I was talking with a client some time ago. She happens to be an in-house lawyer. In the course of conversation, I asked her what her department could be proud of and what they might think about changing.

The “prouds” came easily: the lawyers in her department are technically brilliant. They know their industry and their craft stone cold. Many have worked in the industry (and even in this company) for decades.

She became thoughtful when I asked about what the legal group could change. Eventually, she said, “I think we could stop telling people that they should just trust our judgment because we’re lawyers.”

This client has a great sense of humor. We both laughed at the potentially oxymoronic statement “Trust me, I’m a lawyer” (and the equally funny saying “Trust me, I’m a consultant“). But when we peeled back the attitude behind the “trust me” behavior, it came down to something quite simple: arrogance. It’s the attitude, “I went to school, got a degree, have achieved all of these things, have this position (fill in the blank!) – so you should shut up and listen to me.”

Granted, most people don’t say that out loud, but it comes through in the behavior loud and clear.

Whether or not this approach is morally wrong (and I believe it is), it just doesn’t work when you have to deal with clients and colleagues. They shut down and look for ways to avoid interaction with you. Feeling shown up, they look for ways to repay the favor.

A better – and more challenging – way is to approach others with humility. It could look something like this: “I’m here to bring the absolute best of my experience and training to help you. It’s very possible that those talents could serve you well – but it’s about you and your needs every bit as much as me and my talents.”

Or as a humble friend of mine says routinely, “How can I help?”

I’m curious – what examples of practical humility have you seen in your world?