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  • Writer's pictureScott R. Mote, Esq.

Why you need emotional intelligence to succeed

In the mid 1990s, researchers discovered that “people with average IQs outperformed those with the highest IQs 70% of the time.” This was a major difference from what many people had always assumed was the sole source of success—IQ. Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack.1 In fact, 90 percent of top performers have high emotional intelligence.2

Research has also shown that individuals with higher EQ earn about 33 percent more income over their lifetimes, have more satisfying marriages and social networks, and have better health and live longer.3

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to manage your emotions and the emotions of others. Emotional intelligence consists of two main areas: personal competence and social competence. Personal competence deals with how you manage your emotions and behaviors. Social competence relates to how you manage the emotions of others, how you use your emotional intelligence to build relationships. Within these two areas, high emotional intelligence consists of:

  • Self-awareness: being aware of your strengths, weaknesses, emotions, and emotions toward other people

  • Self-management: being aware of your emotions and handling them in a positive manner, e.g., impulse control, resilience

  • Social awareness: the ability to understand others’ emotions and act on them

  • Relationship management: your ability to get the best out of others, to inspire them, motivate them, help them change, etc.

Why lawyers need emotional intelligence to succeed

As lawyers, we were never formally trained in being aware of our own or others’ emotions and feelings. We were taught to look at facts, study the law, and develop conclusions. But being able to relate to others is a key trait that lawyers need in all aspects of their careers.

You need to be able to understand your clients’ feelings and put yourself in their shoes at times. You need to learn how to work with others who are angry, frustrated and stressed. Learning how to manage your emotions in times of high stress is crucial to an attorney’s success.

How do you know if you are emotionally intelligent?

People with high EQs share these common traits:

  • Empathy: You are able to understand and share feelings of another person.

  • Balance: You live a balanced life. You know when it is time to unplug from work because you notice you are getting overwhelmed and stressed.

  • Adaptability: You adapt to change. You realize that change is a part of life and that being afraid of change hinders your success.

  • Focus: You do not let criticism or negativity hinder you. You focus on outcomes, not opinions of others.

  • Understand emotions: Not only do you understand emotions such as being happy, frustrated, stressed, but you also know how to manage your emotions.

How to improve your emotional intelligence

While it is true that some people are born with a high EQ, people who lack EQ can improve. Here’s how.

Get in tune with your emotions.

Being able to recognize your emotions is the first step in improving your emotional intelligence. Take some time to honestly reflect on how you deal with negative situations, such as being wrongly accused of something, getting negative feedback from a client, or comforting a colleague who is upset. Once you start identifying your emotions, you can learn how to deal with them in a positive manner.

Take a minute.

Learn to think before you speak. Sometimes we mean well, but our words come out the wrong way. Learn how to think about what you want to say and how to say it. Remember that the tone of your voice is a factor in how you speak to others. There is a big difference between saying “I need this now” in a stern voice, and “It would be great if you could get this high priority item to me in the next hour” in a calm voice.

Take a walk in someone else’s shoes.

An important factor in emotional intelligence is understanding why another person feels the way he/she does. For example, you notice that your co-worker has been quieter than usual. She has been closing her door often, taking lunches by herself and just hasn’t been herself. Think about why she might be feeling that way. You realize that just last week, she lost a client. Take a minute to let her know that you are thinking of her and that you can relate to a similar experience. Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes helps build your relationships with others.

Learn from criticism.

When you’ve spent weeks on a project, working extra hours and trying your best, it can be frustrating to be criticized for your work. Your response to criticism could go two ways: you could get angry and defensive, or you can take a step back and learn from the critique. People with high emotional intelligence take the latter route.

Ask others.

Do you ever wonder how others perceive you? Ask them. Think of a time when you were in an emotional state, and ask your co-worker, spouse, significant other or friend how they perceived your reaction. This can help you understand your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your emotional intelligence.

In today’s competitive market, lawyers need to be at the top of their games. Put yourself in a client’s shoes. If you needed to hire an attorney, would you hire the one who seems robotic, by the book and impersonal, or would you hire the one who understands you, can empathize with you and solve your problem?

By Scott R. Mote, Esq., Executive Director of the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program.


2 Id.

3 “Emotional Intelligence (EQ): Why Lawyers Need It to Succeed,” by Cedric Ashley, American Bar Association, GPSolo, July/August 2017.

This article was first published in the Fall 2018 Columbus Bar Lawyers Quarterly.

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