Work + Growth

Emotional Intelligence: What is it and How Can it Help Lawyers?


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  • Emotional intelligence, or EQ, concerns identifying and managing emotions, as well as empathy for others
  • High-EQ lawyers make clients more comfortable, work better with others, and tend to have better mental health
  • You can do simple exercises to improve your emotional intelligence, which could lead to a better work experience

It’s a safe bet that you’ve heard the term “emotional intelligence” or “EQ,” but you might not be quite sure what it means.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage our emotions, as well as be aware of the emotional state of others. Psychologists generally include certain skills—emotional awareness, the ability to harness and use emotions, and the ability to regulate them, as well as empathy for others—in the description. So basically: being smart about feelings.

Emotional Intelligence at Work

Emotional intelligence is not just a good thing to develop in your personal life, but it can also help you succeed at work. Lawyers are often stereotyped (not always incorrectly) as being extremely logical and focused on the legal details rather than the people attached to them. A lawyer who can make clients feel comfortable, socialize professionally at networking events, and work well with colleagues while also exceling at the technical stuff is much more valuable than a strict legal wonk who is less able to read a room.

Working on your EQ isn’t only useful to help you win clients, make you a sought-after person to add to a team, and make your firm more money. It can also help you understand and manage your own emotions at work—anxiety, too-high intensity levels, hostility—for your own benefit, better mental health and ultimately more happiness and satisfaction with your job. You want to be the lawyer who not only listens well, puts clients at ease, and doesn’t annoy the senior partners, but who also is not driven crazy by their job.

So how exactly are you supposed to raise your EQ? Do you have to participate in some kind of weekend-long, hippie workshop? Not at all.

Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

You can work on your emotional intelligence by doing simple exercises at any point in your day. Start with raising your emotional awareness by noting how you feel at, say, every meal, or every time you enter or exit a building. Put a name to what you’re feeling—it’s ok if it takes you while to come up with a word to describe how you feel as you’re simply sitting down to eat a sandwich. Just try to be as accurate as possible in your description, including how you feel physically. (“I’m feeling excited to eat this sandwich from my favorite lunch spot, I’m relieved this morning’s meeting went well, my stomach is growling, and I’m also feeling a bit tired.”) Just checking in with yourself on a regular basis will help you develop your awareness skills, even if it might seem a bit silly.

An interesting and even fun exercise is to watch a movie on mute. See if you can determine what’s happening in the plot. Use cues like posture, hand gestures, and facial expressions to figure it out. Turn on the sound periodically to check your accuracy. Try this regularly and you’ll start to see improvement that can be translated to your real-life interactions.

Can you think of other small things you can do throughout the day to help strengthen your emotional intelligence?

Learning how to recognize and manage negative emotions and stress might be one of the most important aspects of emotional intelligence when it comes to your mental health and professional happiness. You can’t work on those things unless you recognize and acknowledge them. You might think you’re just angry, or anxious, or distracted—but those things may all be chalked up to your stress levels. Checking in with yourself regularly can lead you to realize when you need to take a 10-minute walk, close your office door and do some breathing exercises, or meditate in an empty conference room.

What's Next

Over the next two weeks, try the awareness exercise. If you have a chance, write down your feelings to see if you can notice any patterns.