I am horrible at taking notes. Not just my handwriting, which is admirably atrocious. But the act of taking notes itself. I tend to keep it all in my head, which is silly because I also have a lackluster memory. On more than one occasion, my receptionist has rung through and said they have someone on the phone. I regularly answer with “Who? I’ve never heard of that person,” before Ruby tells me the person is a current client. But lately I’ve gotten much better at this. And I’ve gotten to the bottom of my note-taking weakness.
The Quick Assessment
Many lawyers can identify their weaknesses. A bad memory, poor handwriting, nervousness in court, or some other apparent weakness can plague anyone. It’s easy to identify these weaknesses and come up with a quick solution to solve them. Bad memory? Try writing everything down. Poor handwriting? Just type instead. Nervous in court? Join Toastmasters. But that doesn’t address the “why,” which I’ve found to be helpful in eliminating weaknesses over the long term, and becoming a better lawyer/friend/spouse/person.
For example, I am somewhat messy. When I come home from work I tend to just discard items on chairs, tables, etc. When I moved in with my girlfriend I vowed I would simply stop doing this. Easy, right? Wrong. I didn’t get to the root of the problem, and until I did, the habit recurred in cycles.
Sitting Down with Yourself
If you look at the causes of these weaknesses, it may reveal character traits you didn’t know you had. For example, if you can get to the bottom of not just whether or not you have bad handwriting, but why your handwriting is so bad, and what it says about you, you can turn that weakness into a strength. But more on that in a bit.
I’ll use my example of being messy. I leave things lying around, and put things down in random locations. OK. The easy fix here is to say I’m not going to do it anymore. But if I look at why I do it, I can learn more about myself. I think I do this because I’m impatient and get sidetracked easily. I throw my coat on the dining room chair because I see there is mail that needs to be opened. Or I carry my mug downstairs and put it in the sink because I get distracted by a cat, then forget to put the mug in the dishwasher.
My conclusion is that I’m somewhat impatient and I get distracted. So what? Now that I’m cognizant of this character trait, or potential weakness, I can keep an eye out for it. It becomes a strength. I know that I am impatient, so I take significant steps to notice when I’m acting on my impulses and put a stop to it.
Using the Knowledge
As lawyers, it is our job to see the opponent’s weaknesses. Whether they are counsel’s weaknesses, the holes in the case, the impeachability of the opponent, or any other number of issues, our job is to spot them. Then our job is to exploit them, as necessary, to our client’s advantage.
Now that we have turned the looking glass inward, we can similarly exploit our own weaknesses. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Our strength grows out of our weaknesses.” There are, in my opinion, two ways to do this. You can either become hyper-vigilant about your weaknesses and thus make that your strength, or look at the flip side of your weakness as a strength in and of itself.
In my example above, I became hyper-vigilant about my weakness. I keep an eye out for it and try to squash it at the first sign of emergence. But others believe that within every weakness there lies a strength.
Dave Kerpen, author of Likeable Social Media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible BRand, and Be Generally Amazing on Facebook and Other Social Networks wrote about those associations. According to Kerpen, drawing from David Rendall’s The Freak Factor: Discovering Uniqueness by Flaunting Weakness, there are direct correlations between various traits. He provides a list of apparent weaknesses and coinciding strengths:
1) Disorganized —> Creative
2) Inflexible —> Organized
3) Stubborn —> Dedicated
4) Inconsistent —> Flexible
5) Obnoxious —> Enthusiastic
6) Emotionless —> Calm
7) Shy —> Reflective
8) Irresponsible —> Adventurous
9) Boring —> Responsible
10) Unrealistic —> Positive
11) Negative —> Realistic
12) Intimidating —> Assertive
13) Weak —> Humble
14) Arrogant —> Self-Confident
15) Indecisive —> Patient
16) Impatient —> Passionate
I think some, such as arrogance and self-confidence, are an easy way out. It’s easy to be arrogant and potentially rude to people, then justify it to yourself by saying it’s just your self confidence. Similarly, lawyers need to understand the difference between stubbornness and dedication. The former can keep a deal from closing, while the other can make you a terrific attorney.
The first key is knowledge. With the knowledge of our own traits we can do whatever we want. But to remain blind to our own weaknesses serves nobody.