Article: Mastering Core Work Traits

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What does it take to be good at your job? There are classes, certificates, and trainings for nearly every skill we use in our jobs, but underneath all of those abilities, there are some core traits that we can hone. As we face projects, in addition to focusing on the minutiae of the task, take some time to reflect on the traits you have that will help you succeed.

Humility – We often think of humility as being meek or submissive, but the secret to humility is knowing how much space to take up in a room, conversation, or project. There will be times when your practice of humility means being open to suggestions and directions. At other times your humility will mean speaking up, honoring your experience and knowledge, and sharing your thoughts. 

Build your trait: Start by examining your interactions with other people. When assigned a project, how much space do you naturally take up? Do you step in and take the lead or wait for someone to instruct you? If you lean towards too much humility, it is time to speak up. Try to list your strengths and skills. What areas do you have expertise, in either subject matter or task? If you lean towards too little humility, try to reflect on the skills of your coworkers. Where do they excel and what can you do to support their growth? Take time on your next project to ask yourself who else can take up some space. Ask for input from team members to identify other people’s strengths, weaknesses, and interests. 

Impact: The trait of humility gives your coworkers and clients a moment to not only be heard but to shine. The act of courtesy by listening and inviting input can give the people around you greater ownership of the end result and more thorough participation at every stage of a project.

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”– Rick Warren

Patience– Being patient does not mean that you are unaffected by events, but that you can bear uncomfortable emotions and situations without immediately reacting. Be it a coworker, client, or judge, we often face difficult and stressful situations. You can control your reaction by slowing down and focusing on your core behaviors and values. This is not to say that you should ignore something that you know to be wrong, but you should allow patience to help you slow down, focus on the problem, and create a plan for change. 

Build your trait: Hostage negotiators often recommend that intense situations, your goal should be to slow things down. As difficult moments arise, focus first on slowing your reaction to them. There may be a client or coworker who brings out strong emotions in you. Rather than trying to stop the emotion in its track, ask yourself how you can slow your response and maybe come at the situation with a cooler head. Take time to breathe. List tasks that you need to accomplish so you can keep your focus on the project as a whole rather than just your frustration, anger, or other strong emotion.

Impact: Patience in the workplace gives you more time to focus on the problem at hand without the distraction of your own impulsive responses. 

 “The strongest of all warriors are these two – time and patience.” – Leo Tolstoy

Enthusiasm – What is the difference between doing a task begrudgingly and doing a task with enthusiasm? What impact can your enthusiasm have on your coworkers and clients? Somewhere between laziness and rashness there lies a perfect balance of enthusiasm. This trait reminds us that we can find pleasure and spread joy by taking time to enjoy our tasks. 

Build your trait: When starting any project, large or small, take time to reflect on which parts of this project brings you joy. It can be in the satisfaction of doing a task well, the pleasure in helping someone else, or even the simple joy of being done with an unpleasant task. When making your to-do list, put stars next to your favorite parts. Tell someone else about your enjoyment or enthusiasm. “That was a great project” or “I was happy to help” lets people know what parts you enjoy and can help improve morale at any workplace.

Impact: Enthusiasm can be contagious, spreading light in the workplace and giving all members of the team an understanding of the benefits you are bringing to clients and coworkers.

“There is real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment.”– Norman Vincent Peale

Empathy– While some argue that law should be free from passion, we know that the practice of law involves a great many passions. Regardless of the type of law you practice, we are all working to help our clients and coworkers seek justice. Some of our most compassionate work can start by listening with an open heart and mind. Hear not just the words, but the emotions, and focus your energy on helping the whole person. 

Build your trait: Many times, the first step to building empathy is being able to put aside your own feelings while listening to another’s. Listening is a multi-sensory experience. Listen with your ears, what are they saying; listen with your eyes, how are they holding their body; listen with your heart, what are the feelings at the core of their message. Once you have heard the problem and the feelings, it is time to validate the other person’s experience. Try phrases like, “This sounds like a difficult problem,” or “I imagine this is frustrating.” Finally, be flexible in your response. You may need to simply solve the immediate problem, while other times you may need to address the underlying feelings. It is possible that the person you are talking to simply needs to feel heard and acknowledged. Empathy can help guide you to solve the holistic problem rather than simply completing a task.

Impact: By offering empathy, people may feel more fully heard and can bring greater focus to solutions rather than feeling the frustration of being ignored, misunderstood, or slighted.

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”– Theodore Roosevelt

Order– There are some days when it feels like the biggest task of a paralegal may be bringing order to a chaotic world. Whether it is organizing files, reading local rules, formatting a document, or taking notes, you can infuse your day with positivity by focusing on the order you are able to bring to your work. As with all of the traits above, there is a balancing that must occur. Order need not be inflexible and rigid; it is one of many tools you have at your command to help serve our larger goals. 

Build your trait: Take time to reflect on how order can help your work and coworkers. Does it bring peace to a chaotic situation? Does it make the workflow easier? By focusing on the benefits of order, you can approach the task with greater clarity. Writing lists of tasks along with the goals for each task can help you focus on order. Share your lists of tasks and goals with team members and ask for input. Regularly update lists of tasks so that all members are aware of what needs to be accomplished and on what time frame. Take time every week to review your list and see if it captures everything that needs to be accomplished. When a task has been accomplished, keep it on the list so you can be aware of how much progress has been made in addition to what still needs to be done.

Impact: Order can be a powerful tool to help an entire team work together smoothly. Order can also be a way to reassure clients that their matter is being handled professionally.

“Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered.”– José Saramago

Focusing on Essential Traits – This can be a lot to tackle at once. If you want to start building your core traits, take it slow. Pick a new trait each week on which to focus. Try any of the strategies below to hone your trait of choice.

  • Put a post-it note on your desk or computer with a simple phrase that you can come back to. You can use the quotes above or even google for other quotes about the trait of the week. 
  • As you write your to-do list, write down the traits required for each task. When you are tackling a task that uses your trait of the week, take a moment at the beginning and end of the task to acknowledge the trait and reflect on how it helped you succeed.
  • Start a journal at home where you reflect on how you experienced and practiced your trait during the day. This does not have to be an extensive writing exercise. Give yourself permission to write as much or little as you need to help you.
  • Take a few moments during the day to meditate on your selected trait. Mediation has been specifically shown to help increase skills like empathy and patience.
  • Talk about your goals. Sometimes stating your intentions out loud can help bring focus to your work as well as help you recognize your growing skills.
     
    KatherineTribbett.png Kate Tribbett has worked as a paralegal for the U.S. Department of Justice for 12 years. She has a Masters in Library and Information Sciences from San Jose State University and a Certificate of Judaic Studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She lives in Lakewood, CO. She can be reached at katherine.tribbett@usdoj.gov