EQ for New Associates

November 08, 2018


Every new associate starts work with the best intentions of becoming a star performer. Unfortunately, when a slow trickle of manageable projects inevitably turns into a raging flood of assignments, many new hires allow their emotions to get the best of them. Don’t make this mistake. Multiple studies confirm that how well you recognize and manage your emotions, also known as your emotional intelligence (EQ), is a better predictor of your long-term success than your IQ.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman has defined EQ to include the following five components:

  • Self-Awareness - You recognize your emotions, moods, and drives and how they impact others. New associates with high EQ have the ability to receive and learn from constructive feedback.
  • Self-Regulation - You exercise restraint by controlling or redirecting emotions; you anticipate consequences before acting. New associates with high EQ express themselves calmly even in difficult environments. They avoid self-medicating.
  • Motivation - You use your emotions to achieve goals and embrace your strengths to continuously learn. New associates with high EQ are resilient and optimistic despite inevitable disappointments.
  • Empathy - You feel compassion for others and attempt to understand your thoughts, feelings, and actions. New associates with high EQ seek to understand the unique wants and needs of their internal and external clients.
  • Social Skills - You excel at rapport and relationship building. New associates with high EQ look forward to opportunities to contribute to team initiatives. They understand the importance of connecting with lawyers in their own practice area as well as in others.

(See D. Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (1995).)

If you wish to measure your EQ, be cautious of any free tests that you may find online.  Many lack validity and reliability. The Korn Ferry Group has developed the Emotional Social Competency Inventory (ESCI), a 360-degree instrument that is based on Goleman’s research. I can work with you and your organization to both access the ESCI assessment and interpret its results.

In the absence of an empirical analysis, some signs that your EQ may need a boost include:

  • You experience difficulty articulating your emotions;
  • You are unaware of the impact your emotions and actions have on others;
  • You feel left out or uncomfortable in social settings;
  • You lack interest in other people; and
  • You frequently experience, “I can’t help myself” moments or find that you turn to food, drink, or medication at the end of a particularly stressful day or week.

Because your EQ is critical to your success, make building awareness of your emotions and understanding your emotional wake a top priority during your initial year in the workplace. The following activities can help:

Ask for feedback

Pair up with a fellow new associate and agree to provide each other with regular feedback on your best and worst interpersonal behaviors at work. Be particularly candid about areas in which each of you believe the other could improve. For this to work, you and your colleague must be as specific as possible—provide concrete examples of both observed behaviors as well as perceived impacts. Agree to listen without becoming defensive or providing excuses. As you become comfortable with this process, grow the network of people from whom you seek input.

Learn to read emotions

Studies suggest that the amount of time we spend in front of our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops has hampered our ability to read emotions. Paul Ekman, psychologist, professor emeritus at the University of California-San Francisco, and pioneer in the study of the relationship between emotions and facial expressions, has found that we can improve our ability to identify others’ emotions simply by studying their microexpressions. (Eckman is the inspiration behind the TV/streaming series Lie to Me.)

Set aside some portion of each day—a few minutes in any meeting that you attend, a quick lunch with colleagues, your commute—to explicitly observe others’ facial expressions. Alternatively, access your favorite streaming service, select a movie or series of your choice, turn the volume off, and spend 15 minutes watching the action. While viewing, quickly list each emotion that you observe. Then, replay the content with the volume turned on and test your accuracy.

Look for EQ role models

Throughout your career, you should build a large network of mentors and role models. The former can help you accomplish specific tasks at work while the latter embody your definition of success, i.e., they make you think, “This is the lawyer I want to be when I grow up.” Include some EQ role models and consciously study them.

Neuroscientists have identified “mirror neurons” in the brain that fire both when a human being acts and when another person observes the action. These neurons allow an observer to literally “mirror” the actions of the person who he or she is watching. Pay attention to how your EQ role models interact with colleagues and staff. Study their tone of voice as well as the nuances of their electronic communications. Note how they self-regulate during periods of high stress.

Undertake an emotional audit

In his book on EQ, Goleman describes an “amygdala hijack” as an immediate, overwhelming emotional reaction that is inappropriate given the related trigger. (Amygdala refers to that portion of the brain in which the fight-or-flight response originates.) An emotional audit activates the logic and problem-solving portions of the brain. If undertaken before a hijack ensues, it can help you step back from the precipice.  

An emotional audit might include the following questions:

  • What am I thinking?
  • What am I feeling?
  • What do I want now?
  • How are my thoughts/actions getting in my way? and
  • What do I need to do differently now?

Develop healthy habits

When confronted with feelings of being overwhelmed by work or unappreciated for their efforts, many junior lawyers turn to food, alcohol or drugs as a way to anaesthetize their emotions. While self-medicating may diminish the intensity of some emotions, it rarely helps address the underlying concern. Learn to recognize, understand, and address your feelings in an adaptive way. Mindfulness training can be particularly helpful in calming emotional responses. Aerobic exercise can reduce levels of the body’s stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators.



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