As a successful female lawyer, you will run into people who do not like you and talk bad about you. You will hear from moms who criticize your parenting, attorneys who disparage your legal work, online reviews that attack your image, a mother-in-law who doesn’t understand you. Women at the top rarely discuss these H8TERS, but struggle internally with them. Below are eight proven methods to keep the sparkle in your eyes without losing sleep.
8. Dive into the wreck and salvage the positive.
Sometimes people mean to be hateful or obnoxious; sometimes people have just never learned to disagree in an appropriate and constructive manner. It’s important to know the difference. Take a moment, take a step back, and look at what is being said from an objective perspective. Is there something to learn from what is being said, however inartfully the point is being expressed? If so, turn the criticism into a positive and “delete” the rest.
7. Delete it from your internal hard drive ASAP.
The tendency to hold onto negative criticism is natural for most people, but, if the message contains nothing positive, then “delete” it all together. Sometimes this is as easy as deleting an e-mail. Sometimes it requires limiting your interactions with the H8TER as much as possible. If it’s someone you work with all of the time, for example, well, they don’t have to be your best friend; stick to the task you have to accomplish with them and move on. For some people, hate and anger and bitterness last for years. Don’t keep that hate in your metaphorical “inbox,” don’t “archive” it to look at it later, “delete” it as soon as possible and move on.
6. No one says you can’t cry (briefly and in private), but then you must get back into the sandbox.
In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg discusses the importance of learning to take criticism. The cost of speaking your mind and putting yourself “out there” means that people will disagree with or may even be offended by you. It’s okay to react emotionally, privately or with a trusted confidant, but you must limit this emotional reaction. Have it and then quickly move on. Sandberg uses children as an example. As any mother of a toddler knows, a toddler can be in the throes of a crying fit one minute, and the next can pick herself up again and run off and play as if nothing was ever wrong. You can’t internalize the hate—you can talk about it with a friend and then move on, quickly. Get right back into the sandbox, and get ready for the next challenge.
5. When to fight:
If your personal or business reputation is the target of misinformation, you’ll have no choice but to engage the H8TER and set the speaker straight. Often, however, we hear about these hateful comments second- or third-hand rather than from the source of the problem. This is especially true in business, where H8TERS might see you as a rival. In this instance, correct the speaker on anything that might be particularly damaging or untruthful to you personally or to your business reputation, and, if possible, simply downplay the comments. Online, you can reply once in a comment and then work to build positive reviews and comments.
4. Know when resistance is futile; try not to escalate the situation.
Often it is easy to refute the things H8TERS have to say with actual facts. Just as often, however, resistance only serves to escalate the problem.
A few years ago, I had a particularly bullying opposing counsel suddenly appear in a case that had been going on for many years. The case had been dismissed by the district court and reinstated on appeal. Now, years after the litigation was initiated, we were finally engaged in discovery planning. Everything I said, every proposal I made, no matter how reasonable, concerning the electronic discovery method and timetable going forward was automatically shot down by this new opposing counsel, who was just combative. Everything was a fight to this man. After a few failed phone conferences and some nasty e-mails, I stopped attempting to negotiate a discovery plan with Mr. Combat. Rather, I waited until the discovery conference with the district court judge, where I planned to lay out the e-discovery plan my client proposed, and wait for Mr. Combat to blow his top. This is exactly what happened. At one point I calmly asked Mr. Combat to “Please, stop screaming at me.” He screamed back, “I am not screaming at you.” The judge interjected, “Yes, you are screaming, and I am asking you to stop, too.” The judge then gave my client every discovery date they asked for, and extended the deadline another nine months past the deadline Mr. Combat wanted. By refusing to refute opposing counsel, by refusing to engage on his level, by refusing a fight after it became clear that he was not a man with whom I could reason, I won my client what it wanted in the end.
3. Kill them (with kindness).
Some religions say you should show compassion to your enemies. I don’t know about that, but I do know that being kind to them can make them extremely uncomfortable. Again, the problem with H8TERS is that most of them don’t have the courage to actually say something hateful, cruel or obnoxious to your face. In response to the H8TER, it is often advisable to kill them with kindness, never let them know what you know, and your kind behavior will, usually, make them think poorly of themselves and their bad behavior towards you. Let your good behavior be the mirror reflecting their own bad behavior back at them.
2. You can’t make everyone happy all of the time.
You must accept that being a decision maker means that you will also have to be the bearer of “bad” news every once in a while—sometimes more often. You will have to give an employee negative feedback. You will have to tell your clients things they don’t want to hear—client is liable, client was negligent, client breached a contract, client was in the wrong, client is somehow out of the money. This might result in a day or two of sore feelings, but as the lawyer, you can’t let your fear of these bad feelings hold you back from being the leader, the decision maker who employees or clients expect you to be.
1. Just do more of what they hate. “Don’t believe me just watch!”
Ultimately, you have to make the choices that are right for you. People will criticize you either way. Popular business author and blogger James Altucher has written about what he calls the “30/30/30 Rule,” which stands for the proposition that no matter what you do, one-third will love you for it; one-third will hate you for it; and one-third won’t care either way. If this holds true, then no matter what you do, 30 % of those involved won’t be happy with your choice. The best way to silence H8TERS is to just do more and more of the same, more of what you (hopefully) love doing, and let the negative third watch from the sidelines where they belong as your successes pile up. Play some Uptown Funk and think of a favorite quote from an unknown author, “Dear Haters, Just wait. I have so much more for you to be mad about.”
About the Author
Jeana L. Goosmann is the founder, CEO and managing partner of Goosmann Law Firm in Sioux City, IA. Contact Jeana on Twitter @JeanaAtGLF.