How good are your soft skills? Put yourself to the test
5 September 2007
You may believe that having finished law school you are now ready to get stuck into your new career as a solicitor. But are you sure that during your studies you developed all the skills you will need to become a successful lawyer?
Have you thought, for example, about how you are going to behave in the office and what rules you should follow when dealing with partners, assistants, other trainees and clients? Every senior lawyer will tell you that the ability to deal with people effectively and politely (also known as soft skills) are just as important as, if not more than, technical skills.
So have a go at the following test to see whether you need to improve your soft skills.
Showing confidence to partners
You are discussing a case with a partner in their office and the telephone rings. The partner answers the phone and starts talking with the caller, without giving you any indication as to whether the call will be long. What should you do?
A) Attract the partner’s attention with a gesture and query whether you should go and come back later.
B) Try to make eye contact with the partner and query whether you should go and come back later.
C) Remain where you are and show that youre interested in the call.
D) Remain where you are and start pretending to review your papers and notes so as to show that you have something to do while he is speaking.
Correct answer: D
You should always give a partner a sense of privacy if they are on the phone with someone in respect of a matter that does not concern you. Do not show any annoyance or impatience about the interruption and do not offer to leave the office and come back later. If the partner anticipates that it will be a long call, they will politely ask you to come back later.
Speaking at meetings
You have been invited to attend a meeting together with two colleagues from your firm who are more senior than you. The meeting is at the offices of a new client of your firm. It is an introductory meeting and is attended by two representatives from the new client. The purpose of the meeting is to have an initial discussion about a matter on which you do not know much but are not completely ignorant either. When and how much should you speak at the meeting?
A) You should speak as soon as possible from the start of the meeting and speak again now and then even if just to ask questions.
B) You should only speak if invited to. The more senior colleagues from your firm are supposed to do most of the talking and can certainly speak with more authority and experience than you.
Correct answer: A
There is one single truth you should bear in mind when attending a meeting with a client: the sooner you speak and the more you speak, the more credible you will appear in the eyes of the client. If you do not speak early at a meeting, you could give the impression of not being actively participating or that you lack importance. When you attend a meeting try to be among the first two or three people to speak and to speak again now and then every ten minutes or so, even if just to ask questions and show that you are actively participating. You do not always have to say anything particularly meaningful but make sure that you do not appear to like the sound of your own voice.
You have come to realise over the years that eye contact is one of the most important communication tools when dealing with people and that maintaining good eye contact during a conversation shows respect and interest in what the other person has to say and gives them a feeling of sincerity and friendliness on your part. But how much eye contact should you maintain when talking to people in a business environment?
A) You should keep continuous eye contact during a business conversation. If you dont, you will appear evasive or disinterested in what the other person is saying.
B) You should maintain eye contact around 60-70 per cent of the time. This is how much people generally maintain eye contact during a business conversation.
C) You should make eye contact now and again during the conversation but no more that 20-30 per cent of the time. More than this might cause discomfort in the other person considering that youre business acquaintances and not friends.
Correct answer: B
It has been observed that in the UK people tend to keep eye contact in a business conversation around 60-70 per cent of the time. You should follow this custom. Doing it more than that could cause discomfort or anxiety in the person you are talking to and could create tension. Try to avoid eye contact during long silences and avoid continuous eye contact, which might be taken as a sign of insincerity or even lying on your part. As an alternative to eyeball-to-eyeball gazing, you may wish to keep your gaze generally into the lower part of the face of the person you are talking to, that is just below their eyes. This is sometimes called intimate gaze. Intimate gaze is perfectly friendly and less intimidating in a business context than full eye contact and particularly appropriate if you wish to use eye contact to underline an important point while talking.
The cab you called to take you and two senior lawyers from your firm to a meeting has just arrived. As you approach the cab, you wonder who among your party should enter the car first and where you should sit.
A) You should invite colleagues to enter the cab first and let them choose the seat that they prefer.
B) Since you called the cab, you should enter first and sit behind the driver so that you can easily give them instructions.
C) There are no rules of etiquette governing this situation. You shouldnt worry about who should enter the car first and where you should sit.
Correct answer: B
Proper etiquette requires that the host should enter the vehicle first so that guests do not have to slide across the seat and the host can easily give instructions to the driver. If no formal host/guest relationship exists (as in the example above), the more junior person should enter the cab first and slide over followed by the more senior persons or the clients. The preferred passenger seat in a car, which should be reserved for the most senior person or the client, is the rear seat on the passenger side. You should therefore invite your senior colleague or client to sit there, while you sit next to them on the driver side of the rear seat. But if access to the rear seat is only from one side, you should never have your colleague or client slide over. The host or more junior person should also be the last passenger to leave the vehicle and be responsible for paying the driver.
You have arrived at the offices of your client and are asked by reception to sit in the entrance hall while someone from your client comes to pick you up. You wonder whether you should keep your coat on or take it off while you are waiting.
A) Keep it on.
B) Take it off.
Correct Answer: B
Proper etiquette requires you to take your overcoat off as soon as you enter an office building. Once removed, you may wish to carry your overcoat over the left arm so as to keep your right hand free for when you will shake hands with the person you are visiting.
Giuseppe Giusti is a solicitor and author of Soft Skills for Lawyers