Legal Team Management: Tips to Defuse Workplace Disputes
By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD, Robert Half
Disagreements are inevitable in the workplace. Some of the time, managers of legal teams can stand back and let people resolve disputes among themselves. However, if differences of opinion escalate, it can have a devastating effect on your team’s morale and productivity. Here are ways that can help you create the best of two worlds: one where people work in harmony yet also feel free to express their opinions, and an environment where differences are respected and built into the workplace culture.
Respect differences in background and experience. No two legal professionals approach challenges in the same way. For example: one person’s knowledge, contacts or background can contribute to an important discovery, a last-minute solution or a way of looking at a case that wouldn’t occur to their colleagues.
As part of the onboarding process, let new hires know that their opinions are important and that they should feel comfortable voicing them. Pair them with experienced mentors who can advise them how to effectively contribute and work within the team and corporate culture.
Learn to navigate the hybrid workplace. Remote working in the pandemic era has been a net benefit for many legal professionals. But it can also play into conflict. If we can avoid or procrastinate in-person encounters with certain colleagues, any tension in the air is likely to linger.
As a manager, you should be aware of what’s being communicated and be ready to jump in if things get testy. If your workplace is hybrid, don’t let quarrels fester. Bring the two parties together so that you can act as a mediator. If an in-person meeting isn’t feasible, a video call is the next best option, though you won’t be able to read non-verbal cues to the same extent.
Regardless of the setting, remember to listen more than you talk and to set aside any preconceptions about the people involved. Try to end each meeting on a positive note, even if some issues remain unresolved, and send a written summary of the conversation to all parties, so everyone knows where they stand.
Practice what you preach. You can’t expect your team members to value constructive feedback and respect for different opinions if that’s not your own approach in your interactions. Here are some tips for leading a harmonious team:
- If you disagree with one of your legal professionals, be respectful and avoid a dismissive or mocking tone.
- Keep clear of office politics so no one doubts your status as a disinterested party in any dispute.
- Nip rumors in the bud by offering regular updates on any changes to company policies, and be as transparent as you can about job promotion and training opportunities.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously — a little self-deprecating humor can help defuse tensions.
Good conflict management results in a more harmonious team and one that’s also more productive. By helping your employees get along, you’ll also be helping them — and the firm — get ahead.
Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of the legal practice at Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized talent solutions firm. Robert Half offers contract, temporary and permanent placement solutions, and is the parent company of Protiviti®, a global consulting firm. Visit RobertHalf.com.