February 27, 2009
"'No' is a complete sentence." When you're a junior associate facing a demanding partner in a law firm, however, it seems more like the path to a death sentence.
Minimize the number of occasions when you need to be reactive or negative. Do you work with a partner who has a pattern of dumping a new project on your desk on Friday at 3 p.m. with a Monday morning deadline? Try dropping by his office earlier in the week to discuss what may be coming up.
You may get some inquiries about the nature of your obligation. If your commitment involves giving yourself some much needed rest and rejuvenation time, or if he has a tendency to judge that his work is more important than your son's fourth birthday, just tell him, "It's personal." He can't quibble with the unknown.
HOLD YOUR BOUNDARY DIPLOMATICALLY
Most partners will back off when you say something is personal. Some, however, may inquire about it out of concern for you. A few of the terminally insensitive types may muscle forward in hopes that they can avoid inconveniencing themselves by planning ahead.
HEAD OFF NEGATIVE ASSUMPTIONS
Whenever you have something touchy to say, you will be dealing with assumptions about your intentions and your motives. Research shows that when people dislike or disagree with someone's behavior, they tend to assign negative motives and negative character traits to the actor.
OFFER AN ALTERNATE SOLUTION
Notice that in the previous paragraph each example included an alternative option. Usually a partner just wants to get the assignment off her desk and onto the desk of someone else who is competent to handle it. If you know of another associate who might be able to take it on, consider negotiating with that associate. You could agree to trade this rush for a different last minute assignment "to be named later.