Successful Law Firms Are Built on a Foundation of Self-Awareness and Empathy
The general assumption among your past, current, and prospective clients is that lawyers and their staff are pretty smart — and with good reason! After all, most attorneys, paralegals, and legal assistants have years, if not decades, of education and experience. However, to continue to grow your firm, expand your client base, and generate more revenue, you’re going to need more than just book smarts. You need emotional intelligence — a synthesis of intuitive traits such as empathy, perception, leadership, recognition, and evaluation.
Unlike one’s intelligence quotient (your ability to learn), which is largely fixed in most people by the time they reach the end of adolescence, emotional intelligence is malleable. With the right amount of awareness, dedication, and patience, your emotional intelligence (and even that of your colleagues and clients) can be vastly improved.
Elements of Emotional Intelligence
The Carnegie Institute of Technology has published studies indicating that a full 85% of economic success can be traced to emotional intelligence, while the remaining 15% is related to technical ability or mental intelligence. Additionally, research compiled by the Center for Creative Leadership states that the three main reasons for professional failure are related to emotional competence, including “difficulty in handling change, inability to work well in a team, and poor interpersonal relations.”
While most lawyers are trying to get by based on their natural mental aptitude and years of collected learning through advanced education, it seems the missing ingredient for extraordinary, sustained success is emotional intelligence.
To understand and improve emotional intelligence, you must first understand the two primary competencies (personal and social) and four underlying skills (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management) that compose it.
- Personal Competence is your ability to look within yourself to discover how you perceive and convey your thoughts and feelings. It requires self-awareness and self-management
- Self-Awareness: Perceiving your past, current, and future emotions and how they impact your behavior.
- Self-Management: Harnessing your emotions to make your feelings work for you rather than against you.
- Social Competence is your ability to look outside yourself to discover how others view the world and their relationship to it through their attitudes and behaviors. It requires social awareness and relationship management.
- Social Awareness: Perceiving the emotions of those around you based on verbal and non-verbal cues.
- Relationship Management: Leveraging your social awareness to impact your interactions in a positive way.
Understanding the factors contributing to emotional intelligence allows us to develop strategies for improvement.
How to Improve Emotional Intelligence
Improving your emotional intelligence isn’t easy, but it’s possible with the right mindset. Here are four proven ways to increase your emotional intelligence.
An Honest Assessment
The first method for improving your emotional intelligence is also one of the most difficult. Sometimes, taking a hard look in the mirror can be uncomfortable and even distressing. We cultivate a sense of ego throughout the course of our lives to protect against developing self-doubt or even self-loathing. In many cases, though, we take things too far and reach a point where we fail to distinguish between how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. When this happens, it can become increasingly difficult to receive and process constructive criticism and feedback. Then, we struggle to properly understand and work on our strengths and weaknesses.
If you truly want an accurate assessment of yourself, you should complete an objective assessment (our team has used StrengthsFinder in the past with excellent results). When taking the test, be honest and direct to achieve the best results. StrengthsFinder or other proven assessments can help reveal inconsistencies between your perceived identity and your actual personality, but you must carefully review the answers to your test and develop strategies to recognize both your strengths and weaknesses if you want to improve your self-awareness. If you don’t understand what motivates or hinders you, it will be difficult to do the same with others.
A vital component of developing sharp and usable emotional intelligence is becoming conscious of how you practice empathy. Are you truly capable of altruism, or are you more focused on how you can benefit from a given situation? Studies indicate that most people make at least 70 decisions every day. By understanding what your clients and coworkers are feeling or experiencing, you can make sound decisions and demonstrate better impulse control.
Despite the obvious benefits of learning to empathize, it is not an easy skill to cultivate. You need to effectively place yourself in your clients’ and colleagues’ shoes. This means improving your active listening skills and acknowledging their strengths, weaknesses, and beliefs. Even if you do not share those beliefs, it’s important to recognize and affirm them. Once you take the time to listen to your clients and coworkers, you’ll begin to notice great opportunities for collaboration and even friendship, which will inspire you to work harder for everyone around you.
As an attorney, you are one of the most respected and admired professionals in any industry. Despite the occasional light-hearted lawyer joke, people intrinsically trust you and your staff to uphold American ideals of justice and due process. Still, this trust could evaporate quickly if you are unwilling to cooperate, recognize your strengths and weaknesses, or develop friendly relationships that are based on helping others rather than focusing on yourself.
The main takeaway here is to provide constructive feedback instead of unhelpful criticism. Any good boss will tell you that he or she isn’t interested in hearing about a problem unless you are also able to present at least one or two viable solutions. And since attorneys are generally in the solutions business, this axiom holds doubly true for you, your colleagues, and your support staff. Being negative or confrontational will result in unhappy, unengaged support staff and clients.
There’s no need to always be the smartest person in the room, even in the likelihood that you actually are. Instead, learn to openly and confidently share your knowledge with staff and clients, and work to inspire a team atmosphere before asking for help or delegating tasks.
Practicing law is stressful, especially for lawyers who are in close contact with their clients on a regular basis. Unlike most jobs, you aren’t just trying to earn a living to support yourself and your family. You have your staff’s finances and careers to worry about, and your clients are counting on you to achieve the results they hired you for. Becoming emotional in such a fast-paced, high-stress career is inevitable, but your success depends on your ability to maintain an even keel.
There will always be unforeseen obstacles and challenges. That’s what makes operating in the legal sphere so challenging (and so rewarding). Rather than losing your cool, look at this as an opportunity to be a stabilizing force for those around you. Even if you’re feeling frustrated, anxious, or angry, it’s important to be confident and reassuring so your staff doesn’t lose sight of the task at hand and so your clients remain convinced they made the right choice by hiring you and your firm.
One helpful exercise to help alleviate potential emotional outbursts is to elicit anonymous feedback from coworkers and clients in the form of anonymous surveys or reviews. You might not always like everything you hear, but at least you’ll understand how you are being perceived and what events or behaviors trigger harsh or impulsive outbursts. From there, you can develop coping strategies that will help you keep calm and be a more effective communicator and attorney.
Struggling to Convey Your Firm’s Emotional Intelligence to Your Potential Clients? Contact LaFleur for All Your Legal Marketing Needs
Even if you and your staff already possess excellent emotional intelligence, you may not be effectively communicating that to you potential clients when they search for you online. If your firm’s digital marketing strategies aren’t delivering the results you’d expect, we would love to speak with you about how our agency can help you effectively communicate with your audience and encourage them to reach out to your law firm.
Our staff consists of marketing professionals with valuable and diverse experience and skillsets — not to mention consistently high levels of emotional intelligence. We will seek to understand your unique circumstances, develop a shared vision for the direction of your firm, and create effective marketing campaigns that resonate with your target audience. If you would like to learn more about LaFleur, please call us today at (888) 222-1512 or complete this brief form.
We truly believe in the concept of emotional intelligence. As we continue to improve how we practice empathy and leadership, our agency becomes more effective. Please contact us today to begin building brilliant legal marketing campaigns that speak to your strengths and resonate with your ideal client base.
Bradberry, T. (2015, March 12). Why you need emotional intelligence to succeed. Inc. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/travis-bradberry/why-you-need-emotional-intelligence-to-succeed.html
Chamorro-Premuzic, T., & Sanger, M. (2017, January 9). How to boost your (and others’) emotional intelligence. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/01/how-to-boost-your-and-others-emotional-intelligence
How to Boost Your (and Others’) Emotional Intelligence
Deutschendorf, H. (2015, June 22). Why emotionally intelligent people are more successful. Fast Company. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/3047455/why-emotionally-intelligent-people-are-more-successful