In-House Counsel

Moonlighting: Personality Tests — Understanding Your Enemies’, Er, Your Colleagues’, Strengths and Weaknesses

I love personality tests. They serve numerous good and constructive purposes. And by “good and constructive,” I mean shamefully entertaining, such has finding out about the best ways to totally annoy your co-workers and how to play crazy mind games with them — core skills that you need to develop to perform effectively on the job.

So when a friend of mine pointed me to an article on personality tests titled The Unique Psychological World of Lawyers, I was intrigued. It’s an older article and a bit on the dry side (at least compared to some of the off-the-wall stuff you can find here on ATL), but the some of the observations and conclusions made in the article about lawyers’ personalities are extremely compelling….

One point that author of the article, Ronda Muir, makes is that although lawyers have above-average IQs (yay us!), our Emotional Quotients, or EQs, totally suck (boooooo…). Our biggest problem when it comes to emotional intelligence is our ability to accurately perceive our own emotions and the emotions of others. So not only do we have a poor understanding of how we, ourselves, feel about things, we’re also likely to have issues with people around us because we may not realize until really late in the game that someone’s upset about something. You can see how this could have a negative impact on your career prospects.

Another observation that Muir makes is that, when it comes to conflict resolution, lawyers tend to use the least cooperative strategies out there: competing and avoiding. Non-lawyers utilize these strategies too, but they also use other, more cooperative techniques: collaborating, compromising, and accommodating. It would be interesting to see how the uses of these strategies broke down by type of lawyer, e.g., litigators, judges, transactional lawyers, etc. Or by ATL columnist. But the message here is that we suck at resolving conflicts and make it harder for those around us who are better at it.

Muir also discusses how the attributes of pessimism and skepticism play in the world of lawyers. Pessimistic lawyers are more successful than optimistic lawyers. And apparently, the more pessimistic you are, the more successful a lawyer you will be. Also, believe it or not, lawyers tend to be a lot more skeptical than the general population. It’s easy to figure out why pessimism and skepticism help people to be better lawyers. Looking out for what may go wrong is a large part of our job.

The problem is that pessimism and skepticism may make for successful lawyers, but they also tend to result in unhappy people, since these traits affect our outlook on life in general, as well as our interactions with those around us. It’s no fun to be around a downer who feels a need to question everything. Or to be that person yourself.

But enough of this introspection. Personality tests aren’t only useful to help you to learn about everything that’s wrong with you, they’re also handy tools to help you to understand what’s wrong with everyone around you. At least that would be a pessimist’s take.

From a non-pessimist’s point of view, learning about your colleagues’ preferences, strengths and weaknesses through personality tests can really make you a much more effective lawyer. It’ll help you to see that everyone has strengths and weaknesses and will enable you to maximize the fortés of those around you, while counteracting flaws.

For example, suppose you know that one of your colleagues is strong in creativity and sociability and weak in organizational ability. He’d probably be great at coming up with fun, interactive ideas for the next corporate conference and getting others interested. But he’d likely be miserable and silently curse you if you ask him to plan a structured agenda. On the other hand, your other co-worker who loves checklists and charts would probably revel in such a task.

Knowing your colleagues’ personality traits also helps you to be more patient when you have to deal with people with personality preferences that are very different from yours. For example, if you know that one of your team members is strong on the social/relational side, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on when they chat with you for days on end. (So instead of assuming they’re lazy, time-wasting idiots, you realize that they really may be well-intended, social butterfly idiots.)

If you don’t really care about being a more effective lawyer or getting the most out of your co-workers’ strengths or any of the other feel-goody stuff, you can always take advantage of personality tests to have some fun at work instead. Go to the office of the super-organized lawyer whose books are perfectly aligned so that all of the spine edges match. Push every other book a couple of inches in and watch his reaction when he returns.

Or tell the extroverted co-worker who gets energy from working in teams that she’s going to have to do doc review in a dark closet for the next few months. And she won’t need to ever go out because you’ll be nice enough to bring her food and drink. Not entertaining enough? Fine, post some ideas. I’m sure you can all think of some good ones with your above-average IQs.

Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company or anyone she works with. Susan may share both her own and others’ experiences (especially the experiences of those who have expressly indicated to her that they must not under any circumstances be shared on ATL). You can reach her at and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.

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