By Aurelia Spivey
“The qualities that make women great leaders through times of crisis are also what make them great leaders every day.”
- Shelley Zalis CEO of The Female Quotient and founder of The Equality Lounge
In celebration of Women’s History Month, the LVN Women’s Network is asking why leaders in the legal industry can benefit from adopting feminine leadership and communication styles to advance collaboration between clients and their law firms.
Compassion, humility and collaboration – these are the qualities that female world leaders have demonstrated in responding to the pandemic, according to Shelley Zalis CEO of The Female Quotient and founder of The Equality Lounge, In her article, “In the COVID-19 era, female leaders are shining — Here's why”. Zalis describes how successful women leaders have demonstrated empathy for the personal impact of the pandemic on their constituents, and a preference for collaboration with experts and other leaders in responding to the crisis. Zalis notes that this preference for co-operation is supported by a recent study by Peter Kuhn and Marie Claire Villeval, “Are Women More Attracted to Cooperation Than Men?”
The need for deeper collaboration between law firms and their clients remains a recuring theme in legal industry commentary. As we have moved through the COVID-19 pandemic, allied business professionals have been advising their lawyers to pick up the phone and ask what they can do to help their clients in these uncertain times. Clients have been receptive to this compassionate approach but there is more work to be done in encouraging empathy between law firms and their clients. Developing an understanding and encouraging the adoption of a feminine communication approach could forge a pathway to greater collaboration.
What is a feminine communication style?
According to experts the key strengths of the feminine communication style include - the ability to read body language and pick-up nonverbal cues; good listening skills and effective display of empathy. These qualities “give women have the edge in collaborative environments where listening skills, inclusive body language and empathy are more highly valued.”
Susan Freeman, CEO & Founder of The Conscious Inclusion Company and advocate for advancing gender equality in the legal industry, further describes the link between feminine communication and successful collaboration - “Women seek feedback, build rapport, ask more open-ended questions and seek to understand. Their communication style is more collaborative, and they better interpret nonverbal cues. In an industry where clients are looking for deeper collaboration, research suggests that a feminine communication style could advance this goal.”
It is important to remember that when we talk about feminine leadership and communication styles that these tools are available to both men and women. Everyone can learn to adopt a feminine communication style to bring more collaboration and compassion to the discussion.
How can we operationalize empathy in the legal industry?
A 2014 study, “The Future of Leadership Communication is More “Feminine” found that “It is key actions around honesty, transparency and collaboration – not just key messages – that matter most. This is seen acutely in crisis situations, when it is critical to offer practical, accountable solutions that match words and deeds, while operationalizing empathy rather simply showing empathy for its own sake.”
In our role as allied business professionals, we are already attuned to a more feminine approach to communication – we are attentive listeners, ask thought provoking questions and seek collaborative solutions. We need to draw on these skills as we engage with clients to bridge the perception gaps identified in the Inaugural Legal Pricing and Project Management Survey.
On a recent LVN webinar, “What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate” panelists shared advice for law firms looking to collaborate more effectively with clients around matter scoping. Many of these comments encapsulated the elements of the feminine communication style - Ask good, probing, open-ended questions, be a good listener – and engage with all stakeholders at the client and law firm.
We can advance the development of these skills in our own teams and across our firms by:
Building Diverse Teams: We all have biases which makes it important to proactively recruit for diversity in our own teams and draw on the diversity of thought across our law firms. LVN is founded on the principle that by working outside of our silos we will deliver better value to the legal industry.
Focusing on Active Listening: Listening is a skill. We can all benefit from refreshing our listening skills. Notice whether in conversation you are waiting for an opportunity to present your thoughts rather than paying attention to what is being said. Practice the art of reflection “this is what I heard…does that sound right to you?”
Expanding your Empathy Quotient: Empathy starts with you. Developing greater self-awareness leads to increased compassion for colleagues and clients. A deeper sense of compassion is at the core of feminine communication skills needed to advance collaboration.
“In an industry where there remains a large disconnect between law firms and their clients, we believe that placing a greater emphasis on adopting a feminine communication approach, will drive collaboration. In the end business models, pricing pressure and process innovation aside, people remain the key to successful progress.” Purvi Sanghvi, LVN Women’s Network Chair and Director Strategic Pricing at Paul Hastings.
Join the LVN Women’s Network on Monday, March 29th at 5 pm ET to connect and share what feminine leadership means to you. Register at LVN Events.