Dissonance as positive force
I was only unnerved because I watched the doctor’s face as he delivered the news. Normally clinically impassive, his increased speaking cadence, wide eyes and general look of dismay signaled that we were about to embark on a scary adventure through the labyrinth of medicine.
After that brief glimpse into the true state of affairs, he recovered his calm, affable demeanor and led us through several days of intensity, with everyone emerging unscathed in the end. From the patient’s side, we were glad that the doctor’s usually unflappable dissonance was back: We wanted him to present as unfazed, no matter the concern roiling his brain. Lawyers need to be equally dissonant in order to be effective advocates and counselors for their clients.
People walk into my office, call me, email me, text me when they have issues but they might as well be sending smoke signals for all of the fire that they possess in those moments. Often, the laments that they have about their predicaments are enough to get me heated as well. But, if I reflect their vitriol, feed it, get subsumed by it, then I am not doing my job correctly. I must be dispassionate, analytical, inquisitive.
Off on a tirade, I would run the risk of missing information or an idea that is critical to the evaluation. Further, it is dangerous to adopt a client’s viewpoint too early in a matter; an attorney should have healthy skepticism, which allows for true impartiality in reviewing a given matter. That is not to say that I act as an automaton; I need to be sensitive, receptive, human. It is a fine balance and an ever-shifting one: Sometimes, the client or the situation calls for more stoicism, other times I am more of a comrade or confidant.
My lawyerly obligations require that I pretend that I do not have problems or failings of my own. Doctors, accountants, plumbers, business owners, we all suffer from the same impossible expectations. Nobody ever wants to imagine me crying at movies, freaking out about something inane, losing my temper at my beautiful daughter. But, these things happen not infrequently. For an emotional person who wears his heart on his sleeve, it can be challenging to don an overtly professional veneer. Coupled with the fact that I do not believe in a dichotomy between work and personal personas (if you do business like a jerk, then you are a jerk), the dissonance of my job troubles me.
The linchpin saving me from an imagined schizophrenia is the consistency of my underlying ethos. While my delivery or demeanor may change, I unfailingly tell people my honest perspective on their problems, regardless of the consequences to my bottom line. Usually, I counsel reconciliation, which is almost always the right decision for financial and psychological health. It is its own sort of dissonance: dressed nicely with an “Esq.” after my name, I am expected to act as a money-hungry attorney but instead behave as a friend.
The dissonance of having to project an air of infallibility while knowing internally that I am simply a man is a silly construct. Not least of all because one of the most important attributes that a lawyer must possess is empathy. My low moments, my foibles, my struggles, those are the common denominator that I share with every person that I endeavor to help. Viewing conflict or heartache through well-used glasses allows me to truly understand the pain, which in turn gives me important insight into how best to assist.
When you are standing suit-clad in front of the court, arguing with all of your might for a client’s interests, the sensors of dissonance must be well-calibrated. One must be just robotic enough to be authoritative and just human enough to be convincing. As the other side presents facts that are damaging to your case, one has to be a tranquil sea, placid in the face of stormy information. No matter that your internal dialogue has more expletives than a rap verse.
Negotiating is the gentle art and science of being friend and foe in the right ratio. While there are examples of success on both ends of the spectrum, the benevolent and the tyrannical, most are a hybrid, beauty and beast from one moment to the next.
Our behaviors being the tools to our survival, the ability to engage in dissonance is an evolutionary advantage that perhaps some scientist may be able to verify (or not), but I perceive to be real. What defines us is whether we use the power for good or to take advantage of others.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm and the owner and mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, please contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, email@example.com or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.
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