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Emotional Intelligence Matters

by Etan Mark on Categories: emotional intelligence

Emotional Intelligence  Matters
In 2011, a sitting justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court wrapped his hands around a fellow justice’s neck after a profanity-laced diatribe in the heat of a disagreement. His defense: “It was a total reflex.” Practicing attorneys routinely witness similarly emotionally erratic behavior from colleagues, opposing counsel and occasionally even judges. For the most part, lawyers are smart — high IQs, good test-takers, solid analytical skills. Unfortunately, law school and the popular depiction of attorneys seems to alternate between glorifying emotional detachment (cold, critical, analysis) and romanticizing emotional volatility (You want the truth?! You can’t handle the truth!). And although corporate America has embraced the importance of emotional intelligence for about 20 years, the legal profession for the most part has lagged in recognizing that emotional intelligence is likely a far more predictive indicator of success in the legal profession than a high IQ.

So what is emotional intelligence? It’s basically emotion management; both your emotions and the emotions of others (in our case, judges, clients and other attorneys). Daniel Goleman, who first popularized EI as a set of skills that drives leadership performance, breaks EI into five components: (i) self-awareness (understanding your own strengths and weaknesses); (ii) self-regulation (controlling impulses); (iii) social skill (managing relationships); (iv) empathy (considering the emotions of others); and (v) motivation (desire to achieve for the sake of achievement).

Not surprisingly, highly emotionally intelligent people whose jobs are complex (such as ours) out-perform their emotionally less-intelligent peers by many orders of magnitude. This is borne out by the reality that clients hire attorneys based on attributes such as “ability to understand business needs and objectives;” “trusted advisor and not just a legal technician;” and “effective communicator.” Look at the rainmakers in your law firm — no doubt the vast majority would ace an emotional intelligence test. It’s not so hard to find a really smart lawyer. But our prospective clients are consistently on the lookout for a lawyer that has the “intangibles,” a much harder attribute to find on Google.

As it turns out, emotional intelligence doesn’t only help with client relationships — it helps with colleagues too. Emotionally toxic workplaces (I’ve heard) are unpleasant. In his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, Patrick Lencioni opined that five triggers, each of which happen sequentially, will destroy a team. First, people do not trust their teammates and are working in a “defensive” posture. This next leads to a fear of conflict in which people (even litigators) refuse to engage in productive debate. Third, in avoiding conflict, there is no “buy-in” because people do not commit to the final decisions. In turn, there is a decrease in accountability because there is an absence of ownership over tasks. And finally, the results suffer. The collective goals of the team, which theoretically should be aligned with client goals, are lost, and results are not achieved. It is no coincidence that the attributes of someone with high emotional intelligence — constructive communication, empathy, self-awareness — are inconsistent with the attributes of a dysfunctional team.

I recently had the privilege of meeting Chade-Meng Tan, a Google engineer who wrote a book this year called “Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace).” The purpose of the book is, as the title connotes, to achieve world peace. To do that, Meng (whose title at Google is — seriously — Jolly Good Fellow (Which Nobody Can Deny)) tells a story: Once upon a time in ancient China, a man on a horse rode past a man standing on the side of the road. The standing man asked, “Rider, where are you going?” The man on the horse answered, “I don’t know. Ask the horse.” Our emotions, Meng relates, is the horse. We tend to go where they tell us to. Regulating your emotions and being able to decipher the emotions of others is not just good for business; it helps promote world peace.

Luckily, emotional intelligence can be learned. Meng suggests training emotional intelligence by training attention; and one way to train attention is through meditation. As Viktor Frankl said: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.” The ability to pause before reaction provides us with the necessary opportunity to regulate our “reflex.” Developing empathy among team members also will help a team’s emotional intelligence. Spending 30 Blackberry-free seconds (or more) learning about your colleagues is a good start, particularly if you are acting in a mentorship role.

Applying emotional intelligence to your practice and dedicating yourself to the improvement of emotional intelligence will help you, your firm, and most importantly, your clients. And maybe, while I may not be as optimistic that improved emotional intelligence could lead to world peace, I am almost certain it will help the legal profession.

By Etan Mark
Berger Singerman LLP
1450 Brickell Avenue, Suite 1900
Miami, FL 33131-3453

South Florida Legal Guide 2013 Edition

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