Why lawyers sometimes balk at being told what to do – psychological reactance

For years, psychologists have studied and confirmed the familiar phenomenon of so-called psychological reactance. An article in Cal. Mgt. Rev., Vol. 50, Fall 2007 at 164, about gender stereotypes in negotiation defines that phenomenon as “the heightened desire people feel to assert their freedom when they perceive it is being restricted by others.”

None of us likes to be forced to do something. For example, if lawyers within a corporate legal department are told to track their time every Friday, whether conscious of it or not many of them may respond to the attempted influence of the general counsel by asserting their freedom to delay putting in their time entries. Managers inevitably direct people, so psychological reactance occurs all the time (See my post of Jan. 17, 2006 on passive-aggressive behavior.).

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