Does a Lawyer’s High IQ Compensate for a Low EQ?

Emotional quotient (EQ), also known as emotional intelligence (EI), is defined as “The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”[1] This capacity is crucial to many leadership competencies, not the least of which is influence, something “essential to leadership as a social skill in order to make progress and get things done through – and with – others.”[2]

 “You can’t order people to do what you want, you must persuade or inspire them to put forth their best efforts toward the clear objective you have defined.” – Daniel Goleman[3]

 Most of us have heard the term EQ used in general discussions about work interactions, and perhaps you’ve even experienced the negative personal impact of a low EQ in coworkers – specifically, those who manage others. In fact, low EQ in senior management can result in high turnover, an antagonistic work atmosphere, and low morale. In addition to making for a miserable work environment, low EQ in senior management can give rise to high attrition, which, at a replacement recruiting cost of $50,000 to $100,000 per lawyer, is no small problem.[4]

 And, as if that’s not enough, you might be surprised to know that insurers have begun to suspect that low EQ on the part of lawyers results in higher risk of malpractice claims, just as it’s been shown to do with doctors.[5]

But lawyers are smart, right? One would think their high IQs would allow them to recognize this problem easily and nip it in the bud!

Not necessarily. Studies have shown that while attorneys do score high in intelligence, they generally score below average in emotional intelligence.[6] It’s a perception that is, frustratingly, borne out frequently in fictional portrayals of the legal culture. For every “Atticus Finch” there are a dozen “Phillip Stuckeys” (Jason Alexander in Pretty Woman) or “Thomas Hagens” (Robert Duvall in The Godfather films).

So we know there is a problem. However, can you really improve your or anyone else’s EQ? As it turns out, you can.

According to the Harvard Business Review, one’s EQ capacity is “firm”, but not necessarily “rigid.” [7] By receiving coaching on interpersonal skills and how to manage stress levels, attorneys can indeed increase their EQs. In fact, studies suggest that, “with adequate training, people can become more pro-social, altruistic, and compassionate.” [8]

 As a bonus, it seems that EQ training for the workplace inescapably benefits the trainee’s personal life as well.

 So, it can be done! But how?

 Psychologists have broken down the concept of EQ into four separate skill sets. By consistently working on those skills, you and your colleagues can slowly but surely up your EQs.

  • Self-Awareness – i.e., the ability to grasp and understand your own emotional state. This requires you to acknowledge your triggers and realize when you are feeling angry or stressed. It sounds easy, but how often have you reacted to something in a way that was a tad over the top because you were stressed out about something else entirely? When you feel “off,” take a second and ask yourself why.

  • Self-Management – i.e., the ability to control your emotions. Once you’ve recognized your emotional state for what it is, you need to be able to manage it before it controls you. This is not complicated, but it can be challenging to have this kind of willpower. The old mantra “just take a deep breath” comes in handy here. If you can step back from yourself for even a second, you can gain perspective and more effectively manage your own emotions.

Combining the two skills above allows you to better manage stress by recognizing it for what it is. Once you have mastered that, you can separate your emotions from a problematic situation and calmly communicate possible solutions – whether to a fellow colleague or a client.

  • Empathy – i.e., the ability to identify emotions and reactions in others, regardless of how you feel. If you think you have trouble with this, focus on listening, observing, and asking questions. Look up from whatever document you are reviewing or case law you are trying to explain and zero in for a moment on the colleague or client with whom you are dealing. It’s easier than it seems and is often simply a matter of shifting focus for a short period. It’s highly important to be “present” when engaging with a colleague.

  • Ability to Build Relationships. This skill is essentially a combination of the previous three. Once you understand your own emotions and how to manage them and are aware of what’s going on with your colleague or client, you’ll be able to build a rapport with them that will allow them to trust you and your judgment. Be the person you would feel comfortable taking advice from.

Again, building your EQ is not complicated, but it does take persistence and dedication. Try to hone the above skills each day, and before you know it you will be a better leader and lawyer – not to mention friend, partner, and family member – for it.

[1] Emotional intelligence (noun). In Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved from:

[2] Key Step Media (2017, August 8) How to Influence with Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved from

[3] Key Step Media (2017, August 8) How to Influence with Emotional Intelligence. Quoting Influence: A Primer. Retrieved from

[4] Juetten, Mary (2017, August 14) Attorney Well-Being: Start with Emotional Intelligence, Law Practice Today. Retrieved from

[5] Muir, Rhonda (2015, June 13) The Psychology of Malpractice, Law People. Retrieved from

[6] (2017, September 26) How emotional intelligence makes you a better lawyer, YourABA. Retrieved from

[7] Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas (2013, May 29) Can You Really Improve Your Emotional Intelligence? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

[8] Ibid.