Inside Perspective: Emotional Intelligence

Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc., a Canon Group Co.  He is also president of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.

“…the subset 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 actions” Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, “Emotional Intelligence”, 1990


A high Emotional Intelligence Quotient, or EQ, is an essential element of a successful lawyer’s personality.  This is readily apparent from the definition set forth above.  Some scholars believe that one’s EQ is set at birth while others believe that Emotional Intelligence can be learned and developed.  In either case, breaking down the several elements that make up the EQ helps one to better understand the concept of EI.  When one is aware of the various factors that enter into the EQ, one can work to harness the insight gained and enhance the ability to interact with the client.

As is the case in traditional psychological sciences, there are several schools of thought that address the concept of EI.  I will look at the model posed by Salovey and Mayer in their 1990 article “Emotional Intelligence.”

Salovey and Mayer break down EI into four basic elements: (1) Perceiving emotions; (2) Reasoning with emotions; (3) Understanding emotions; and (4) Managing emotions.  In the context of our profession, it is very important for us to be in tune with the emotions of our clients.

You might wonder why someone’s emotional state is so important in our delivery of legal advice.  It is important to remember, while our client is the company, the company is made up of people.  People cannot be separated from their emotions.  As people and employees, they may have concerns about their job performance, the decisions they have made that are now being questioned (or are going to make based on your advice), the mistakes they may have made (or are perceived to have made) and impact they are having on the business.  People also have lives outside the company.  A sick wife, child or parent, financial problems, major life decisions – all have an impact on the emotional well being of the individual and hence impact the manner in which they address the business problem at hand and in turn the manner in which you provide counsel.

As lawyers, once we have a sense of the emotional state of our client, we need to understand the root of that emotion.  Is it business related, or personal in nature?  Does it revolve around you and the advice you have given in the past and anticipation about what advice you might give now?  Or, does it involve someone else in the business?  What is the client’s relationship with that person?  What is your relationship with that third person and with the client?

The most important aspect of the Salovey and Mayer model for you to consider is how to deal with the knowledge and insight you have gained into your client’s emotional state.  This is the real test of your EQ.  Those lawyers who are successful are able to make an accurate assessment of what they are dealing with and react with an approach that is complementary to the given situation.

My friend Jenifer Robbins, General Counsel at FPL Advisory Group, summed up lawyers’ EQ in one word – “Empathy”.  The ability to relate to your client on an emotional level is absolutely essential for the successful corporate attorney and business person.

As you approach your daily activities, take a moment to think about those with whom you are interacting and try to gauge their emotional state, think about why they might be feeling the way they do, and take into consideration their perspectives and emotional state as you interact with them.

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge” 





One response to “Inside Perspective: Emotional Intelligence

  1. Very good, Dan. I agree. Charlie Brown

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