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It’s Not Enough to be Smart: The Case for Emotional Intelligence

By: Kendra Brodin, Esq., MSW


You’ve likely heard the phrase “emotional intelligence,” but what is it exactly?


Emotional intelligence is defined as “the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own and others’ emotions”.

The concept of emotional intelligence was identified in 1990 by John D. (Jack) Mayer and Peter Salovey. They coined the term ‘emotional intelligence’ and described it as “a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action”.

The idea of emotional intelligence was popularized in 1995 by Daniel Goleman who was fascinated by the work of Mayer and Salovey. Goleman wrote the book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.”

Research studies have shown that people with high emotional intelligence skills (especially in high-intensity, highly intellectual jobs like lawyers) outperform others who lack emotional intelligence skills.

The first facet of emotional intelligence is self-awareness: When you are conscious of your own feelings and thoughts, you are demonstrating self-awareness. When you are aware of your emotions and can name them, you can intentionally choose how to handle the situations you face in a positive, constructive, and thoughtful way. 

The second facet of emotional intelligence is self-management: With self-management, you’re able to control your feelings and behaviors. You can manage your emotions in healthy ways, even when those emotions are uncomfortable. You can show initiative, adapt to change, and follow through on the commitments you make. Another word for this facet is self-regulation.

The third facet of emotional intelligence is social awareness: When you have social awareness, you have empathy. You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people. You are good at picking up on the emotional cues of others. You can sense the power dynamics in groups, and you have a sense for what is going unsaid. When you can approach people with empathy for their feelings and concerns, you’ll be more successful in supporting them and working with them to achieve a common goal. 

The fourth facet of emotional intelligence is relationship management: You can build and maintain good relationships. You can communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, and you work well in a team. You are also good at managing conflicts that arise. You can foster teamwork and get people moving in the same direction. 

And the fifth facet of emotional intelligence is self-motivation: People who are emotionally intelligent are motivated by intrinsic motivations rather than external rewards like fame, prestige, money, or recognition. Self-motivated people want to learn and grow, feel more personal and professional satisfaction, and have greater resilience in the face of adversity.

Emotional intelligence is critical to your professional success, no matter what your area of legal practice or work setting. Those who can couple emotional intelligence with their substantive skills experience excel as practitioners, client relationship managers, and leaders.
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