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Melissa Shanahan

#228: The Power of High Confront: Taking Action and Disrupting Inertia Defaults

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Have you ever wondered why some people seem to effortlessly handle difficult conversations while others shy away from confrontation? As Melissa shares this week, some people are “high confront”, meaning they tackle challenges head on which can be an incredibly useful trait to have when owning and running a firm.

If the idea of conflict currently makes you want to run and hide, you need to listen in to this episode. You cannot make the necessary shifts your firm needs to grow by being passive or passive aggressive. You need to disrupt the inertia of your current normal and be willing to try something new.

In this episode, Melissa explores the concept of being a high confront person and how facing confrontation head on leads to real change in a firm. She shares the advantages of being high confront, the importance of being clear and kind, and how you can work on being more high confront in a way that suits you.

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Enrollment will be open tomorrow, so join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• What high confront is and its advantages.

• The consequences of being low confront.

• How to practice being high confront.

• Why being kind isn't the same as being nice.

• How being low confront can sometimes be a strategic maneuver.

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Clear Thinking: Turning Ordinary Moments Into Extraordinary Results by Shane Parrish

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #228.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast powered by Velocity Work for owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going. Take planning seriously and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Hey, everyone, welcome to this week's episode. I'm so glad you're here. We are talking about a topic today that is near and dear to my heart, and it's something that I've taken seriously for a very long time. It's a concept that's lived in the back of my mind for a very long time. I was first introduced to this concept by a mentor.

I have thought about it so much. I’ve listened to that mentor talk about this on many different occasions. I have thought a lot about it. Even back then, when I was listening to it, which is probably 10 or so years ago, and still to this day, I find myself thinking about it quite a bit.

I think about it as I approach work with clients. I think about it as I approach work with my team. I think about it as I approach relationships in my personal life, my marriage, certainly my kid, but also myself, like my relationship to myself. So, we're going to talk about it today.

Something will likely resonate with you from this episode. There will be a nugget that for some reason will be sticking around in your brain, and I would encourage you to do something with it. I don't think that any of us need to master this concept. But having an awareness of the concept and adjusting accordingly, in the ways that we want and we see fit for our own world and our own lives, that's what's most important.

So, that's my wish for you today; listening to what we have to talk about. The topic is something that was defined to me as “high-confront.” We're going to dig into that, and the advantages of being high-confront, and the possible disadvantages if it's not done very well. We'll tie it together with another concept that I really love, and I think you all will enjoy it as well.

Before we dig in to the content that I have ready for you today, I’ve got to let you guys know that tomorrow, the Velocity Work program that takes law firm owners through quarterly strategic planning with accountability and coaching in between, the doors are opening for that tomorrow. The group is called Mastery Group. It is fantastic. You can learn more at VelocityWork.com/join.

But here's the gist of the program. Essentially, every single quarter, I facilitate a quarterly strategic planning retreat. At the turn of the year, there's an annual one. In order for your very first time to do this strategic planning retreat, you'll have to understand certain numbers. You'll have to have certain data. You'll have to think through certain things prior to that day. We guide you through all of that.

That is why enrollment is open, when it's open, because we always give plenty of space before the strategic planning retreat. The next one is the annual one. That one is happening early to mid-December. It's virtual, you do not have to attend live. Many people watch the recording, then they schedule office hours to go over their plans, tying their plans up with a bow.

So, we do all this prep work to make sure they're ready for that, after the retreat, after they make their plans. We guide that process, then it's all about honoring the plan. If you know anything about Velocity Work, and if you have listened to this podcast, you know we take very seriously that you have to be clear on exactly what you're aiming for. You have to have a really strong plan to get there. And, you have to honor the plan.

That seems too simple, but that is exactly what it takes. It doesn't matter the level of your firm, that is what it takes to make sure that you move towards whatever success looks like to you, with efficiency and with ease and with flow. And, by the way, while having some fun.

So, that is what the program is centered around. In between retreats, there's accountability and there is support. This comes through weekly coaching calls, and they are always topic focused. So, you can decide if that's something you want to sink your teeth into when you show up for that call.

But all the meanwhile, in between the quarterly retreats, you schedule time on your own calendar to make some headway on the things that you said you would do. That's where the accountability comes in, inside of Velocity Work. So, there's this great cadence between the retreats that's built into support you.

If you know anything about Monday Map/Friday Wrap, that is a practice that is expected of members. I said practice, not perfection. It's just about progress and increasing intentionality about how you spend your time. So, that not only you can make headway on the things you said you would make headway on that map, or towards where you want to go, but also, because life is better when you're more intentional with your time.

Everything moves easier, with more ease and with more flow, and you get more freedom when you're intentional. So, that's a focus for sure. This program is really special. Actually, one of the reasons I think it's the most special, it will tie into the stuff we're talking about today. Which is a coincidence, because I've had this outline for a bit now. And now I have the chance to record it for you. You'll understand more as we get into the content.

Anyway, if you were interested, you need to go to VelocityWork.com/join. We are thrilled to enter into the next cohort of people that are coming in. I'm excited to work with those of you who are saying, “Yep, it's time for me to get organized. It's time for me to have some accountability. It's time for me to know my numbers, go on facts not feelings, and be better about how I'm spending my time.”

All of these things make you a better owner. All of these things get you to freedom faster. I'm thrilled to be leading it and guiding it, and we would love to have you in. Okay, you guys ready to move in to what we're talking about today?

So, today, we're talking about high-confront. I mentioned that at the top of the call. I learned this from a mentor. I’ve thought about it a lot. I have so many notes and notebooks about this and my own experience with it. Let's start with defining high-confront.

What is high-confront? I’ve thought a lot about this. I have a ton of notes on this. I put my notes, that I have in notebooks and notes on my phone, into ChatGPT, because high-confront is not a concept that ChatGPT recognizes on its own. So, I put all my information there. We talked back and forth about it for a bit.

I said, “Okay, if you had to define high-confront, how would you define it?” This is what it came up with after our conversation. High-confront: A communication and behavior style characterized by directly addressing and tackling issues or challenges head on.

That sums it up. That is the definition, the working definition, that we're going to go with: A communication and behavior style characterized by directly addressing and tackling issues or challenges head on. There are so many advantages to being high-confront.

However, there is a way to do this, there's a way to think about this, and we're going to go into that a bit. The reason I'm doing this podcast is because I get to work with some of the smartest, most talented individuals, who are running their firms and doing a great job. But the barriers that they are experiencing are because they have a lack of confront; they are low-confront versus high-confront.

Some people just don't like conflict so they will avoid it at all costs. They know that about themselves, but it's a struggle. But some people, they're very unaware, and there's a passiveness that's happening. They don't even realize that it's happening.

So, from my position, when I'm working with people, I have an opportunity to call that out and say, “Hey, why not just do X-Y-Z? Why not have this conversation? Why not make the change?” And, it will stump them. They'll have to think about it. And when they start uncovering why they're not, they don't have any great reasons. It's just the way they roll.

My job, the way I see it, with this episode is to bring to light this concept, and I’ll tie it with another one here in a bit, so that you can have a look at where you might be wanting to shift to be more high-confront. Or how you are high-confront, your approach to being high-confront. And where you want to take the reins. That's really what this is about, is taking the reins and not being passive.

There is a time and a place to be passive. There's a time and a place to wait and be low-confront. But I can only think of one, and I have thought about this for a very long time so I will share that as well. But that's a topic worth digging into today.

So, let's talk about advantages. First of all, if you are high-confront, you tend to get to resolution quickly. It forces honest communication, and that creates a lot of clarity, which is great. It also prevents issues from growing or creeping, lingering, so to speak. Another way that come to mind, is issues start to scale, and you know it, but it's almost like the bigger that they get, the harder it is to actually confront the issue.

Having high-confront, there's a lot of advantages. You don't waste resources on allowing something to go on beyond when it should. It's just a much more efficient and honest way of being. So, being high-confront, I believe is something that we should all shoot for, but doing so with an effective approach.

Alright, I'm going to talk more about high-confront and the advantages there, and how to do this effectively. But before we do that, we should just talk a little bit of about what happens when you are low-confront. When you are low-confront, problems tend to linger, they tend to grow.

There is a lack of clarity around you, and in relationships with you, whether it's your clients, whether it's your team, whether it's your family, it doesn't matter. Wherever there's low-confront, there's typically a lack of clarity. This being low-confront can lead to passive-aggressive behavior, because you're not just dealing with the thing. So, there's aggression, but it's passive-aggressiveness, and that doesn't get anybody anywhere. I mean, we've all done it. But it doesn't get anybody anywhere.

This is one of the reasons I love strategic planning, quarterly strategic planning. It's because, every quarter you are taking a pause to take stock of what is going on, how the last quarter went, process lessons, so that you can carry them forward and then make plans for the future. Instead of being sort of passively just moving through the months.

Strategic planning forces every owner that goes through strategic planning, to have high-confront with themselves, with what's going on in the firm. It's bringing to the forefront awareness, so that you can make decisions quickly, and tackle things that need to be tackled. It keeps you really intentional. That's a byproduct of being a person who is high-confront, you are more intentional.

Now, there are also people who are just plain aggressive. So, technically, yes, they are high-confront. But that is not an effective way to confront situations and issues and communication, at all. But that's the way people think about it.

So, sometimes people can look at someone who is high-confront and think that's not a good way to be because of how they are presenting. What is important, when you are thinking about being more high-confront, then actually having the appropriate energy when you are confronting the issue is important.

Because if you don't have the appropriate energy, it's not going to land. You have to know your audience. You have to check emotions at the door. We're known in Velocity Work for saying, “Facts, not feelings.” Facts, not feelings. Cynical people will often say, “Well, then you're just cutting out emotion.” That's not true, at all. Not at all.

What is true, is that facts come first. We try to be as objective as possible so that we are not bringing a bunch of mental baggage to a conversation, or we don't have a bunch of mental baggage clouding our perspective on a scenario. So facts, no feelings, really helps one to move to the end of the spectrum that is more objective. And from there, be able to, in a really healthy way, handle what you're seeing.

That is the same for situations that you can either let things slide, or you can confront the situation and tackle things head on. That just means that you have to be able to get yourself to a clean place before you do it. Meaning, you can't drag in a bunch of emotion. You can't come in screaming hot. You can't be accusatory. There isn't room for blame.

This needs to be as objective as possible and kind. Now, kind is not the same thing as nice. I actually heard this stated beautifully in a book called Clear Thinking by Shane Parrish. Kind is not the same thing as nice. Nice doesn't want to say the hard things because it doesn't feel nice; kind does. Because it's the kind thing to do, it's the right thing to do.

So, when you are confronting an issue, instead of allowing it to slide, doing so with certainly a cool head, but saying what needs to be said, which takes guts, in many instances it takes a lot of guts. But that practice of showing up in that way, saying what needs to be said with as calm of a tone as you can, is an important practice. That's how you get better at being high-confront.

People who are really bad at confronting scenarios, they're waiting for the time when it's all going to feel really good, and their pulse is under control, their heart rate’s under control. Then they can just say the clear thing that doesn't feel easy to say, but we know is the right thing to say; that's never going to happen.

If you are a person who doesn't like confrontation, you are going to have to experience a few times the heart racing. Maybe your voice is shaky, but you're saying the right thing anyway. You're saying the thing that needs to be said anyway.

The way I'm talking about this right now sounds like it's a really highly charged situation. Some are, that you're going to confront, and some are not highly charged. They don't need to have a lot of this behind it.

For example, you have a policy for something and someone in your firm didn't follow the policy, then being able to just correct, and course correct and not just let it slide, that's something pretty minor. But it still may make certain people really nervous because they tend to be low-confront.

So, even in times like that your voice might shake a little bit. You might feel really hot about going in there and having to say something. But do your best. Take some deep breaths and practice this, because the only way that you get better at high-confront is by practicing, actually confronting. If you don't practice confronting, you won't get better at it.

We already talked about the advantages of being high-confront. You don't let things grow behind the scenes, you don't let problems fester, you come to resolution more quickly, you identify issues more quickly. You're a more agile firm, in terms of the way the business is running.

This makes sure that you don't waste resources. It's all so much better when you just go ahead and confront, even when it feels tough. But you do your best you with it. You do your best to be calm and confident and empathetic, at times. But you still say the thing that needs to be said, that's the important piece. It's crazy how up in our heads we get about this. But that’s how important it is.

For those of you who are listening this, and you're like, “That's not hard at all. I do that all day, every day.” I mean, you guys are lawyers, this is what you do. However, how you do it matters. It's different in a courtroom than it is with your team. It's different in a courtroom than it is with your family, etc. So, really just adjusting to your audience is extremely important.

High-confront is important as a business owner; as someone who is responsible for being a good steward of the firm that you have, the team within it, and serving the clients. Being high-confront is very important, and in the way that you do it.

You want to be able to make progress there, so start where you are. Whether it's that you're really meek and you have trouble confronting, you have to take some deep breaths and be a little shaky and be willing to suck at it the first several times. You will get better.

Or for those of you who tend to be more aggressive, you need to take a deep breath, know your audience, and do the thing that's going to get the most effective result. Practice that way; it’s almost slowing down.

So, either way, I would find yourself, and I would encourage you to practice this more of the time, and in the way that you need to practice it, specifically.

Before I tie this into this next concept that I think you all will find really interesting, I want to say that being low-confront can be a strategic maneuver. But it's not very often. You will know that it is the right thing to do, to be low-confront, to be passive, to allow this thing to play out, when you understand what the end game is. This is all about playing the long game. All about playing the long game.

So, when you are being low-confront on purpose, it should be because you know that sitting still, and allowing something to play out, is the strategic move. Y'all know when that's the case. You know when you're being low-confront because it's strategic. You know when you're being low-confront because you just don't want to confront. Okay?

Now, I am reading this book called Clear Thinking by Shane Parrish, and it's one of those things where it feels like, oh, my gosh, he's so good at articulating concepts that I work with all the time, but he puts language to it in a way that’s so beautiful.

Anyway, he has a chapter that talks about defaults, like default positions we put ourselves in. There's emotion default, there's ego default, social defaults, and inertia default. Inertia default was the most interesting to me to listen to, because it is so much of what we talk about here at Velocity Work and working with law firm owners.

It's this idea that certain behaviors, choices, patterns, they persist simply because they've always been that way, and changing them requires effort. Inertia is a principle from physics, where an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion, unless acted upon by an external force.

So, when applied to behavior and decision making, and habits and actions and patterns, it means that people often continue along this predetermined path, or default behavior, because it's easier than making a change. Even if they don't love the outcomes. It is easier to stay on that path than it is to make a change.

We all know this. This is why we flame up and flame out. We get really motivated, we make a change, but then we come back. This has very much to do with the concepts at play here.

So, when you think about being high-confront, it requires that you insert yourself to make a change. A lot of the things that I've been referencing so far in this podcast is about high-confront, as it pertains to things that may be going on in the firm, or certainly cases that you're working on, or relationships.

But the most interesting, to me, way to apply this is to be high-confront with your own behaviors, habits, actions. Your own norms, in your own default; that's the other way to think about this. So, if you are high-confront to your own defaults, and again, it matters the energy that you bring to it, it's not aggressive. I mean, everybody probably knows what works for them, but aggressive confrontation is not necessary in order to have high-confront, when you are approaching or pattern interrupting your own stuff.

What it does take, and what I found fascinating listening to this chapter, was how well he talked about the importance of your environment, how important that is, and how it plays into the disruption of inertia. It's almost like if you set yourself up right, and you have an environment that will help provide…

Because remember, inertia is only interrupted by force. So, if you are going to play some force… People think of force and they think of high-confront as aggressive. It doesn't need to be that way; you just need to put yourself in a position where you can win.

By putting yourself in, surrounding yourself with, an environment with other people and other sets of circumstances that will allow you to interrupt the other patterns that you did have, your default patterns, and check into some new patterns, it does not mean that it's a perfect switch, right?

It's not like you're on one track, and then you put yourself in another environment and you're on another track, so then you just start humming along right away. No. But it provides a container and a space for you to create new normals, and to create new defaults that will give you what it is you actually are looking for.

This can be applied to personal habits. This can be applied to time management. This can be applied to how you think about your business, or about perspectives on different things.

One reason I really love this, and it felt so timely, is because Mastery Group is opening. Though some of you won't listen to this in real time and you'll catch this in a future quarter, that's fine.

The truth about Mastery Group, and a place like Mastery Group, is that it does provide a container that will have an impact, a positive impact, positively for you, on inertia defaults. On the inertia that you are experiencing with certain habits.

I'm saying inertia defaults, because that's the way he's talking about in his book, that's not a term I would normally use. But it's your normals. Your way of operating has to change if you want different results. You have got to put yourself in situations where you can create different results.

That's why I love this concept so much, because it gives you tools and perspectives and ways to think about how to approach yourself. So, if you're going to have high-confront with yourself, then that basically means you are always going to be honest. You are always going to say what needs to be said. You're not going to skirt around things. You're not going to lie to yourself; you're done with that.

You're going to put yourself into an environment where honesty, and facts, not feelings, are prioritized. You are able to make decisions from a really clean place because you've got facts, not feelings. You aren’t running from things; you finally confront them. You make a plan for how to deal with certain things, how to unwind certain things, how to put your foot on the gas with certain things.

But you are very intentional. That is the word, if there was one word that would sum up the power of what we're talking about here on the podcast, it is intentional. If you are high-confront, and especially if you approach it in the ways where it's not aggressive… I mean, I guess there's a time and a place for aggressiveness, but generally speaking, it's not aggressive...

But it's intentional, it's clear, it's the truth, and it's kind, then you will put yourself always at an advantage. It's the same when you look at the relationship to yourself and your own patterns, your own habits, your own actions, and the positions that you typically get yourself in because of those defaults.

When you actually decide ‘I'm going to shift this and it's going to be a process, but I am going to create the conditions to win here. I'm going to put myself into an environment, and around people who also value creating new normals. Not being subject to inertia, at least certainly not from a lack of awareness. I am going to be intentional and deliver it with progress.’  

That, to me, is such a beautiful way to think about how to shift into new normals. So, I hope that something from this podcast is valuable for you, or there's been a nugget where you're like, “That. That thing is what I need to focus on next.” That you could think of something that you're kind of tired of, you're just tired of it, but it always keeps happening the same way.

Whether it's a personal habit, or whether it's the way that something's going down in the firm every day, whether it's an attitude from someone that’s not an ideal attitude, or there's disengagement from the team. You may not have a blueprint to deal with that, you're never going to, but you will, if you are willing to approach it with honesty and willing to confront the situation with clarity and with kindness, then it will shift. It won't be allowed to just keep riding out.

Same with you, in your own world. How you manage your time: Do you actually give a thought to the next week? How, what you think is going to get done is going to get done. Do you do that? It goes without saying, I'm sure. I would put my money, every single time, on the person that stepped back to look ahead at the week, makes those decisions and thinks that through, than the person who was just going to slam into the week.

What do you do? How do you create the conditions to win, for yourself? I think that there's so much here, and meeting people where they are in this process is my favorite thing to do. Because then you can sort of go back and forth, and have good conversations to help them sink a little deeper into the concept for themselves, find their place.

They know what the next thing they need to do is, and they're off to the races. Then they're going to do it for a bit, and they're going to figure out where they really struggle and where the barriers are. Then you can talk it through. That’s a process, and facilitating that process is one of my favorite things. It's something I was put here to do, without question.

I know that listeners are into this. If they weren't into this, they would not be listening to this podcast. So, I'm really grateful that there is listenership, and I have awesome members to do this work with, as well as private clients and beyond.

This is meaningful work. I mean, this is where it all starts and stops. You can have all the tactics you want, but this stuff right here is where the rubber meets the road. This is it. Tactics do not win in this game unless you are intentional with all the things we've been talking about today. This is First Principles. This is Fundamentals. This is the stuff that matters.

So, when you stack tactics on tactics on tactics on tactics, you may get some headway, but it's slippery; your success is slippery. It is sustainable when you focus here, and then of course, apply tactics where it's necessary.

But if this is not given attention, it makes your life so much harder in the long run. The long game is important. This goes back, once again, to that quote that I always talk about here: The smartest people on the planet are always reaching for the next rung on the ladder. Whatever that is to them, right?

But they know it's not about the next rung, it's about the stretch. It's about the work. It's about developing themselves. It's about creating new normals. It's about not falling prey to inertia. It's about confronting things when they see them, and being able to do so with clarity and kindness, and yet, no bs.

That is the journey. That is the stretch. It’s developing ourselves as owners, as leaders. And all the other roles that we play in our lives is developing yourself in that way, so that you have the capacity to have the firm and the life that you want to have.

It's not about tactically getting that stuff. There's a difference between getting it and having it. Anyone can get something, but it's slippery and it can go away. If you focus on the fundamentals, then you're in a much better position. That is why I do what I do. That is not only why I do the work that I do, but it's why I take the approach I take with individuals. It’s the best.

Anyway, I think we have got this all covered. High-confront versus low-confront, the advantages to that, how to approach high-confront, how to do it in a way that feels right, feels good, and is clear and kind and cleaned up, not bringing a bunch of baggage to the confrontation.

Also, this idea of inertia defaults. So, your normals and the fact that inertia is a factor in your normals, whatever that might be. When I say your normals, it could be the firm's normals. It could be your personal normals. But your normals there, is inertia at play.

If you want to shift into a new gear, you're going to have to apply force. You're going to have to apply a shift and set yourself up to win at that game. So, create conditions to win. Get yourself in the right environment, get yourself around the right people, get yourself with practices. And be accountable to those things, be willing to suck at it, be willing to show up every week and make progress, not perfection.

One step by step by step by step by step by step by step by step. And with the community, and having a lot of fun along the way, you will create new normals. I see it all the time. Do I see perfection all the time? Literally, never. But I see progress all the time. That's what you should sign up for. How do you create conditions for progress?

All right, everybody. Have a wonderful week. I will see you here next Tuesday. Maybe I'll see you in Mastery Group. Bye-bye.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called Monday Map/ Friday Wrap. If you go to velocitywork.com, it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So, that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to velocitywork.com to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to velocitywork.com where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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