Does Emotional Intelligence Factor into Your Legal Recruiting and Career Development Model?

Emotional intelligence – it is the kind of soft skill that has great power in all human interactions, but it gets relatively short-shrift in the legal and business world.

Just take a look at the resumes your legal department receives on a regular basis.  You will see that we are all conditioned to emphasize our hard skills, educational degrees, technical expertise, and the awards and honors.  Not often do people, particularly lawyers, have an occasion to leverage the quality of their soft skills in the context of a job search, or on a performance evaluation.

Yet, the concept of emotional intelligence, which began to take form back in the mid-1960s and hit a zenith with the release of Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence,” is beginning to make its way into the workplace.  A recent study cited by The Wall Street Journal found that 58% of hiring managers believe that a lack of soft skills in the job market is slowing their firms’ productivity, and 89% of the executives polled noted that it is either very difficult or somewhat difficult to find candidates with soft skills.

Accordingly, we are going to take this opportunity to dive a little deeper into the concept of emotional intelligence.  Also, we will discuss how emotional intelligence should factor into your own recruiting for your legal department.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

As you might expect from the name, emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and also understand the emotions and motivations of other people.  A person with a high level of emotional intelligence will be able to better guide people towards working together on shared goals.  Indeed, whenever two or more people are tasked with accomplishing something, emotional intelligence is the tool that helps those individuals achieve a common goal.

As a General Counsel, you are always on the hunt for top performers, and emotional intelligence is a major factor in whether someone can be a top performer.  In fact, a World Economic Forum survey found that emotional intelligence is currently one of the 10 most sought-after skills for employers.

The model developed by Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book indicates that emotional intelligence encompasses a range of competencies and skills, which ultimately drive a person’s leadership performance.  Goleman’s model includes five categories:

  • Self-Awareness is the ability of a person to know his or her own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, motivations, values, and goals. It also covers a person’s ability to know his or her impact on others.
  • Self-Regulation is the ability to control or redirect disruptive emotions and impulses, particularly when adapting to changing circumstances.
  • Social Skill describes the ability to manage relationships in order to work in harmony with others.
  • Empathy is the ability to consider other people’s feelings, particularly when making decisions.
  • Motivation covers a person’s ability to tune into what motivates other people.

In general, high emotional intelligence is correlated with better social relations with friends, family, and co-workers.  It is also associated with better academic achievement and psychological well-being.  In fact, highly emotionally intelligent individuals are generally perceived more positively by others.

How Do I Measure Emotional Intelligence?

There are a number of formal tests and self-assessment tools to measure emotional intelligence in numerical terms.  Yet, there are also ways that you, as a General Counsel looking for a top-performing attorney, can get a feel for a candidate’s emotional intelligence during an interview.

Indeed, the best way to determine a candidate’s level of emotional intelligence during the hiring process is to ask questions that bring about a small amount of stress, or stir low-level emotional responses.  Some questions might include:

  • Can you recall a time when you received feedback that was critical?
  • Can you describe a time when you had a difficult conversation?
  • Discuss a time in your work life when there was conflict or tension in the team?
  • Can you describe a time when you made a mistake?

Further, during the conversation surrounding each question, you can have a few follow-up questions to gain insight into not just the facts of what occurred, but also how he or she felt about it, and what he or she did about it.

The goal is not so much to get information about a difficult time for the candidate, but rather on how he or she dealt with the situation emotionally.  Openness, an ability to see their own mistakes, and information about thoughts and feelings could really give you a glimpse into the level of a candidate’s self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy.

Because those with high levels of emotional intelligence appear to get along well with others and are more apt to take on leadership roles, devoting time in the interview for those softer skills will pay dividends in the future.

Why Does Emotional Intelligence Matter?

You may be thinking to yourself:  “Sure, a person who has a certain amount of emotional maturity is great, but I need someone who is a whiz at patent law.”  True, you cannot lose sight of the legal competencies you need.  But, when you are hiring, you are making an investment in the future of your legal department and in the company as a whole.  You want someone who not only has the technical legal prowess in the short term, but also has the communication, team-building, and critical-thinking skills to guide a team in the future.  The practice of law, in-house or in a firm, has communication and persuasion at its heart.  Thus, the need for well-developed soft skills, like emotional intelligence, is just as important as legal know-how.

The next time you need to hire an attorney, do not forget the importance of emotional intelligence.  Be sure to look beyond the resume, the cases won, the deals closed, and the articles written. Your long term succession planning and leadership success may depend on it more than you realize.