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Joseph Brewster

BY: Joseph Bryant (Guest Blogger)

As a mediator, you quickly learn that most fights and arguments come down to communication.  I couldn’t tell you how often the better half and I fight over the better-half (Japanese) does not know the meaning of a word and it gets misused. “I get what you are saying and I agree but XYZ actually means…” “I know exactly what I said and I want it to mean this and that is what it means to me…” And the ugliness ensues. It can be rather comical at times.

If you know you are working with someone who may not understand your communication, YOU are the one responsible for getting the message across or else it really comes back to being your own fault for not properly communicating and getting the job done.  As paralegals, we often delegate work to others.  We trust that they will get the delegated work done and get it done right.  It’s kind of hard to imagine a paralegal going back to their boss and saying, “Even though Sally wrote it down correctly, she didn’t get me what I needed, so those pleadings you needed — that I don’t have — It is all Sally’s fault.” Although a paralegal should be more professional than to say something like that, I have certainly heard it.

Middle management frequently blaming their underlings for tasks not done is all too common of an occurrence. On the flip side though, what has happened in our culture??? The youth of today lack motivation and basic communication skills. I wonder if work tasks were made in the form of FaceBook updates, if those youth would better understand what it is that is being asked of them?  All joking aside — it seems that a lack of motivation, on any person’s part, is a huge contributing factor to effective communication.

If your focus is not in making sure that your intern, receptionist, secretary, paralegal or assistant understood your request then chances are that they did not, thus, you won’t get what you are looking for (and sadly enough.. and it may sound mean… but it is your own fault). You chose to delegate to that person and it was your responsibility to make sure the task was done correctly. You could have done it yourself, delegated it to someone else, verbally communicated to make sure they understood what was expected, watched over them to be sure it was done properly, had them shadow you or any number of things.  You get my point.

You need to train your staff, or anyone with whom you are communicating, in the same manner as you would your spouse. No, that doesn’t mean you withhold dinner.  Let me explain.  As marriages develop, people often begin to finish sentences, they know what the other likes, how they like things done, etc.  It is the same in any working relationship. The inherent difference here is that neither of you look at one another as being in a committed “relationship.” If you know your co-worker won’t take the first step, then you need to do it.  It is a relationship, for better or worse.  You may feel, “Why should I be the one to make the first move?” or “It feels like I am caving in to their inadequacies.”  Get that out of your head.  Move past the pettiness.  You can only control your own actions and if you wait for the other person, you may wait forever.  Don’t fault a person for their current level of communication for it is a skill that is developed over time and is different from culture to culture.

Here are some tips for effective communication:
Ask your co-worker to paraphrase things back to you as you delegate them. Not verbatim because that just means they heard it, not understood it.
Delegate in smaller chunks of tasks.
Review more often. Rather than looking through the work product for an hour at a time, do it 4 times throughout the day in 15 minute intervals to make sure they understood what you are expecting of them.
Find ways to encourage them to “own” the project. They need to feel like they have contributed to the project and what they do will have value.  They need to assume some ownership over the task or project.
Be super honest in evaluating them regularly, without being mean, and ask them if there is something else that you can do to make sure they understand the tasks which need to be completed.

I know it seems like I put it back on your shoulders and that newbies and those receiving delegated work shouldn’t be held liable for their own mistakes, but that is partially because it is your responsibility to see things through to completion.  I owned a business for 13 years before I went back to school for legal studies. Each employee had to be trained to understand what I expected of them. If something wasn’t done right, I had the option to fire them or train them. I had to seriously question who failed in getting the task done and why.  I had to seriously question who failed in getting the task done. Did I make sure they knew what I expected of them and if not, was that on my part or theirs?  If it were on me, I had to ask myself, “what should I do about it?”

I am not saying everyone who makes a mistake should get a free pass, but what I am saying is that we need to look at ourselves for a potential failure to communicate and a potential solution.

As an attorney, a paralegal or a business person, you must be prepared to accept full accountability for your subordinates, their successes and failures, and to what you, as their boss, superior or the delegating paralegal, may have contributed.  It has been said that the only reason a person blames someone else for a mistake is because there is only one other option.  Next time, let’s work to turn that “option” into a solution.

As a divorce mediator, Joseph serves as an independent third party to help couples resolve their issues thereby saving them money that otherwise would have been spent in litigation.  He aims to help end the fighting and to turn the marriage relationship into a business relationship.

Joseph Bryant works as a divorce mediator, tax consultant, and virtual paralegal. As a tax consultant, he works with attorneys to explain the tax complications of divorce to their clients especially when children are involved. 8 out of 10 couples are routinely committing tax fraud unknowingly and usually under the advice of their divorce attorneys. He helps lawyers unfamiliar with taxation help their clients keep more of their own money in their tax refunds.

As a virtual paralegal, Joseph works primarily for out-of-town attorneys who need to ease their workload. He does client and witness interviews, retrieves documents, serve process, prepares all kinds of tax documents for the creation and dissolution of a business, prepares interrogatories, requests for production, request for Admissions, as well as assemble returning requests and answers.

Joseph is currently a student at Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana, where he is finishing up his degree in legal studies.  His primary areas of practice are Family Law, Tax Law, Legal Malpractice, Civil Litigation, and Intellectual Property Law.  You can find Joseph on LinkedIn.