How does Emotional Intelligence (Ei) add value to your firm beyond IQ, Personality and Competencies?

Over the past 5+ years the legal profession has grasped the opportunity of linking performance to skills and competencies within their people management and performance processes with some major successes. This includes using competencies when selecting Trainees, or Assessment Centres for Partner selection, and including them in the Performance Appraisal process too.

Infrastructure and technology have become ever more sophisticated and firms are better at setting out their service offerings in the market place. So what distinguishes one firm from another when providing identical legal services? Quite definitely – it is the people.

As our work pace speeds up and global competition puts extra pressure on most employees from the Partners down, the requirement for everyone to be stress tolerant, self-motivated and creative is increasing. Technical skills, experience and intellect are important parts of the ‘high performance’ equation, but so too is Emotional Intelligence (Ei) as it affects the way we manage our behaviour and so at work, our performance.

In the Human Resources world there has been a massive growth in popularity of Ei since Daniel Goleman’s publication “Emotional Intelligence. Why it can matter more than IQ (1996)”. With this growth has come some misuse and misunderstanding of the concept, in particular confusion with IQ, personality, and competencies.

What is Emotional Intelligence (Ei)?

A brief definition of Ei is “using thinking about feeling (or feeling about thinking) to guide behaviour”. In practice this involves managing our behaviour to be personally and interpersonally effective. This is where successful firms will ensure that key players in their firms, such as fee earners or partners on a fast track are also able to demonstrate Ei and are mature in their behaviours.

Being emotionally intelligent is characterised by a combination of skills, attitudes and habits that distinguish superior performance in Partners and staff from run-of-the-mill performance both in life as a whole and at work. It is made up of two parts:

  • Intrapersonal Intelligence – being intelligent in picking up what is going on inside us (self-awareness) and doing what we need to do about it (self management)
  • Interpersonal Intelligence – being intelligent in picking up what is going on in other people and between people (other awareness) and doing what we need to do about that (relationship management)

The elements of emotional intelligence are related like this:

Ei looks at the roots underpinning our behaviour. For example, learning to be assertive, to say no and ask for what you want is unlikely to be sustained if underneath you still feel low self-regard. Consider how individuals in your firm readily agree the fee structure with a client, or manage non-cooperation from staff, or learn to lead a team. Positively or negatively? This aspect of working in a law firm is not being addressed as effectively as it could be. What assessments do you have when selecting those for promotion, or when considering lateral hires – especially at partner level?

In a nutshell:

  • Competence is about what I can do (Skills)
  • IQ is about what I could do (Cognitive potential)
  • Personality is about how I do it (Style)
  • Ei is about why I do it (Attitude and Motivation)

NB: for more detailed information – see addendum on Emotional Intelligence on:

Two new generation Emotional Intelligence measures (Individual and Team Effectiveness Questionnaires) could be used to help establish the best players for your firm. Managing change, integration after a merger / bolt-on, culture shifts, and ensuring the brand values you espouse are truly being lived can be reinforced through this analysis.

Any assessment or development process should integrate the parts to the whole. Ei is likely to add most value by helping the individual understand and direct their motivation to achieve their goals for themselves and with others, making them more productive. In turn this will make your practice more successful – and profitable.

John Cooper is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and managing director of JCA and Patricia Wheatley Burt has over 15 years consultancy experience in the legal sector and managing director of Trafalgar – The People Business.

For more information please contact Patricia on:

Tel: +44 20 7565 7547