Dealing With People

Dealing with peopleThe good Legal Secretary is well liked. Visitors to the office recall your courteous, cheerful manner, your intelligent considerateness and your smile. Fellow employees value your helpful cooperation and the little favours you are able to grant them. As for your employer, he depends on you in a hundred different ways, not only in business dealings but sometimes in social matters as well. It is part of your job to create a good impression and to establish and maintain friendly relations. Your corner of the office shows a touch of colour, literally as well as figuratively.

The business world moves at high speed and in quick tempo. The office building hums with activity. Executives are drawn together by a complex web of letters, telephone calls, conversations and agreements. Transactions are set under way whose success depends on the swift and efficient functioning of each employee, from the highest to the most subordinate. In this fast-moving world, confusions, misunderstandings, delays and other manifestations of poor cooperation prove costly. Yet it is all too easy for an individual to develop a hurried nervous tempo of working, no more efficient than a burst of speed by a high-powered auto in heavy traffic. Obviously, whatever makes for greater smoothness in personal relations and functioning is very important.

The Legal Secretary is a vital part of this swift-moving scene; yet your position enables you to obtain a perspective of the entire picture. And since you are largely a mediator, you are in a good position to work for smoothness. You can make it easier for people to cooperate. You can do your bit to keep those with whom you come in contact in good humour, soften their disappointments and increase their enthusiasm. You can do your best to smooth over difficulties and lessen intra-office jealousies—and avoid gaining the reputation of office gossip and spy.

The good Legal Secretary has developed the qualities of ease and efficiency; as a Legal Secretary, you are therefore able to relax to a certain degree during your work and by doing this you make it easier for others to relax. You do not ‘fight against’ your job, wasting time in indulging in worry and bitterness, but you make your work part of your life. You promote a similarly healthy attitude in others.

To be able to do all this, the Legal Secretary must be expert at personal relations. Now a great deal has been written about the art of handling people. Psychologists, authors, homespun philosophers and ‘business experts’ of varying intelligence and ability have told the world how to make ‘friends’, conciliate enemies and develop an irresistible personality. Their copious advice can usually be reduced to one central principle: namely that any human being is somewhat egotistical and likes to feel important. Therefore, he likes the sound of his own name; he likes to be reminded of his success and good points; he likes to be remembered and to feel that people have affection for him; he likes compliments, provided they are not too obviously flattering; and he likes to think that his ideas and suggestions receive serious attention. He does not like to remember his failures; he does not like to admit he’s wrong or to give up an untenable position in argument, unless there is a graceful ‘out’; he dislikes cleverness in others and fears sarcasm; he is jealous of success; and he does not like to be forgotten. All of this is, of course, very true, as the Legal Secretary who understands anything of human nature is well aware; and you must also know how to make use of your knowledge. However, a human being is more than a self-centred, jealous child and there is a limit to the use that can be made of methods for handling people which are based largely on flattery, facile enthusiasm and general heartiness. Sincerity, courtesy and unforced human interest—natural rather than artificial qualities—are more important in adult human relations.

Another important consideration is that all individuals are different. They do not conform to type—‘rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief’—or some more complicated set of categories. Each has his own quirks and idiosyncrasies. The methods that work with one will not necessarily work with another. The good Legal Secretary is a student of individual human nature and learns more than names and faces and occupations. You discover the things that please and displease the people with whom you come into contact; you come to know their strong and weak points. Above all, you study the personality of your employer with a concentrated interest. His or her habits in giving dictation, attitude towards salesmen, tendencies to hurry through certain matters and linger over others are all matters of importance. You discover the extent to which you are desired to make changes in documents or organise files. This study is for the most part a silent one, conducted by observation rather than questions; yet it is of vital importance, for it enables you, as the Legal Secretary, to handle work in the way your employer would like to see it handled, and by adjusting your personality, to serve your employer most satisfactorily.