The Mentorist

I Second That Emotion: When ‘Keeping Your Cool’ Can Hurt You

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I knew how this story would end. The mistake I made was jumping to the last page, while my colleagues were still wandering through the first chapter.

I was General Counsel at a company that had just been hit with an intellectual property claim. The plaintiff (who, for ease of reference, I will call “Darth”) came at us with guns a’blazin’:  We’d violated patents, stolen trade secrets and deserved to burn in hell.

According to my “business guys,” our company’s behavior had been nothing short of saintly.  In fact, we could have sued Darth for….

Well, the specifics don’t matter here.  Let’s just say that neither version of the story was fully accurate.

When Darth’s claim landed on my desk, I called our outside law firm to talk strategy and get a sense of what this defense was going to cost us in legal fees.

The reason that most patent lawsuits settle quickly became clear:  Our outside firm estimated that its fees for just the initial (summary judgment) phase of this case would be as much as Darth wanted in damages  — and that our odds of winning were about 60 per cent.

So, here was my mistake:  On one of the earliest conference calls I had with our CEO and assorted other company “dignitaries,” I advocated for settling this case.  The economics of the situation dictated it.

What I didn’t realize was that our CEO was still in the “high-dudgeon” stage of reacting to Darth’s claim:  “This is outrageous!  How dare those #$%@! do this to us!  We’ll serve them up on a platter!  Yadda yadda….”

My cutting straight to the (settlement) chase, before our CEO was ready to leaveAngry CEO-15162907_s his anger and look rationally at the case, made me seem detached and “not on the team.”  In the CEO’s eyes, I was acting as if didn’t care about the company.

Yes, a big part of the General Counsel’s job is to serve as “the adult” in situations like this.  But – just as when dealing with children – sometimes, before they can hear you, you, first, have to make clear to them that you “feel their pain.”

Women are often accused of being too emotional in the workplace. But here’s one example of where I wasn’t emotional enough.  Next time, I’ll begin with a “kick and stomp.”

Author: Jane E. Owens

Jane E. Owens, The Mentorist’s chief blogger, has spent her career immersed in the business and culture of corporations and law firms. A former general counsel and corporate lawyer, Jane is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the professional world – and, through her mentoring practice, hopes to increase the ranks of the former. To learn more about Jane or suggest topics you'd like The Mentorist to discuss, go to:

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