Small Piece of Advice for Associates: Be Coachable

By William Peacock, Esq. on July 01, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

One of my friends is on a recreational volleyball team, a team that isn't very good. They have a couple of good athletes, a lot of mediocrity, and one guy that really, really annoys his teammates. Why? Every time they suggest an adjustment, such as moving closer to the net, he seems receptive but returns to his flawed play immediately. He's uncoachable.

Another friend has a similar situation: someone she hired, and now supervises, is one of those people that is repeatedly corrected, yet seems to be incapable of adjusting and fixing her constant minor errors. She's apparently a great co-worker, but just isn't detail oriented or coachable.

If you want to be a standout associate, one way to do so is to simply be coachable: seek feedback and actually act on it.

Key 1: Active Listening

This might be the toughest part for most lawyers. We're argumentative by nature, so when a co-worker or partner is providing feedback, our brains naturally are reaching for an excuse or a rebuttal. Instead, listen to what that person is saying, and try to understand why they are saying it. What mistakes led to all of that red ink on the page? What can you do to avoid repeating the mistake.

Key 2: Take Action

You've got a full docket: memos to write, hours to bill, research to do. But there is nothing more frustrating to a higher up than someone who gets feedback and does nothing about it -- the person who repeats his mistakes over and over again.

Take the feedback. Outline steps to fix the problem. And if you can't figure out how to fix the problem, ask the person who provided the criticism for additional input. Here's another well known trick: asking the person for a favor, in the form of helping you fix your research/writing/billing/whatever issue, may make them like you more -- it's the Benjamin Franklin effect.

You're going to hear a lot of advice on how to be a great summer or full-time associate: don't get drunk at office parties, avoid or exploit office gossip, solicit feedback, etc. But one thing that will make you stand out is to take feedback and put it in to action. Make adjustments daily, try not to make repeat mistakes, and try to get a little better each day, rather than going through the motions.

People love an All-Star, but just as enticing is the prospect who constantly improves and has the potential to become an All-Star. Teammates are invested in the prospect because they've helped that person develop.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard