Culture & Compliance Chronicles: Techniques on Approaching & Establishing Relationships

August 6, 2020
26:46 minutes
Shu-Yin (Tina) Yu ,
Julian Danobeitia

In this episode of Ropes & Gray’s podcast series, Culture & Compliance Chronicles, litigation & enforcement attorney Tina Yu continues the conversation with Julian Danobeitia, an executive coach and director at DownTheCorridor. Last episode, Tina and Julian discussed how important relationships are to improving the overall compliance culture. Now they delve into techniques legal and regulatory compliance teams can use to build relationships and enhance outreach. To make communications more effective, they discuss the importance of curiosity and empathy, and adopting a relationship-based approach to interacting with colleagues.


Tina Yu: Hi everyone, and welcome back to Culture & Compliance Chronicles, a podcast series focused on the behavioral sciences approach to risk management. I am Tina Yu, a litigation & enforcement associate at Ropes & Gray. In part two of this two-part discussion, I’m once again joined by Julian Danobeitia, who is the executive coach and director of DownTheCorridor. In part one, we talked about the importance of relationships and making connections in our approach to compliance. In this second part, we’ll discuss techniques to help us establish relationships and make outreach more effective.  

Julian Danobeitia: There was this really interesting guy on the radio I heard the other day, an American law professor, and he was talking about (you can take regulatory as an example, or tax or any of those aspects of law, they are so profoundly complex now that I don't think anybody can know them all – I just don’t think it’s possible) an average person who has to interact in some way, shape or form with the niceties, if you like, of the law. His view was it's simply become impossible, and so people don't bother. It's just too hard to get to, so we'll just pretend it's not there. And he was talking about dealing with that level of complexity and what alternatives there might be to having that level of complexity within a legal framework. What he came up with was the notion of really going right back to a set of very simple core principles and breaking down whatever complexities there might be and turning them into principles that that person can take home.

Tina Yu: Yes, I definitely see that. From my own experience, if I see a very long paragraph with very, very long sentences made up of five-syllable words, would I rather look at that versus three bullet points breaking down what that paragraph says? Of course it's going to be the latter – that's just human nature. And then going further, how much would I have retained even if I did read that original, very long paragraph, with very long sentences and multiple five-syllable words? I honestly don't know if I would retain the information there better than if I had actually looked at the three bullet points that summarized that huge paragraph. So, I do think there are ways to present information that is more easily digestible. There are ways to present information that makes it more memorable. I think that really comes into the role of a lawyer as well because in a way, we are the ones that are being tasked with digesting very complex laws and regulations, and all of the case law that goes with it. We're tasked with coming up with the legal arguments, coming up with the legal precedents and consolidating that into advice that is, at the same time, understandable, relatable, but also summarizes the key points of the law that we need to get across. So ultimately, I do think the legal profession has a very, very big role in that, and I think that role is even more important in organizations, for all of the reasons that we had discussed. I really do think it is our jobs to get the message across, and that's why it's so important to remember your audience. There's going to be ways of communicating among fellow legal professionals who know the lingo, who know the case law, who know the precedents, and there's going to be somebody who's maybe spectacular at running the business but not have that background in legal knowledge, so it is really bridging that gap.

Julian Danobeitia: How about fun – where does fun fit? As I'm listening to you speaking, I'm remembering some of the games that we used to play back in the old days when we were working with general counsel a lot and trying to help them to learn faster. I understood one fact, which is that fun is the prerequisite for all accelerated learning. If you think about the process of us riding bicycles, we spent a long time as kids falling off bicycles, crying, getting upset, getting hurt, feeling angry, feeling sad, feeling ashamed, having all these things – we spend a long time  feeling that way. So, in one sense, we should really not be able to ride bicycles at all, and yet, one day what happens is, we just sit there and we stay on. In that one moment of staying on, we learn, we encode how to ride a bicycle, and we never ever forget. If I gave you a bicycle right now, you could ride one, right?

Tina Yu: I would hope so.

Julian Danobeitia: Right. But in that one moment, what happens is, is that we encode something new – we learn something new. And what has us do that is the fun, the freedom, the liberation, the enjoyment that we experience out of the new thing called, "I can ride a bike." So in a lot of the learning that we do as lawyers and regulatory people, what we try to do is to really tap in to the extent to which learning a new thing may be accelerated proportionally to the amount of fun we're all having whilst we're learning it, and I appreciate that. Talking about fun and the Bribery Act… it sounds a bit oxymoronic, but actually it doesn't have to be. I don't know if that's something that’s ever crossed your radar, or is something that you're involved in or explored with your clients to any extent?

Tina Yu: I do think fun is part of the reward system. We won't go into the details about individual economic decisions and how rewards and punishment will impact individual behavior right now, but at the end of it, we all respond to rewards and incentives, and we respond negatively to punishment and penalties. I think fun is a big part of that. I think on a psychological level, fun just makes it easier for us to internalize things. There's examples where I have gone to a very interesting speech, but half a year later I only remember the jokes from it, so I do think humor and fun make a very profound impact in your message. And I think this goes back to where we started in this conversation, which is, yes, sometimes what we're trying to convey traditionally seems very dry, but we need to explore ways of communicating that in a different manner. Personally, I think we should always try to inject humor wherever we can – whether it's through summaries or easy-to-remember values that's being perpetuated throughout the organization, I think those are all ways that we can keep that distance between the legal, compliance, regulatory, and the rest of the organization and the rest of the teams, basically, much, much smaller.

Julian Danobeitia: I think that the most effective CEO, the most effective general counsel, the most effective anybody, really, who is in a professional role or a leadership role will always be focused primarily on one thing, which is the experience that they are creating for the other person. I think certainly the most effective CEOs, the most effective lawyers I've ever come across all have one thing in common, which is that they're curious. They're curious about the relationship – that's what they're curious about. They're curious about how, in that relationship, they are making the other person, the other people feel. As a result of that, I think what they get is a very, very different result from the ones that are not curious. All organizations, I think, we can safely say, want to maximize the performance of the people inside their organizations. Historically, what that's been around is a vanilla set of objectives, outcomes and milestones that are measurable and are communicated clearly to the people inside those organizations, and which those people are measured against, usually by a group of their peers, at the end of the review period. Then we go through the process, and on we go again. Increasingly, what I encounter across organizations is that that's not the thing anymore. The thing now is a coaching approach. And a coaching approach is one in which you have a very different culture, I think – if it's done in the most effective way, is a relationship-based approach. I think that that's the common thing that I encounter. Most effective CEOs, most effective lawyers, they have that relationship-based approach.

Tina Yu: I definitely see a trend in that, and it is a trend in the compliance space as well. That's really because relationships, I think, is the first step to having those conversations and having that rapport, to really come to a consensus on, "What steps are we going to do that are ultimately going to benefit the organization?" If you're operating in a silo—and I'm oversimplifying here—but if you're operating in a silo, then if you're in sales, it's very possible that your view is to maximize sales, whatever the cost. If you're in legal, then it's very possible that your view is going to be, "Let's just keep the company out of trouble, and here is a 50-page memo on why it's important to do that." If you're in finance, maybe it's, "Well, I just need to make sure there's no strange expenditures or unnecessarily expenditures, so fill out this 10-page form on why this expense came to be and varying levels of details on how it was incurred." So, I can see how, in a siloed environment, everyone will just go down into a rabbit hole, and that's why it's so important to have those ties and to have those relationships, and as you mentioned, having more of this coaching process instead of just trying to promulgate a lot of black letter regulations and procedures, and expecting people to figure it out on their own because we have seen time and time again that that's just not what works. What works is this approach that you've mentioned, and it is from a coaching perspective. It is inspiring people to do what they need to do. It is getting people of their own initiative to act in a way that is consistent with the organization's values. So I think there's definitely value to that, and I'm glad that you're seeing it in the various businesses that you're working with. That brings me to another question. You've spoken about how different it was working in private practice and then going in-house, and now you've taken on this coaching role. I would find it very interesting just to see how you felt that organizations perceived you in those different roles, and conversely, in your experience, how organizations are gradually becoming more open to this more coaching, collaborative process versus what you might have seen when you were just a lawyer in private practice?

Julian Danobeitia: I think the short answer for that is, very bad, bad and a lot better, in that order. I think that those experiences that I had were driven to a very large extent by my own lack of curiosity about myself, really. Coaches who aren't curious about themselves, I'm not sure how effective they are, so I would never do what I do without having a coach myself. I'm still engaged in that process – that process of being curious about myself, and therefore how I come across and how I interact with others and the impact I have. I think that certainly when I started coaching other people, there was a very different perception around it. I think that change is probably from the U.S., actually, predominantly in the early 2000s, around what the word even meant, what it was and what it was for, I think started to change perceptions around what the role of an effective coach is. And, of course, the role of effective coach is exactly the same in any environment, whether you're a sports coach, whether you're a voice coach, whether you're an executive coach—it doesn’t really make any difference—is to help your clients maximize their performance in the environment in which they find themselves. That's it – that's what it's all about. And the vehicle, the delivery system for facilitating those changes in attitude that give you a new result, is the relationship. Erik de Haan runs the Ashridge School of Coaching and he's done the biggest bit of research on this, I think, that I know of, personally. I have a huge amount of respect for him. He is very clear in his research – again, it is the focus on the relationship that's important, and that's really the key thing. I think that nobody took emotion seriously probably until the year 2000 in the psychological sphere, and then folks started putting people inside machines that made lights go off and we had people actually able to see how their brains were operating for the first time. The conversation that it started around us, our brains, our behavior and business has changed things a lot, really, over the last 10 years, so that the experience that I have of people who are senior inside any organization, is that they're absolutely hungry for feedback. They're really hungry to find out those aspects of themselves that are hidden from their own view. They want to know so that they can do the stuff that they do well more – they really want that feedback. Inside organizations, I think in leadership teams, the attitude is, "If you're an amateur you're going to do it on your own, and if you're a professional you're going to get a coach." In the law, I'm not so sure – I think that's still a journey that is ongoing. But I think that the attitudes around coaching is changing, generally, quite a lot. I found it really difficult to become a lawyer, and I found it even more difficult to stay being a lawyer. I think it's a hard job, it's a difficult job, and it's a job where it's full of people who are trying to do their best. I don't know if the perception around lawyers and regulatory people globally, if you like, on a macro level, has changed that much since I started practicing as a lawyer. I'm sad about that – I just don't see that shift in perception around lawyers even now. I don't know. What are your thoughts?

Tina Yu: I agree. I think it's very hard to get that image of lawyers outside of your head, with the Hollywood portrayal of lawyers, what you see in the news and that general public sentiment on what lawyers are like, so I see where you're coming from. I think bundled up with all of that, just going back to how lawyers and regulatory folks are often perceived in organizations, I think it's a very hard bias to get rid of. I do think it's going to be up to the lawyers, it's going to be up to the regulatory employees, it's going to be up to the compliance teams to actively step out of that or proactively take steps to combat that image because other people, the non-lawyers, the non-regulators, the non-compliance individuals, they're not going to one day decide on their own that they're going to look at these functions differently. I think that goes not just for the legal and regulatory and compliance functions, that goes for functions like finance or human resources or all of these other support functions, if you will. And I think it's being proactive – it’s taking the steps to really be empathetic to how you're being perceived, and then if you think that's not a fair designation or if you want to change that image, then the onus is really on us to take that first step. A lot of that outreach is going to be proactive conversations. It's going to be, what makes it easier, just thinking proactively, "What will make it easier for people to understand what I'm trying to convey? What is going to be more effective?" I think it's those little steps that ultimately gradually will add up to a bigger movement in, first, how you're portrayed and how willing people are going to be to accept what you have to say as a result.

Julian Danobeitia: That's really great – it’s so interesting. I wonder if you would be open to me sharing with you one of the first things that I do with all of the professionals probably at some stage to support them in taking exactly those steps that you're talking about?

Tina Yu: I would love to hear it because that was my exact question that I was going to ask next.

Julian Danobeitia: If you get out a piece of paper, and in the middle of the piece of paper you write a circle, and you write you, in other words, "Tina Yu" inside that circle. Now I want you to just think about who you know. It's not every single person, but try to break them down into categories. I guess you know lawyers at Ropes & Gray, right? You know lawyers inside your own organization, so they would be one heading, one category. I guess you know,-- I don't know, in-house lawyers? Who else do you know? What other categories of people do you know, not just inside work, everywhere? The trick is to make the categories as small and as manageable and as simple as possible. Lawyers you went to law school with? Clients? Lawyers acting for the same clients? You can see that we could go on probably adding more and more bite-size, if you like, categories – small, simple categories of different types of people that you know. Just pick one category at random.

Tina Yu: I'll say Ropes & Gray lawyers then.

Julian Danobeitia: Okay. Ropes & Gray lawyers. Think about one lawyer or think about the lawyer at Ropes & Gray that you absolutely like the most, who you're most comfortable with. You could write that person's name down and you could score them out of five in terms of their relationship – one: terrible, you can't stand the sight of them; five: I really love this person. So you could score that person. And you could carry on listing in order, if you like, those people at Ropes & Gray who you find you're most comfortable with and have the best relationships with. And then, of course, you could go through all of the other categories and go through exactly the same process. What you would end up with is something called a relationship map. That might be the first time that you have ever seen what is, I think, the most valuable asset any lawyer or anyone has, which is their relationships, their secure attachment relationships. That map of people is what you can then go on to deploy, if you like, in order to achieve the outcomes that you're looking to achieve. And the reason why it's much easier to approach it in a relationship-based way than it is to approach it in what I would call a doing way, if you likeso approaching it in a feeling way rather than a doing wayit's much easier because you're much more motivated to go and speak to those people who are on your list because you like them more and you get along with them more. If you think about that conversation inside some of your clients and listing those clients in the way that you feel about them, they are the people who you are much more likely to pick up the phone to engage with, have the conversations, be open with, try something new with, than not. So that map is your map of relationships. For everybody, I think, that I've worked with, doing that map and working on that map, and thinking about that map, and using that map as a way to try to secure the objectives that you are seeking to achieve, when working with me or whatever it is that you're doing, or when trying to make a change inside an organization, is probably the best place to start always. You're just going to be much more motivated to do it because you're approaching it from a relationship-based approach rather than from a doing approach. So your homework is to go off and complete the whole map.

Tina Yu: That's fascinating, actually. Thank you for that – that's a really interesting way of approaching it.

Julian Danobeitia: I'm hoping that it's really simplistic and childlike because those are the things that tend to work. I know the first time I did my map, I just hadn't thought about my relationships in that way. But this is a way of auditing your relationships and starting to treat them as what they are, which is, of course, the most valuable asset that you have and managing them appropriately as a result.

Tina Yu: That's amazing. I really like that.

Julian Danobeitia: That's where it starts. I think if you're going to adopt the relationship-based approach in what you're doing, the first thing you have to do is work out what your relationships look like and how you feel about the various people inside your world because by virtue of doing that, you are probably going to be much more motivated to do whatever it is that you need to do than having to engage with people that you don't have that same level of connection with.

Tina Yu: That really is like what we've been discussing this whole time – that very important first step and just making that proactive outreach to everyone else.

Julian Danobeitia: To give a practical example, I guess if you're engaged with a client inside an organization where they have some issues and you want to adopt a more formalistically, if you like, relationship-based approach to supporting your client and making the changes that they want to see inside their organization, absolutely, I couldn't agree more with what you said earlier on, just to have somebody to talk with, to explore it with, to speak out loud with, is probably a really good idea in terms of minimizing your regulatory risk. The question is, how do you get people inside an organization to do that if they've never done it before? Well, I'd have thought that the thing to do is to speak with the people that you know best first, and get on with the best first and start the process there because they're probably going to do your work for you.

Tina Yu: Yes, I think that makes a whole lot of sense – couldn't agree more. So Julian, thank you so much for joining me for this insightful discussion. And thank you to our listeners. We appreciate you tuning in to our Culture & Compliance Chronicles podcast series. For more information, please visit our website at And, of course, if we can help you navigate any of the topics we discussed, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us. You can also subscribe to this series wherever you regularly listen to podcasts, including on Apple and Spotify. Thanks again for listening.

For more information or to contact Julian Danobeitia, please visit DownTheCorridor’s website at or email him directly at

DownTheCorridor   Ropes & Gray

External Authors

Julian Danobeitia
Executive Coach and Director, DownTheCorridor
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