Lawyer and Mediator Niel Fick on Building Trust in the Workplace

Anne Hilb: Tell us about yourself as a person and your current work

Niel Fick: I am now a mediator and arbitrator of disputes—primarily those in litigation—after 42 years of law practice as a trial lawyer, primarily representing folks who have been injured or a family member killed due to someone else’s negligence, as well as business disputes and contract matters. 

I have been married for 46 years, have three children and 9 grandchildren, ages 5 to 11.  I had service in the military, enlisting in 1968—shortly after the Russian invasion of Prague—and spent my time in signal intelligence with United States Army Security Agency (now all NSA), stationed in the Alps near the Czech border, monitoring Russian and Soviet Satellite nations.  

AH: Technology can and should be celebrated for the many ways it has helped business. It also raises concerns that previously did not exist. In your experience, what kinds of privacy concerns are employees most worried about? 

NF: Employers and employees have and share concerns about technology—from the tremendous variety and opportunities afforded, “skilling up” in any particular software, and trying to mastering its use and value within the given enterprise. On top of that, everyone is trying to “slot in to” that “indispensable” category of employee, where they feel they are lending recognizable true value to the enterprise. The latter translates to higher income, marketability and mobility, within any enterprise, or in leaving or transferring.  

The pull of social media is great, and always a risk arena on many levels, personal and professional.

Whatever we launch, participate in, or put out there is available and offers a view of us—whether in context or not, whether relevant or not—which can affect hirings or firings, promotions or being sidelined.

Employees and all involved in any given enterprise need to stay attentive to this.

New Orleans, post Katrina, reconstructing a community garden with group of lawyers. (Fick is back left, holding the saw overhead.)

AH: In what ways has technology been most helpful? 

NF: One of the best courses I ever took was typing—during summer of eighth grade. This course was, in a way, foundational to all that followed: to my time in college, in the military, in law school and in starting a law practice. And at the advent of computer introduction to lawyers in practice.

From the earliest stages and proprietary software through this glorious day, technologies allowed me to attempt at all time to stay somewhere in the top 25 percent of all law firms using the technologies.  This also allowed me to hire well, appreciate and engage best training practices, and flourish year to year. 

To this day, I continue paying attention to and seeking the best available which might advance day-to-day—just making today a tad better than yesterday. 

AH: How can managers help alleviate some of their employees’ workplace worries surrounding privacy and confidentiality? (…and help avoid employee paranoia)

NF: Respect every empoyee and an individual with individual gifts and skills. Actually sit down with them frequently and listen, share, and help them grow in skills and value.  Share with them the issues and necessity of confidentiality and privacy—but also understand that, on occasion, errors occur, and often they are the employer or manager’s ultimate fault, and be willing on those occasions to accept that, retrain or reinstruct, and move on. Mistakes should not always be fatal. 

Also, Read “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” and embrace it.  When a person within is creating or allowed to create such a dysfunction, it must be addressed; it will not resolve without the employer or manager’s direct attention.  If this translate to a discharge, make sure it is as a properly coordinated discharge (get legal advice ahead of discharging!), to avoid becoming embroiled in further chaos. 

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team focuses on what occurs when teams are missing key functional elements and the direct impact on results. In order to reduce misunderstandings and confusion amongst a team, it is important to understand there are five dysfunctions, and each dysfunction must be addressed individually. (

AH: What, in your opinion, makes a trustworthy manager? Employee?

NF: Attitude, attitude, attitude!  I love smart. I love optimists. I love enthusiasm. I love those who are respectful of others, like people and life themselves and their lives. Things seem to just flow better.  All individuals have issues and problems and life as we know it and live it; the question is how they deal with those. And this translates into how they treat others.  

I once had an employee whom everyone just liked.  When this employee was discharged, everyone else was shocked.  I then asked each of them what that employee had ever done to help them, or with a project, or stepped in to undertake anything alone?  I asked them a few specifics such as helping with x, y or z ….. and not one of them could name a single time.  This individual thought just presence and showing up was all it took, which is simply not the case.  No individual grows individually or within an organization just by being, or just showing up.  Becoming “indispensible” to an organization takes ongoing effort. 

AH: What are some strategies for building trust in the workplace?

NF: Treat everyone with respect.  

Follow, in part and to the extent you can, Philo’s philosophical statement, “Be kind. Everyone is fighting a hard battle.”  

Either be available, or have morning meetings of the team—short, but deals with “what do we need to accomplish or prioritize TODAY?!!”  There are always those things which can be done tomorrow or this week or this month, but what are the pressing items? This saves a lot of spinning of wheels. 

AH: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

NF: During my first year of law school a law professor once said, “You don’t HAVE TO DO anything!”  So very true. Of course, there are consequences, and that the the core meaning.  We live a life of many choices, every day, and almost every moment. Use them mindfully, thoughtfully, well, and purposefully.  

This day, this moment, is special in some way—even in relaxation.  Value loved ones, family and friends, and be there.  LISTEN, more than you ever talk; you will learn more and have better relationships.  

Do you HAVE TO DO these things? Absolutely NOT. Enjoy life.  Be well. 


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2 thoughts on “Lawyer and Mediator Niel Fick on Building Trust in the Workplace

  1. Thank you so much, Joep! It’s easy when you have such a terrific leader to interview! Huge thanks to Niel for his tremendous contributions and to you for your encouragement.


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