Perception is reality – honest feedback key step to win over critics

Dear Joan:

I am a 26 year old Asian American female attorney. The average age of law school graduates is 27. I graduated when I was 24. I went to a highly ranked law school and graduated with honors. I am just finishing up an LLM (an advanced law degree) and am set to start work at a mega-firm. The only thing that I worry about is other female co-workers.

 

I look very young for my age (people guess that I am anywhere between 19 and 21) and I am petite and I have been told that I am attractive. I seem to attract vicious women for some reason. For example, when I transferred law schools, the first week of school there was another Asian American female who spread rumors about me and called a meeting with the Asian American Law Student Association to have me banned from their email list so I would neither receive nor be able to post to the listserv. This was within the first week of school!  She also told people that I've never met before that I was trash talking them. Throughout the rest of my law school career, this woman was a thorn in my side.

Another example: I interned at a law firm during law school and I just could not get along with another female intern. This female intern was 32 (I was only 23 at the time). From day one, she set her sights on backstabbing me and making me look bad. One time when I was reading a book that she claimed she needed immediately though I was using it, she threw it back at me and told me to keep it.  

 

A few years later, I found out from an employer, who called the firm as a reference, that some female attorneys didn't like me. I found this incredible because I only worked with two female attorneys and they all gave me rave reviews (reviews were anonymous but I knew it was them because of the work they described me doing). The other female attorneys refused to even work with me. This employer believed that some of the females were worried that I was younger and would be on a faster partnership track.

 

All of the male partners (and they were senior partners) gave me rave reviews and said I was the best intern they had ever had. When I spoke to my career services director, she told me that she has heard of it happening before and all she could tell me was that she was sorry.

In my LLM program, there is a 39 year old woman with 4 young children under the age of 6. She despises me. In class, we have to give presentations often usually two at a time. She will make it a point to say that only the other person did a good job. One time she gave a presentation outside of class where I and another classmate attended. She made it a point to only thank the other classmate for coming as we both walked out. I tried asking her one time if there was something that I did to offend her and she just laughed in my face and told me that she couldn't care less what I thought and had too many other important things in her life to waste time on me.  This woman has never worked in a firm and has never passed a bar exam and I honestly just feel that she was very jealous of me because I am much younger than her and have a bright future.

I dress in a black suit or a gray suit. The skirt is always at or below the knee, or I wear pants. My hair is pulled back and I often wear glasses to appear older or more professional. I don't wear perfume or earrings and rarely wear any other jewelry unless it is a tasteful and professional bracelet or pendant. I do not giggle, I do not gossip and I certainly do not flirt. I try to respect everyone and smile when I see them regardless if
they are a partner, or a receptionist, or a barista at the coffee shop in the building. I do my work and I do it professionally. I just do not understand why I attract such jealous/vicious/passive-aggressive women.

Recently, at my fiancé’s cousin’s apartment-warming party in NYC, I met two women (both roommates of the cousin). One refused to even say hi to me. Instead, asked the two men I was with their names and where they live, even though I was standing in between them. When I met the other roommate, I smiled, introduced myself and extended my hand. She took my hand without making eye contact and at the same time she looked behind her so that her back was to me, let go of my hand, and then started talking to another person.

I am set to work at a global mega-firm and I want to make sure that history does not repeat itself, and if it does, I want to know how to do damage control. I also know that I need to be on the same page as my legal assistant, who will most likely be twice my age (again, I look very young for my age). I know that many older women don't like to take orders from a younger "snot-nosed" attorney, but do you have any tips on how to win them over? I really can't afford to have my image destroyed by someone trash talking me out of jealousy. Help!

 

Answer:

I think your mistake is assuming they are jealous because of your age, looks or “bright future”. Of course, it’s possible you may have run into some insecure women, but my perception is that it’s your own actions that are causing this pattern of behavior. I know many young, attractive women who are well-liked and respected by their female colleagues.

 

The best way to make a favorable impression on people—both male and female—is to be genuinely interested in them. Ask what others think and listen sincerely to their answers. Offer help, even if it will inconvenience you. Take an interest in their comments about their personal lives and families. Show some vulnerability and share some of your own worries, hopes and fears.

 

If you have been absorbed in meeting your own goals, you may have trampled or ignored people in your path. You may be coming across as arrogant or condescending and not even realize it. I recommend that you seek the advice of a respected professional, to explore root causes in your own treatment of others. In the meantime, fight the urge to look for snubs and slights where they may not exist.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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