Seen as ‘Trouble’ or a ‘Vital Partner’? Shifting your in-house lawyer, auditor or consultant brand

by | Jan 29, 2023 | Personal Brand, Professional Confidence

Do people in the organisation you are working in see you and your role as ‘trouble’, or are you treated as a ‘vital partner’ in the business?

If you work in a small or specialised team that feels separate from your company’s main operations, such as an in-house lawyer or legal counsel role…

Or if your work focuses on risk, fact-checking, or other elements that ‘slow down’ the progress of the visionaries, entrepreneurial types and strategy-implementers in the business…

It’s likely that you have experienced being seen as a necessary evil, a time-sucker to avoid, an intruder, or a threat…

In short, you’re TROUBLE. 

This makes it pretty difficult to deliver with impact and be influential in your important role. No matter how obvious it is to you that people need to stop and spend some time considering and making plans around your recommendations, it can be frustratingly challenging to drive this message home, to get the traction you need in a reasonable timeframe… or even to be given the time of day.

“…it can be frustratingly challenging to drive this message home, to get the traction you need in a reasonable timeframe… or even to be given the time of day.”

You know you need a seat at the decision-making table, but first, you need to be seen differently.

Here are 3 ‘shifts’ you can make, to move from a perception of you as ‘Trouble’ to you as a Vital Partner in the business.

Shift 1: Your Focus

A true partner in the business knows how to start where the other person is at – to frame ideas according to their interests and goals. This is about focusing the content of your communication to always speak from VALUE.

Start, weave through, and finish your message with the value that your ideas will bring to the receiver of the message. Cut to the chase – why are you bringing this to them now? Keep the thread going in your explanation – what is important here? Finish by underscoring the valuable outcome of this approach and clearly point to the next step. Then make it easy to implement – what steps will you guide them through, what support will you provide?

Shift 2: Your Communication Style

The most influential people, including the best teachers and advisors, use language that connects and engages their audience… and they do so with personable but confident delivery.

What are your stakeholders talking about? If you are talking to the board, for example, you need to understand what key elements of the business drive their agenda – and the terminology they use to describe that. If you’re talking to the CEO, you need to know what in the business and the wider ecosystem is impacting their decision-making and focus right now – and think about the words they use to describe things like team, culture, systems, goals, challenges. How does what you are proposing they focus on align with what they are talking about? And what language will resonate with them?

What do they need in communications from you in order to listen, absorb and action your recommendations? Do they need things to be quicker and shorter? Simplified? Illustrated with a real-life example? A 10-page memo explaining the finer details of the law, or an essay-style email explaining all the options, is usually not what they need. If you are a lawyer, auditor or accountant, you probably are very good at paying attention to detail and reading everything that comes across your desk with the utmost care… but most people – even busy, successful, intelligent leaders – don’t do this. And as we know, some don’t even read emails at all.

In addition, your personal communication style will affect how much you can get someone on your side. The challenge here is finding the balance between being friendly, personable – while being seen as the confident authority in your space.

Pay attention to the words you use, but also your body language, and investigate how small tweaks (like cutting back on saying things like ‘sorry for the interruption’ and ‘I just wanted to ask if…’), while doing more things like getting to the point, walking into the meeting room with purpose, asking for what you need with confidence…), changes how people see and respond to you. If authority is not your issue but connection is, look at how you can maintain what’s working while bringing in more warmth in simple ways, such as checking in with people to see how they’re going, or smiling and making more eye contact… the little things go a long way with human beings, who are emotional creatures at their core.

Great delivery is first about understanding what your audience cares about, and then thinking about how your verbal and body language connects and guides them, or loses them completely!

Read on for Shift 3…

Shift 3: Your Expectations

When we are navigating various crucial stakeholder relationships or trying to be influential with the leadership team… but we come from a small team, a siloed business unit, or for some other reason are ‘not one of them’… being seen as an important voice of expertise can be a real challenge. Understanding where we actually DO have some power to change the situation is essential here.

To a large extent, we teach people how to treat us. What is it that you expect from people, and what subliminal messages are you sending about that?

Examine where you need to structure conversations or set up situations differently so that you have more control in guiding the outcome. Where do you need to set up clearer boundaries (and stick to them)? Perhaps you need to rethink your level of responsiveness to shift from being seen as an ‘order-taker’ to someone focused on managing their own business function or portfolio. Perhaps you need to clarify your polite, but firm, responses to help you manage interactions with certain personalities in the office. Perhaps your email communications need to be clearer, more succinct and more authoritative.

“Perhaps you need to rethink your level of responsiveness to shift from being seen as an ‘order-taker’…”

While you’re at it… do you need to shift your expectations of yourself? Where do you need to see yourself differently? Where do you need to step up? It could be that to be seen as the expert, you need to do more to BE the expert – come prepared to every interaction, know the trends, know what others are doing, provide business case examples.

If you want a seat at the table as a trusted and vital partner, you need to start with your sense of personal power. If you increase this, then you will have more power to engage in the right conversations with decision-makers, develop relationships across the organisation, and bring your various stakeholders along for the journey too.