In Part 1 of this blog post, I discussed the importance of gender ideologies on women lawyers’ approach to business development, and uncovered that having the right mindset is the missing ingredient in the training process of becoming a successful rainmaker. Now that we’ve established that the right mindset is a key element in business development success, here are a couple of ideas on how to effectively incorporate work around mindset into your firm’s business development programming:

1. Help Women Lawyers Uncover Their Limiting Beliefs

Beliefs are defined as an “acceptance by the mind that something is true or real, often underpinned by an emotional or spiritual sense of certainty.” They are the prism through which we see the world.

Beliefs can be positive or empowering, or negative or limiting. Limiting beliefs are conclusions that we accept as “truth” about life, about ourselves, about our world, or about the people in it, that limit us in some way. When it comes to business development, women may struggle with a number of limiting beliefs, such as: “I’m not good at marketing or selling myself,” “If I make an ‘ask’, I’ll look like a pushy, aggressive and sleazy used-car salesperson!” or “It’s a man’s world out there! As a woman, they won’t take me seriously.”

The neuroscience of the process of forming beliefs is fascinating. According to Dr. Steven Novella, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Yale University School of Medicine, we are “belief machines” and we “arrive at beliefs for largely emotional reasons, and then employ our reasoning to justify our beliefs.” From a neurological perspective, “much of our cognition happens subconsciously in the more primitive parts of our brain – the brainstem,” which is also referred to as the “lizard brain.” And that’s exactly where emotions reside. One of these needs is the need for control and we like to think that we are able to exercise some type of control over what happens to us.

Another important aspect of our belief-forming process is that the things we believe to be true, we tend to perceive and experience as being true. A study led by Jennifer A. Whitson and Adam D. Galinsky discovered through a series of experiments that when people lack control over their lives, they begin to construct patterns in the world around them, which helps to provide a sense of restored order. What that means to our belief-forming process is that once we form a belief, we start seeing confirmations of that belief everywhere we look. So they become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Here is a real example of the limiting beliefs we helped uncover for one of our female lawyer clients:

  • “I don’t have the right contacts to get the clients I want.”
  • “I’ve got to offer discounted rates; they won’t pay my full rate.”
  • “If I get a lot of clients, I won’t be able to have a life.”

It’s no surprise that despite her stated desire to grow her book of business, our client avoided business development at all costs.

The good news is that we are not stuck with our beliefs forever. We can challenge and change them. The way to break through limiting beliefs is to question them:

  • How true is that belief, really?
  • Where did you get that idea from?
  • How has this belief affected/limited you? What is having this belief costing you?
  • What do you need to have, know, or experience to let that belief go?
  • What might a new belief be that more honestly and fully supports you?

In the case of our client, having an awareness of the limiting beliefs she had and questioning them, she was able to approach business development with a new level of confidence. This ultimately led her to become more proactive and grow her book of business.

2. Explore Their Assumptions and Interpretations about Business Development

Assumptions are expectations that, because something was true in the past or has happened in the past, it will be true or happen again in the future. In other words, “History will repeat itself.” For example:

  • A lawyer asks one of her contacts for work and is rejected, so, dreading being rejected again, she assumes the answer will be no and avoids asking the next time.
  • A client doesn’t return phone calls. The lawyer assumes that it’s because the client is unhappy with her work.

An assumption is often followed by apathy and inaction: “My (negative) past experience is going to repeat, so why bother trying again?”

The key to challenging assumptions is through a reminder that just because something happened before or was true before does not mean that it will happen again. Or as Bertrand Russell put it: “In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” The following questions can be useful to challenge assumptions:

  • Where is the guarantee that it’s going to be the same?
  • Who do you know who has been successful at this? What might you learn from them?
  • Based on your prior experience, what have you learned?
  • How are you better prepared to try again? What might you do differently this time?

Here is a real-life example: during a coaching session with one of our clients, we uncovered that she was holding on to an assumption that was significantly limiting her business development success. This client has a very outgoing, friendly personality and finds it easy to connect with prospects and build relationships. For some reason, these relationships rarely turn into business. Through our work together, we uncovered one of the assumptions she was making when I asked if she ever asked a particular contact for business. Her reply: “They know what I do; if they need my help, they’ll ask.”

Our coaching advice? Never assume that prospective clients will remember how you can help them. They may or they may not. People are busy with their own careers and lives and just because you had one conversation about your services, doesn’t mean they’ll remember. So why leave it to chance?! So we worked together to develop subtle ways of reminding her contact of how she could help and the value she delivered. The outcome: several new matters over the course of six months, including matters outside of our client’s area of expertise.

Interpretations are opinions or judgments that we create about an event, situation, person, or experience and believe them to be true. It’s a “version of a story” we make up about something that makes us reactive or limits us. For example:

  • “Opposing counsel’s curt reply means he is being a jerk.” vs. “Opposing counsel’s curt reply means he is busy or under a lot of pressure.”
  • “Because of this traffic, my whole day is ruined!” vs. “I can use the time I have to spend in traffic to call a friend and catch up.”

A critical point to remember is that nothing has meaning until we give it meaning. Situations, circumstances, other people’s behaviors are just facts. Only we can give them power to be upsetting.

To effectively challenge interpretations, ask the following questions:

  • What are three other ways to look at this situation?
  • What else can be going on?
  • What would someone else (spouse, friend, colleague, authority) say about that?
  • What would someone who had the complete opposite point of view from you say about the situation?

3. Develop Customized Business Development Curriculum

Women lawyers are continuing to struggle with becoming effective business developers. They face a unique set of challenges, which are not as often experienced by their male colleagues. Therefore, for any law firm business development training or coaching to be truly effective for women lawyers, it must be tailored to their unique needs. In other words, for a program to be effective, it should be able to address the issues that are uniquely impacting women when it comes to business development, for example:

  • Communicating directly without being pushy, aggressive, or salesy
  • Following up with prospects without feeling like a pest
  • Articulating their own value (externally and internally) and engaging in savvy and subtle self-promotion
  • Engaging in collaborative cross-selling
  • Balancing work, business development, travel, and life
  • Setting boundaries at work
  • Raising their self-confidence and taming the “Inner Critic”
  • Effectively dealing with difficult personalities using a behavioral blueprint framework
  • Confidently managing and leading others
  • Anticipating and addressing gender stereotypes

If your firm is working on creating an effective business development program for your female lawyers, get in touch with us and will be happy to advise you on developing effective curriculum. Our experience is based on almost a decade of helping lawyers become more effective rainmakers. Our sincere belief is that anyone – given enough desire, commitment, and support – can become a powerhouse business developer!