, leadership remains steady. So I want you to just consider that when your employees are suggesting to you, you know, look, I, I don’t really want to do X, Y, and Z, and they’re telling you that through their energy or through their, through their mannerisms and your feeling that this person should be more open to whatever it is that you’re suggesting or should be inclined to change in some way.
Allison Williams: [00:12:32] If the way that you’re asking them to change is not a deal-breaker, right, you’re not asking them to correct something that’s wrong, but you’re just, you’re wanting them to change the way that they perceive the world, you’re wanting them to be less emotional. That’s not really your place to tell them or to put them in. And I want you to think about that because a lot of times when people aren’t allowed to express their emotions, when they aren’t allowed to express that they feel nervous, scared, you know, disturbed by whatever it is in your workplace, that’s different than where they came from. They will have a harder time processing through those feelings so that they can move forward. So you do them the greatest service when you just allow those feelings to be when you acknowledge them, but you also don’t take on responsibility beyond yourselves.
Allison Williams: [00:13:20] All right. Third and final strategies that are, that are necessary for the positive mindset required for working with the law firm PTSD employee. Ok? This is coordinate and accommodate your response, coordinate and accommodate your response. So when we talk about coordinating and accommodating the response, I want you to consider that when you see someone who is more nervous than you think they should be or they’re all in their feelings or they had just a much bigger sense of this is what I should be doing versus not in your business versus anywhere else, right? I want you to consider that your response really has to be the anchor for this person.
Allison Williams: [00:14:13] One of the things that a person experiences when they are experiencing situational stress, and it’s clear that they are super nervous about having to take a day off or super nervous about dropping off a letter 10 minutes later than you ask for it. Whatever it is, you don’t want to sugarcoat your response and then all of a sudden, after they’ve been with you a certain length of time, the real you comes out and they’re like, Whoa, who is this person? Right? I want you to think about the fact that when a person is going through whatever they’re going through and they choose to share it with you, they choose to open up to you and say, you know, my, my former boss didn’t let me X Y Z. Or my, you know, whomever it was that, that last spoke with me about this led me to believe that I was just really not a good employee and now I feel some sort of way about that, right? If, if you as a leader are taking in this information, I want you to contemplate that taking it in is not beneficial unless you do something with it.
Allison Williams: [00:15:21] So what could you do with this information, what could you do with your employee being on pins and needles about something in the job? Well, the one thing you would never want to do is to break that person’s spirit, if you will, by becoming Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, right? You don’t want to be one person all day, every day, and then as soon as that one person is tired of it and frustrated with whatever the employee did, you snap and you become someone else. Because that lack of consistency is going to say to them that the problem is much worse than they believed it to be, that whatever they have going on, they’re now at greater risk. And that then makes it harder for them to develop a certain level of trust in you to say, OK, whenever I went through a John Doe’s law firm, that’s not what we’re dealing with here. I now feel like I’m better able to express that or to have my experience or talk to my boss about whatever and maybe you’ll start to see some of that tension dissipate. But if you try to force it to dissipate, if you try to make it go away because it’s more comfortable for you that the distressed person goes away, what you’re likely to find is that that person is going to continue to be anxious. Only now he or she is not going to know when their anxiety is truly likely to correlate and problems that make their job like they could lose their job, right? If you haven’t given them that sense and all of a sudden you walk in and fire them because you can’t take it anymore, that’s going to be a problem.
Allison Williams: [00:17:02] All right, everyone. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor and today we have been talking about Law Firm PTSD, how your employees might be deriving some sense of lack of security from your workplace just inherent in what they do in your workplace. And now you’re going to give them an opportunity to grow stronger in their own sense of being OK in your business. But to do that, you have to be able to let go and lose control and I know for a lot of you, that’s really challenging, right? People, people issues are some of the most challenging issues you will ever encounter, which is the reason why I definitely wanted to do this episode, OK? So on this week’s episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, we talked about law firm PTSD clients or rather employees and how to deal with them. Everyone, I’m Allison Williams your Law Firm Mentor, and I’ll see you on our next show.
Allison Williams: [00:18:15] Thank you for tuning in to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. To learn more about today’s guests and take advantage of the resources, check out our show notes. And if you own a solo or small law firm and are looking for guidance, advice, or simply support on your journey to create a law firm that runs without you, join us in the Law Firm Mentor Movement Free Facebook group. There you can access our free trainings on improving collections in law firms, meeting billable hours, enjoying the movement of thousands of law firm owners across the country who want to crush chaos in their law firm and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. Have a great day!
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.
Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.
In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications and money management in law firms.
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00: 15: 30 (38 Seconds)
Well, the one thing you would never want to do is to break that person’s spirit, if you will, by becoming Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, right? You don’t want to be one person all day, every day, and then as soon as that one person is tired of it and frustrated with whatever the employee did, you snap and you become someone else. Because that lack of consistency is going to say to them that the problem is much worse than they believed it to be, that whatever they have going on, they’re now at greater risk.