You should be doing this. So I’ll go first.
Being a former lawyer (aka, “recovering attorney”) has a lot of advantages in the business world. But I’ve started thinking about whether all of it is positive. Could my particular training and education limit me in some ways? Within my network, I frequently consult with professionals who want to reinvent themselves professionally by transferring from one successful career to a totally new one. To start, I always ask each of them to take inventory of their objectively positive, and transferable, skills. It’s not as easy a task as it sounds. But even more challenging is for someone to think objectively about how her skills, training – or even her thinking – may limit her.
Feeling empathetic, I tried this exercise myself.
In an inventory of my transferable skills, some are positive for building a business, motivating others and engaging with clients. But some might present obstacles. You be the judge.
To start, let’s test the transferability of interrogation skills:
Until I began training salespeople, I assumed anyone could ask good questions. I then remembered that I honed this skill in law school. Lawyers write and rewrite interrogatories, deposition questions and trial examination questions until they’re foolproof; we repeatedly test the answers the questions might elicit. We’re taught not to “waste” questions, given that there may be time, quantity, procedural or format limitation. We also learn never to ask questions to which we don’t already know the answer.
There are some clear positives from this training. First off, I am quite good at asking questions that not only elicit the kind of information I need, but that are answerable. As a business owner who trains sales people, I use this experience to remind people not to ask questions “over someone’s pay grade” or that would make someone uncomfortable. For instance, traditional salespeople are taught to ask for a referral, immediately, as in: “You’re not the right person? Do you know who is?” Because of my training, I know that question makes people uncomfortable and will only provide an unhelpful response like, “No, I do not.” Instead, I know to say, “OK, that’s what I thought. So do you think I should connect with Bob, or maybe Susan?” or something that puts my subject at ease and allows a dialogue to take place. They think, “Marilyn already seems to know what she’s talking about; she isn’t just using me for data collection.”
A negative of interrogation skills: By primarily asking questions I already know the answer to, am I missing opportunities? Am I selling myself short by not having that “killer” instinct and bold willingness to go after anyone, anytime, anyplace? Some solutions: I practice going out of my practiced zone and I invite people with different skills into meetings.
Other positives of interrogation experience is the ability – either trained or inherent – to listen and respond to an answer and a willingness to go “off script” and trash the ordered list of questions in favor of an actual conversation. I credit Professor Sanders for berating me during Mock Trial when I adhered to my pre-written script instead of hearing my witness and following their answers before revisiting my other questions. Trial and error with Prof. Sanders, and later in depositions and court rooms, taught me that asking questions in a set order isn’t always effective. After all, if someone can predict the next question, and the one after, then their answers will be wholly skewed – whether they’re in a sales meeting, a job interview or a business meeting.
For more than a decade, I have helped train sales people on the skill of listening and responding appropriately. But unfortunately, the urge to speak or ask more questions, rather than listen, seems to overcome the simple need to just shut it. Many “trained” sales people come programmed with a firm, consecutive-ordered outline or question list – a stilted style that elicits canned replies, when what the salesperson really needs is honest, open answers. On too many occasions, I’ve seen that neither the questioner, nor the answerer, was listening to the other.
Interrogation training certainly provides ample positives in building business relationships. And while I’m not likely to change my inherent ways (just look at the reasoning behind this blog’s name), I am constantly learning to avoid being so calculated that I miss opportunities to work at a mass scale. Likewise, I want to surround myself with people who can clue me in if my conversational style might be confusing for a new sales rep to emulate.
No one enjoys trial and error, especially when it involves training yourself out of hard-earned habits. But trial-and-error – alongside some honest self-interrogation – is a great way to learn.