Emotional intelligence

In this article we look at what emotional intelligence is, its importance for in-house lawyers and how it can be developed.

There is growing evidence that emotional intelligence has great value in the modern day workplace. It has been shown to improve productivity, customer service, decision-making and leadership. With this in mind, improved emotional intelligence could benefit in-house lawyers and legal teams. 

What is emotional intelligence?

We’re familiar with the concept of the intelligence quotient (IQ), even if we’ve never sat an IQ test. We usually associate a high IQ score with both intelligence and competence.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is based on psychological research about emotions and thought. Psychologist Howard Gardner said intelligence involves a range of abilities and that there are multiple intelligences, not just the two traditionally associated with intelligence, logical-mathematical and linguistic. Later, Yale academics Mayer and Salovey defined and measured EQ based on their research, which found that emotion and cognition are involved in sophisticated decision-making.

In 1995, Daniel Goleman published his ground-breaking book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ. In it, he expanded the concept of EQ to include attributes such as political awareness and self-confidence. Goleman defined five components of EQ. They are:

  • Self-awareness;
  • Self-regulation;
  • Motivation;
  • Empathy; and
  • Social skills.

These components sit in the personal and the interpersonal domains, sometimes referred to as personal competence and relationship competence. Personal competence is concerned with self-awareness and self-control, while relationship competence refers to our awareness of others and building relationships.

Interestingly, research has found that there is no natural correlation between IQ and EQ. So, it doesn’t follow that a person with a high IQ score will necessarily have a high EQ score.

Why does this matter?

Organisations function through people in daily interactions and decisions. Evidence suggests that developing EQ can have tangible benefits in the workplace and beyond. EQ has been said to be an important factor in productivity, customer service, decision making and leadership. Low EQ across an organisation can result in lower levels of performance, poor staff engagement, low morale and high staff turnover.

Let’s take a closer look at Daniel Goleman's five components of EQ.


This is about how well you know yourself compared to how others see you. In her article in Harvard Business Review, organisational psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich explained that her research had revealed two types of self-awareness, internal self-awareness and external self-awareness. The first relates to how well people understand their values, passions, aspirations, environmental fit, thoughts, feelings, strengths, weaknesses and impact on others. This has been associated with higher job and relationship satisfaction, control and happiness. Its absence is associated with anxiety and stress. External self-awareness relates to understanding how others see you, thereby enhancing empathy and seeing other people’s perspectives.


Behaving with restraint and respect is clearly desirable. But how easy is it to maintain high standards and stay calm in difficult and stressful situations? There may be a tendency to behave and act in ways that are harmful to ourselves and others. A high EQ allows the person to better read and anticipate difficulties and to remain calm, focused and respectful, even in pressure situations.


Motivation is rarely a problem when things are going well for us, our team or our organisation. But what about when difficulties arise or things don’t go so well, such as when dealing with a difficult personal challenge or disappointment? Maintaining motivation - and motivating others - in response to success, change and challenges requires resilience and awareness.


It may sound straightforward, but understanding other people’s feelings isn’t always easy, particularly where those feelings conflict with our own or inhibit the achievement of a particular goal. However, a person with a high EQ is able to take on board and deal with the concerns of others without being derailed from their own objectives.

Social skills

There are many skills compatible with high EQ, however, in an organisational context, it’s important to build relationships with others, establish rapports and be able to persuade, influence and lead. Improving our communication, time-management and conflict-resolution skills will help us achieve these goals.

Can EQ be taught?

Many organisations recognise that the personal and intrapersonal attributes synonymous with high EQ are important and valuable in developing skills and values that support their staff and the organisation generally. Academic studies suggest that increasing EQ results in greater job satisfaction and performance and that EQ is a bigger factor in organisations’ success than technical and cognitive ability. As a result, training programmes that enable people to learn and enhance these skills are increasingly widespread.

Is EQ relevant to lawyers?

Lawyers are often high academic and cognitive achievers. They’re typically what some people refer to as ‘book smart’. But as any lawyer fresh out of law school soon learns, being smart is only half the story. The lawyer’s ability to reason, analyse, interpret and explain the law and its context are highly valuable skills. Yet, lawyers spend a good deal of their time interacting with people in various capacities, such as clients, colleagues, other lawyers and regulators. These interactions may call on skills and behaviours for which the lawyer has little experience or training. There’s also evidence suggesting that, while lawyers generally score highly in relation to their intellectual capabilities, the same is not necessarily true of their emotional quotient. Lawyers are, however, no different from people generally in that their wellbeing in the workplace derives from autonomy, competence, relations with others and motivation (enjoyment, interest and meaning).

How can lawyers improve their EQ?

In-house lawyers have long known that their influence and impact in their organisations rely on more than their technical legal skills – important though these are. How well they can inform, persuade, influence, negotiate and collaborate are all important success factors. And to do these well you need good EQ, so here are five areas to work on:

Self-awareness. Be clear about your values, aspirations, feelings, strengths, weaknesses and how your emotions and behaviour impact others. Do you know how your emotions impact your judgement and decision-making? Do you know your stress trigger points and are you aware of how you can either avoid them or reduce their impact? Do you find it easy to ask for help and support?

Self-expression. How well do you listen? Are you authentic - and mindful that authenticity builds trust? Are you assertive, in the sense of being straight and positive in expressing your views? Are you in control of your emotions, including at times of challenge and when under stress? Can you admit when you’re wrong or don’t know the answer? Are you egotistical or humble?

People skills. Are you interested in the thoughts and feelings of others? Are you skilled at reading other people and their body language to see the bigger picture? Do you have high ethical standards and a clear sense of social responsibility without being self-righteous?

Building relationships. Do you look to build strong, long-term relationships, recognising them as a key part of achieving business and personal outcomes? Are you a collaborator and someone who supports others? If you’re in a leadership role, is it about you or about working through, and in support of, the team?

Flexibility and resilience. Circumstances change, as do people’s views and opinions. How well do you adapt to change and new ideas rather than being rooted in a particular way of doing things? Do you cope with difficult challenges and disappointment by learning from them and bouncing back? Can you stay focused and calm even when the pressure is on and the stakes are high? 


Lawyers are intelligent people with serious responsibility in their organisations. They’re expected to be legal experts but also to be calm, thoughtful and resourceful and to demonstrate purpose and integrity – especially in difficult times! 

To be successful, and support their clients’ and their own wellbeing, lawyers increasingly need high levels of emotional intelligence. Learning how to handle yourself and others is a key success factor in the 21st century workplace. EQ is an important factor in organisational and individual success - and it can be learnt and developed. 

Many organisations now include EQ competencies in their recruitment processes and development programmes and there are tools and processes that can help. 

Lawyers can also enhance their EQ through coaching and mentoring and by encouraging feedback (including via 360 degree processes). Another way is to gain experience outside the organisation. This can help develop new skills, build different types of relationships and improve empathy with other people. 

Legal training will always emphasise the importance of analysis and reasoning – the core aspects of the lawyer’s role. However, evidence suggests that heightened EQ can improve job satisfaction, well-being, decision-making and leadership. And all these ultimately improve the organisation’s bottom line. 

Other resources

Emotional Intelligence for Lawyers – Ronda Muir, Law People Management Inc 

Is EQ Better than IQ? – Jay Reeves, June 12 2013, Byte of Prevention Blog 

Emotional Intelligence & Lawyers – IQ vs. EQ – Dan Defoe, March 28 2012, Physcholawlogy 

A Lawyer’s High IQ is Not Enough…Successful rainmakers and leaders have “two minds” Martha M Newman, Nov 4 2015 

Law Society note on Emotional Intelligence 

Attorney Well-Being: Start with Emotional Intelligence, Mary Juetten, August 14 2017 

How Emotional Intelligence makes you a better lawyer – Your ABA, October 2017 

What Makes Lawyers Happy? It’s Not What You Think – Paula Davis-Laack, Forbes December 19 2017 

What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It) – Tasha Eurich, HBR, January 4 2018