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Familiarity Breeds Contempt: Stay Away from Other Lawyers

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I've learned that lawyers generally hate two things: 1) The law, and 2) Themselves. Most think that misery loves company, which would suggest that you socialize with, bond with, perhaps even marry someone from your office. You could share stories about billable hours, demanding clients or even the successes in the courtroom while you have lunch together or throw paper airplanes around the conference room as you countdown the minutes until Happy Hour. On the surface this perhaps sounds quite appealing. In terms of translation to real-life happiness, this is likely a poor choice.

When I was in graduate school, there were two psychologists who were married to each other. I called them the Siamese Twins. The Twins drove to work in the same car, conducted research in offices that were next to each other, ate lunch together, and then drove home to, presumably, eat dinner and do whatever else couples do when they return home for the evening. They didn't socialize much with the other professors but seemed reasonably happy enough. Now, this is an extreme example of a couple spending a colossal amount of time together, and one could argue that the Twins were very successful at it. So why the warnings to do anything that even resembles this?

Research has taught us the following:*

1) The more we know about people, the less we tend to like them.

2) We generally like people who are similar to ourselves; when we learn more, it becomes easier to find a dissimilarity. Unfortunately, when this occurs we tend to negatively view traits about the person that were once neutral or even positive.

3) These findings tend to hold true in both controlled studies and the real world (e.g., online dating).

These results can't be universally true, or else we would simply despise virtually everyone we've known for most of our lives. So how do we hold the great people close to us without taking a shiv to their spines? It's not rocket science, just some reasonable distance. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" is the cliche of choice here, for good reason. The Twins may have been happy, but there was never that yearning to see the other person or that incredibly satisfying experience of reconnecting, whether that be after weeks or simply after a day at the office. Without the separation, the connection loses its potency. There's plenty to be said for relationships that are so close that "we don't need words," but your odds of better mental health increases drastically when you actually tell a friend or spouse about your day as opposed to simply stating "you know how it is, you were there for most of it."

Don't hesitate to befriend a co-worker or even dip your pen in the corporate ink if that's your thing. But recognize the risks and remember the research. I tell all of my clients who spend all of their time with either one or even more colleagues about the inherent perils. The risks are significant, especially if these people are more than drinking buddies or casual sex partners. Most of us inherently know that we need our space from others, just be sure to make it happen.

* Most of this research was gleaned from here, so take a look if you are interested in more details about the studies.^

[Read more from Dr. Rob]


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