Want to Create a Better Firm Culture? Fine-Tune Those EQ Skills
Developing your interpersonal skills can help increase engagement overall.
Think back to the challenging job experiences you’ve had. There’s a high chance your dissatisfaction came from a manager or leader who lacked, shall we say, finesse in their interactions. Perhaps it was a lack of empathy when a personal emergency came up. Maybe it was the way they delivered feedback or criticism. Whatever the case, over time, it chips away at your morale, leaving you uninspired and looking for the exit door.
Kylie Ora Lobell
To be successful in legal, there are crucial technical skills one needs: software knowledge, managing a budget, strategic planning. You might even argue those are easier to find in a candidate than the more intangible, interpersonal skills.
These soft skills like teamwork, open and clear communication and listening are increasingly becoming as important as the ability to perform the day-to-day functions of your job. According to Pew Research Center, a major reason why people leave a job is because they feel disrespected in the workplace. Additionally, a McKinsey studied showed that in the wake of the pandemic, more people quit their jobs because they worked for an “uncaring and uninspiring” boss.
Traditionally, law firms have been focused on working hard, serving clients and making profits, sometimes at the cost of employees’ well-being and happiness. But over time, especially in the post-pandemic world, that culture has shifted. Now, it’s critical for law firms, and law firm administrators, to emphasize interpersonal relationship skills and build on their emotional intelligence (EQ) so that they can cultivate a positive work environment for all.
Here’s how you can do the same, setting the tone for the entire firm and motivating others to develop their own people skills as well.
Exercising your EQ starts with you.
When hoping to improve upon your EQ, the first step is to look inward. Rachael Bosch, Managing Director and Founder of Fringe Professional Development in Washington, D.C., says to carve out time every day to be mindful of your feelings and reactions.
“Ask yourself why you feel or react the way you do in certain situations. Being aware of our emotional states can help us better manage them,” she says.
Ben Michael, an attorney at Michael & Associates, agrees, noting EQ is enhanced through inward reflection.
“[Increase your] emotional intelligence by taking time to enhance self-awareness such as through mindfulness practices or coaching programs,” he says. “Look to employ tools such as empathy mapping to enhance [your] ability to empathize with clients or colleagues.”
SEEK OUT FEEDBACK
Looking inward isn’t enough to improve your EQ; you also have to ask others what they think of you.
According to Bosch, our emotions manifest outward, whether or not we realize it. Furthermore, only a small number of people exhibit self-awareness to begin with. Start by asking colleagues for some feedback and encourage them to be honest. “[You’ll] get a sense of whether you’re impacting others in the way that you intend,” she says.
Every law firm has its own culture — and if you’re having trouble, you can tap into it by gaining insights on how others interact.
“Look at the emotions and behavior of others,” says Bosch. “Observe how your colleagues behave and interact with each other. Pay attention to the nonverbal cues — the tone of voice and the body language. This will give you insight and help you better understand how people communicate.”
“Ask yourself why you feel or react the way you do in certain situations. Being aware of our emotional states can help us better manage them.”
That’s something that worked for Allan M. Siegel, a Partner at Chaikin, Sherman & Cammarata Siegel P.C. “Personally, it took quite some time for me to welcome feedback and actually act on that feedback. I also practiced looking at facial cues and emotional responses from others in order to practice them myself.”
You can make your colleagues and employees feel heard and validated if you take the proper time to listen to them. This could include meeting with them in a group and/or a one-on-one basis, scheduling regular sessions to chat, and being open to what they have to say — even if it’s critical. The point is to let them express themselves. Sometimes that person might not even be looking for a solution — they just want a space to be heard. This is especially true when dealing with clients.
“People who come into a law firm [may be] emotional and overwhelmed,” says Martin Gasparian, Esq., owner and attorney, Maison Law. “Showing a bit of care and compassion helps make your job easier in the long run.”
Like Gasparian, Bosch strongly recommends strengthening active listening skills as well.
“Remember, we have two ears but only one mouth,” she says. “Listen actively to what people are saying without judgment and try to empathize — to really understand their point of view. This will help you develop empathy — another critical and learnable skill — and build rapport with others.”
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Once you start working on your interpersonal relationship skills, it’s time to help others do the same. Then, you can cultivate a better workplace culture, making for a more enjoyable work environment all around. To encourage other to step it up, hold yourself to a high standard and lead by example, says Siegel.
“Having emotionally intelligent employees with strong interpersonal relationship skills can significantly benefit the firm’s bottom line.”
“It is unlikely that people will follow an individual who doesn’t heed their own advice, so you must first ensure that you’re constantly striving to become better by improving your skills before advising others,” he says.
According to Michael, you can provide an example of strong communication and conflict resolution strategy everyone can aspire to achieve. “This will ultimately contribute to a successful workplace dynamic that is conducive to enhanced productivity among individuals and bolster collaboration between departments or teams.”
STEPPING IT UP, ONE INTERACTION AT A TIME
At its core, law firms are about people. That means they need to be focused on serving their employees, colleagues and clients in the best way possible.
“Having emotionally intelligent employees with strong interpersonal relationship skills can significantly benefit the firm’s bottom line,” says Bosch. “Researchers at Yale studied 15,000 American workers and found that people who work for supervisors with higher EQ tend to feel 50% more inspired than those with a leader who is low in EQ. Quickly calculate the cost of attrition, and you can see the impact on the firm right there.”
Not only can higher EQ and better interpersonal relationship skills stop attrition in its tracks — they can also lead to higher engagement overall.
“Employees who understand how to read and respond to others’ emotions, negotiate difficult conversations, and resolve conflicts quickly and effectively will be more productive in their roles,” says Bosch.
Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She covers legal issues, blogs about content marketing and reports on Jewish topics. She’s been published in Tablet Magazine, NewsCred, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles and CMO.com.