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It makes sense. If someone is rude to you, you might become grumpy and be rude in response, or rude to those who cross your path in the wake of the mistreatment. You may think of this as a small issue but new research shows us that rude behaviors are actually harmful—and, in fact, as harmful as other negative but illegal behaviors such as harassment or discrimination. This is not really a new finding as it’s been around since the initial introduction to workplace incivility. Some would say that workplace rudeness and workplace incivility cause the “death of a thousand cuts” and we would not disagree. While not fatal in and of themselves, the cumulative effect results in much distress. And if distress isn’t enough to promote change, it also produces job dissatisfaction, decreased productivity, and employee turnover. It’s about feelings, and it’s about money.

Today’s researchers wanted to figure out if rudeness in the workplace was contagious—much like the common cold. So they conducted three separate studies to explore this question.

In Study 1, the participants were 90 graduate students (average age 25; 65% White and 62% male) enrolled in a 7-week negotiation course. Over the duration of the course, students met weekly and were paired with up to 16 different classmates to practice various negotiation exercises. Following each negotiation exercise, participants completed an online questionnaire about their experience with the fellow student.

The researchers found that when the participant felt they’d been treated rudely by a negotiation partner, their own behavior toward future negotiation partners deteriorated. In other words—the rudeness contagion can occur on the basis of a single encounter.

For Study 2, the researchers wanted to see if being treated rudely would result in what they refer to as “activation of the associative network” for rudeness. Participants were 47 undergraduates (average age 20.35; 57% female; 68% White, 16% Hispanic, 8% Asian, and 4% African-American) enrolled in a management course. Participants arrived at the experiment in groups of six and first completed a personality questionnaire. That really was just a way to kill time though as the researchers were really more interested in what would happen after the “rudeness manipulation”.

After the 6 participants had all completed the personality questionnaire, there was a knock at the door of the experiment room and someone arriving late. The investigator was either rude to the late arrival (“I don’t know how you expect to hold any sort of job in the real world with this type of behavior but it’s too late for you now”) or not rude (“Email me later and we’ll see if we can find another session to get you in”). Then the real experiment began: participants did word identification tasks where they were asked to identify the category for each word (i.e., a rude word, a noontide word, an aggressive word, or not a word at all).

Individuals who’d seen the experimenter behave rudely responded to categorize the rude words more quickly than individuals who’d seen the experimenter behave politely. The researchers say that in this sort of task, a faster response time to rudeness words only means the concept of rudeness was activated by the experimenter’s rude behavior.

In Study 3, 147 undergraduate students in a management course (age range from 18 to 54 with a median age of 20; 68.5% White, 6.8% African American, 13.7% Hispanic, 7.5% Asian, and 3.4% “other”) were asked to participate in a study involving rudeness in the workplace. Participants were divided into groups and first saw videos of either an employee acting rudely (or politely) to a fellow employee. In the second stage, they saw emails of a customer addressing an employee rudely (or neutrally, or aggressively). After they had seen the videos and emails, participants were asked to decide how to divide up a reward for participation between themselves and a customer who’d expressed concerns (rudely, neutrally, or aggressively).

The results were similar to Study 2. Participants who saw the rude employee were more likely to not share resources equally with the customer whose email they’d seen. In other words, rudeness not only is contagious but also results in negative behavior from the person who was rudely treated.

Overall, the researchers conclude that rudeness is indeed contagious and that the contagion can result from a single exposure. Further, the contagion is not just about being verbally rude but can result in rude behaviors as well. The researchers recommend that workplaces pay attention to the “impact of low-intensity negative behaviors” like rudeness (or incivility). They believe that if these low-impact behaviors (e.g., rudeness and incivility) are not curtailed in the workplace, they will spiral into “higher-impact behaviors” with negative consequences (although employees may not understand the source of their rude behavior and may be unable to stop themselves from passing it on). The implication of this is that it can create a cascade of negative behavior, and result in a negative work culture that undermines job satisfaction and cooperation.

It’s an interesting study when considering the current-day law firm (or any organizational setting). While there are laws against harassment and discrimination, there are no laws against being rude or uncivil and many organizations simply tolerate rude behavior with a shrug of “that is just how that person behaves”. Yet, this research says that allowing rude behavior to remain in your workplace heightens the probability that you will see rude and otherwise inappropriate behaviors escalate until they potentially reach legal liability level. Unlike ten years ago, we now have tools to teach workplace managers so a workplace absent-rudeness can be achieved. It’s a worthwhile goal. For both worker happiness and the bottom line.

Foulk, T., Woolum, A., & Erez, A. (2015). Catching Rudeness Is Like Catching a Cold: The Contagion Effects of Low-Intensity Negative Behaviors. Journal of Applied Psychology DOI: 10.1037/apl0000037

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narcissist 2015We’ve written about narcissists a fair amount here and today’s post shows us that the brains of narcissists are indeed very special—but not in a good way since they have “weakened frontostriatal connectivity”.  But you probably knew that already. It’s a sort of neural disconnect, say the authors, between the self and reward. That disconnect may lead the narcissist to seek excessive reassurance from others.

Researchers from the University of Kentucky at Lexington recruited 50 undergraduate students and asked them to complete the Narcissistic Personality Index. Then they completed a specialized form of MRI with the participants: diffusion tensor imaging (a tool to measure the amount of connectivity between different brain areas). A very simplistic explanation of the technology is that it produces a spiderweb-like visualization of connections between different areas of the brain—you can literally see how much various parts of the brain are communicating.

The researchers were especially interested in an area known as the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) which is associated with thinking about ourselves, and a second and deeper region of the brain that is associated with reward and feeling good (the ventral striatum).

Even more specifically, they were interested in what they call “the density of the white matter tracts” between the two areas. The “white matter density” would highlight the level of connectivity between these areas of the brain—or, in other words, it would tell us how much these two areas of the brain are talking to each other. How often is the individual experiencing reward and feeling good about themselves?

So, the participants who have completed a measure of narcissism are lying in the MRI machine and having the number of connections between these two areas of the brain measured. Narcissists would say they have very high self-esteem and if that were true, they would have a high number of connections between these two parts of the brain since someone with high self-esteem would internally say nice things about themselves often.

Alas for the narcissists, the specialized brain scan did not show they had strong self-esteem. Instead, the higher the participants scored on the narcissism measure, the fewer connections they had between these two areas of the brain.

The researchers considered the finding and concluded that they see this as indicative of an “internal deficit in self-reward connectivity” in narcissists. In other words, if the narcissist is not having many rewarding thoughts or feelings about the self, they may seek out praise and admiration from others. Finally, the researchers suggest that the brain’s white matter can be modified: “clinical interventions can readily alter white matter integrity”. This fact, they say, suggests another way for narcissists to feel better on their own: repeated self-affirmations. This could help the narcissist refrain from what the researchers describe as characteristic “exhibitionism and immodesty”.

While intellectually interesting, from a litigation advocacy standpoint, we don’t think anyone will be putting neural evidence of neediness on the witness stand soon. But this study still points out an important reality: narcissism may indicate neediness.

Understand what to do when faced with a narcissist (in this case, the narcissistic witness).

Draw out the narcissist in cross-examination by asking for a sharing of expertise. Let jurors see how self-involved and arrogant the narcissist is when unscripted.

Use this understanding (of narcissistic neediness) to help you interact without rancor with a narcissistic colleague, client, or supervisor.

Chester, DS Lynam, DR Powell, DK DeWall, CN 2015 Narcissism is associated with weakened frontostriatal connectivity: a DTI study. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

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good people bad thingsHere’s a really easy solution to our tendency to sometimes do bad things: be aware of the temptation and think of the longterm consequences of the behavior. It’s a simple answer to a vexing problem that has been with us for millennia.

Researchers wanted to see how identifying an ethical conflict and considering the long-term consequences might shape behavior and so designed a series of studies to test the question. The result is a straight-forward recommendation to do what Mom would have told you to do (if only you would have listened!).

In the first experiment, students in a master’s level business program were split into pairs and then asked to either be a broker for the buyer or a broker for a seller in a real estate transaction. There was a built-in conflict between the two since the seller wanted to preserve the property and the buyer wanted to tear it down and build a hotel. Those who were brokers for the seller were told to only sell to someone who would save the brownstone and brokers for the purchaser were told to conceal the buyer’s plan to build a hotel and tear down the existing brownstone. Before the negotiations began though, half the participants were asked to remember a time they’d cheated or bent the rules to get ahead.

Sure enough, only 45% of those who thought about past bad behavior behaved unethically in negotiations while 67% of those who were not reminded of past transgressions lied in order to close the deal.

In another set of experiments, participants were asked about whether it was okay to steal office supplies, call in sick when they were not really sick, or intentionally slow down work progress to avoid additional tasks. Again, half of the participants were asked to do a pre-task writing exercise where they considered an ethical dilemma.

You guessed it. Those who thought ahead of time about an ethical dilemma were less likely to think these common occurrences were acceptable.

The researchers summarize their results by saying that those who wish to promote more ethical behavior may want to help others become aware of the accumulated impact of unethical acts (for the individual and society) and offer warning cues for upcoming temptation.

We tend to see this work as related to all the work done on how we behave better when we think we are being watched or monitored, and one of our very favorite courtroom strategies. Most of us want to behave in ways that show our best selves. This research points both to a simple way to increase the likelihood of that happening and a way to consider questioning the witness who behaved unethically.

As a trial strategy, you hope jurors associate your trial story and your client with that “high road”. But what this research makes clear is that you increase the likelihood of them making that connection when witnesses speak about their awareness of ethics, of right and wrong. A wise guy once said, “Always take the high road–it’s never crowded.” There are ways to connect your case align with those higher values.

Sheldon OJ, & Fishbach A (2015). Anticipating and Resisting the Temptation to Behave Unethically. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 41 (7), 962-75 PMID: 26001580

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A new issue of The Jury Expert 

Monday, June 29, 2015
posted by Rita Handrich

TJE_logoWe try to post the Table of Contents for new issues of The Jury Expert here when it publishes and there is a new issue up now. Here’s what you’ll see if you visit.

Does Deposition Video Camera Angle Affect Witness Credibility?

by Chris Dominic, Jeffrey Jarman, and Jonathan Lytle–all of Tsongas Consulting. Many of us have had spirited discussions about how the angle of the camera in deposition affects the impression of witness credibility. We all have strong ideas and sound reasons behind those ideas. These authors had the same sort of discussions but actually did research on it so you could benefit from this knowledge as well.

Looks Like Science, Must be True! Graphs and the Halo of Scientific Truth

by Aner Tal from Cornell with responses from visual evidence specialists Jason Barnes and Karyn Taylor. Ever wonder just how much difference there is in how persuasive charts and graphs are in the courtroom? This researcher looked at whether a simple (very simple) graph with no bells and whistles would be more persuasive to triers of fact. You will find the results odd and somewhat unsettling. Jason Barnes and Karyn Taylor respond with their perspective on making visual evidence compelling.

Jury Instructions: Work In Progress

by Steven Perkel and Benjamin Perkel, both of Perkel and Associates. The question of plain language jury instructions has been around for a while but we wanted to bring you the most recent findings and thoughts on making jury instructions easier for jurors to understand and interpret.

“Soft” vs. “Hard” Psychological Science in the Courtroom

The terms “soft science” and “hard science” are commonly applied to different scientific disciplines, and scientists have investigated and theorized about features that apply when placing scientific disciplines on a soft-hard continuum. In the minds of laypeople, however, the difference may lie in the more simple perceptions of different scientific disciplines. The very words themselves, “soft” and “hard”, may hint at different reputations. Soft sciences are fuzzy and less rigid, suggesting lower reliability, validity, and rigor than hard sciences possess.

Favorite Thing: The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Here’s another favorite thing and this one is all about research being done (both brain and biological) that touches on ethical issues we need to understand.

Using The Other Side’s Strikes: Regulating The Information Flow To Steer Your Opponent In Voir Dire

by Roy Futterman of DOAR. Jury selection is a strategic activity that requires you to imagine how the other side will react. This author suggests you take that imagination a step further by behaving strategically to get opposing counsel to strike jurors you want them to strike–effectively giving you twice the number of strikes when you are successful. How could you not read this one?!

Loyalty, Longevity and Leadership: A Multigenerational Workforce Update

by Doug Keene and Rita Handrich, both of Keene Trial Consulting. Recently we were asked to conduct research on whether jurors of different generations responded to case themes differently. In preparation for this, we updated the generational research completed in the past few years. This article summarizes what we learned about the “real” (as opposed to anecdotal) differences between generations and how you can use a sensible approach to managing your own multigenerational office.

Top 10 Most Widely Read Jury Expert Articles Since 2011! 

Every year we have been giving you a list of the top ten articles on The Jury Expert’s website for the past year. We thought we would also show you our top ten most highly trafficked articles since we began to publish online. It’s an interesting list with some of what readers say is our best work. Don’t miss it!

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multigenerational-householdsWe’ve done a lot of literature review on generations and written papers summarized here and published in The Jury Expert. And it’s time for a new paper! Recently, we were asked to do some work on sorting out if (and how) the generations respond differently to fact patterns in litigation, And, as part of preparing for that research, we took a look at research published since we last wrote a literature review on generations at work. The article described here is the result of that pre-project preparation.

As we prepared for the mock trial research with mock jurors of varying generations, our client said, “50 year old GenXers?”.It’s hard to believe GenXers are really that old, but do the math—time has continued its inexorable march. Do that math a few more times and you will see the oldest Millennials are in their early thirties and the oldest Boomers are turning 70! It is easy to lose track of the passage of time and many of us tend to retain our outdated impressions of younger generations frozen in time. But they are growing older (just like we are) and changing as they mature. It’s imperative that we all keep our internal stereotypes up-to-date with reality in order to not be left behind with an outdated vision of who will come to interviews or even serve on our juries.

We wrote this paper for law firms trying to sort out management of the multigenerational workplace. There is fascinating research being done in this area and much of it can be translated into clear and behavioral steps to be taught to your managers and employees in general. This article discusses some recently found “real differences” between the three generations in the workplace (i.e., Boomer, GenXer, Millennial) identified in large sample size and global studies of individuals. If you enjoy learning about the latest research on generations and want to know more about making your workplace function more efficiently and respectfully—we hope you’ll read our latest article Loyalty, Longevity and Leadership in The Jury Expert.

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