Emotional Intelligence: How to Identify It in Legal Professionals

Legal professionals are “smart.” That’s the common perception of lawyers and legal support professionals, and it’s also a common feature in the profession: those who work on legal issues tend to be analytical, focused and persuasive.

The popular emphasis on cognitive intelligence, however, tends to overlook an equally important form of “smarts”: emotional intelligence. Here, we explore what emotional intelligence is, how to spot it and how to develop it.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence encompasses the ability to manage one’s own emotions and to understand and manage the emotions of others. It plays heavily into interpersonal relations and can be an extraordinary form of persuasion.

American psychologist Daniel Goleman listed five key elements of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

Each of these plays a role in putting emotional intelligence to work.

Spotting Emotional Intelligence in Staff and Candidates

Because the factors of emotional intelligence are often internal, managers aren’t always certain how to identify it in candidates or employees. Here are signs a person has high emotional intelligence:

  • They have a robust emotional vocabulary. They’re especially good at finding the precise word to describe their own or someone else’s emotional state, such as “frustrated,” “dismayed,” “comfortable” or “elated.”
  • They’re good judges of character. Their instincts about trustworthiness of others are often spot-on, and they can see a scam coming a mile away.
  • They can let go of mistakes and grudges. People with high EQ rapidly regain their sense of perspective after a highly emotional situation or confrontation. They display resilience and an ability to return quickly to the task at hand.
  • They know their own strengths and weaknesses. Ironically, people with high EQ are often the first to describe themselves as lacking in one of Goleman’s five key elements: “My self-awareness isn’t great.” “I want to improve my self-regulation.” “My social skills always need work.” The fact they notice these things about themselves, however, puts these individuals a notch above those who don’t.

Managers who interview legal candidates or work with legal staff can use these traits to frame questions, evaluate staff and make more informed decisions about hiring or task assignments.

A Quick-Start Guide to Developing Emotional Intelligence

Due to the human brain’s ability to grow and change throughout life, emotional intelligence can be learned. Here’s a quick-start guide to improving emotional intelligence:

Get honest with yourself.

The opposite of self-awareness is self-deception. When you realize you’ve made a conclusion about your own feelings or place in a situation, stop and ask, “Is that really how I feel?”

Focus on others.

When a situation bothers (or interests) you, pause and ask, “How are those around me responding?” Observe their body language and words. Do they genuinely share your feelings, or not? If not, why not?

Schedule time to vent.

Simply suppressing negative emotions places unnecessary stress on you – but displaying them when they happen may not be the best thing for your team. Instead, designate a time, such as your first fifteen minutes at home, to vent about the issue. At work, remind yourself to vent during venting time, and focus on work during work time.

At Kent Legal, our recruiters can help you find legal support professionals with the technical skills, professional knowledge and interpersonal abilities to mesh well with your team and provide the outstanding service your clients expect. Contact us today to learn more about our top legal recruitment services in the GTA.

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