Law students, professors and lawyers may talk about their IQ; intelligence quotient, and match their IQ, SAT, and LSAT scores against those of other new students, teachers, or associates as evidence of their competence to practice or teach law. But many of these same students, professors, and practitioners may be completely unaware of their emotional intelligence quotient and how it can work to their benefit. As a population, lawyers exhibit high average IQ scores (in the 115-130 range), but most score lower than the general population on EI (85-95). What does this mean for you as a law student? Just what is emotional intelligence; sometimes referred to as EQ?
Emotional intelligence comprises the ability to recognize, use, understand, and manage a person’s own and other peoples’ emotions in order regulate their own and others’ behavior. This in turn leads to individual and joint efforts at discovering better way to solve problems. The leadership literature provides many examples depicting how leaders can be more productive and effective if they are able to identify, use, understand and manage emotions. Better self-awareness; probably the most critical component of emotional intelligence, leads to higher individual performance. The ability to understand multiple points of view and to motivate others; associated with empathy and understanding, leads to the ability to create better relationships with co-workers and direct reports. The ability of a manager to enhance her own positive mood as well as create a positive outlook in others has been found to increase employee performance, improve retention and reduce group conflict. So, why would anyone ignore EQ in any environment; school or work, and how do you find out more about it?
Although the concept of EI was popularized by Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ, its roots were established in the 1990s. In a nutshell, the process of keying in your EI is identifying, using, understanding, and managing your emotions in order to achieve optimal results in studying, learning, taking tests, and succeeding in the workplace.
When you key in on identifying emotions, you learn how to recognize your own and others’ feelings in a way that allows you to differentiate between real and phony emotional expressions. An example is not jumping to the conclusion that a person is “just wrong”, but trying to assess why they said something to you the way they did and you realize your response is an emotional one.
As you learn how to use emotions to your benefit, you become more capable of switching emotional gears and use changes in mood to see multiple points of view to generate different approaches to problem solving. An example could be something as simple as recognizing the emotional response and calming yourself down in order to assist yourself in remembering a list of issues for an exam.
As you begin to understand emotions, you identify what you are feeling, calm yourself down, and key in on cause and effect which allows you to understand the complexity a variety of emotions could be having on you at this particular point in time. You also begin to understand the relationship of one reaction or emotion to other emotions. And example of this is a knee jerk reaction you have to a certain phrase that someone uses which is linked back to a negative reaction you had at some point in the past. Maybe your reactions is linked to how your brother made you mad by saying that same phrase to you recently or many years ago, and you find yourself reacting with anger to this person.
Finally, you begin the last phase in the EQ process of managing emotions. As you reach this stage, you are aware of your constantly changing emotions; especially the unpleasant ones. When you reach this stage you are able to confront and solve emotion-laden problems by identifying, using, and understanding yours and others’ emotions without suppressing your emotions. This gives you the ability to better manage relationships. Take the example of a fellow student who approaches you screaming at the top of her lungs. If you’ve successfully dealt with a similar situation and calmed yourself and that other person down, you draw back on that emotionally charged situation. You use that emotional intelligence to understand that persons’ (and your own) state of mind and, in a calm voice, perhaps tell her that when she screams at you it makes both of you stressed, so let’s talk about what you need from me and see if we can reach an agreement on what to do next.
The same skills will be useful in your practice setting. It’s been scientifically demonstrated (see Goleman’s book and look for ABA articles about EI) that we make the best analyses and decisions when we engage both the emotions and the intellect. When you head into your first practice environment, look for the lawyer who garners strong client, associate, and staff loyalty. If others in the practice setting go to them for counsel on personal issues, conflicts, and client dust-ups, they probably have higher EI. They are likely the ones who can truly hear what you are saying; including taking your criticism well, and who will respond reasonably and responsibly to your concerns. These kinds of associates and partners are highly valuable assets in law firms.
It’s also important to build emotionally intelligent teams. Law firms today are expanding the use of teams—management, client, industry and marketing teams. Team effort produces happier clients, and people working well together create comprehensive expertise when minds are cross-fertilized. Members of teams also report being happier than lone wolves, which in turn means more-dedicated, harder working teams.
Teams are more creative and productive when they achieve high levels of participation, cooperation and collaboration among their members. And at the heart of these conditions are emotions—bringing emotions to the surface, understanding how they affect the team’s work, and encouraging behavior that builds relationships inside and outside the team. Consequently, team leaders with high EI are most likely to achieve the most collaborative and productive results.
If you begin your EQ efforts in law school and think of this as a lifelong effort to be as mindful of your emotions, and as productive, fulfilled, and inspiring to others as you can be, you’ll be using your EI to maximum value. If this article has led you to believe that the secret about a comfort zone is that it is only temporary, then you’ve already taken the first step in understanding EQ. Maybe you’ll even take a look at that Goleman book!