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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

January 17, 2018

I interviewed a candidate who used my first name throughout our entire conversation. I found this odd so I dinged him. Do you think this decision was too harsh?

Julie Q. Brush

Using a conversation partner’s first name throughout a conversation is not a common discussion style in the U.S. – either socially or professionally. And quite often, negative impressions are formed…and assumptions are made about a person who converses this way. Some common judgments include that the person is:

  • Too familiar
  • Untrustworthy (used car salesman image)
  • Too aggressive
  • Weird or possesses an odd personalities
  • Hard to connect with
  • Disingenuous
  • Overly earnest

But is this talk style indicative of these traits…or not? Reasons do exist other than the less desirable assumptions above to explain this way of conversing. For example, many times – those who employ this manner were raised, and/or currently live and work in geographic regions with more formal/different cultures. Where threading one’s name throughout a conversation is a sign of respect, engagement and professionalism. In addition, this dialogue can be used when English is not the native tongue and is part of a proper speaking pattern that was taught and learned. Finally, some individuals adopt this style to punctuate their earnestness in expressing a point – which may have been a style learned as a youngster or part of an education.

So before you pass final judgment, put the conversation style aside for a moment and dig deeper to learn more about the person. Then determine how you feel and then balance your conclusions. A few questions to ask and answer: What are the details of the candidate’s personal story? How strong is his substantive experience? What are his values? How much can this person contribute? Is there anything you like about this person? If so, what? How much does the conversation style bother you? Does any information about this person support or refute your negative impressions based on the way he converses? Is there anything benign to explain it? Is there anything that can overcome it?

At the end of the day, if your engagement is unnatural and the chemistry is off, it won’t be a fit regardless of how qualified the candidate is. But it’s important to conduct your diligence and assess all facets of the candidate in order to determine whether his/her style is a non-starter. Once you do, you won’t second-guess yourself and will feel confident in your choice to stop now or move ahead.

How we communicate as professionals is an important factor in how we are perceived by others. Sometimes conversation styles are misleading, other times they’re right on the money. The closest scrutiny and harshest judgments of our communication occur in interview settings. So for those lawyers who frequently include a talk partner’s name when conversing, be cognizant of this uncommon style as well as an employer’s potential negative reaction to it…and prepare accordingly. For employers, gain additional knowledge before casting your final vote. And know that there may be more to this candidate than meets the name.

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