February 29. 2020

Emotional Intelligence and Lawyer Wellness

The legal profession has made great strides in recognizing the importance of mental health. In its 2017 report on lawyer well-being, the American Bar Association states that “the benefits of increased lawyer well-being are compelling and the cost of lawyer impairment are too great to ignore.” Mindfulness has been identified as one strategy that can help achieve the work–life balance that contributes so much to well-being. Emotional intelligence—with its connection to mindfulness—may offer another way to reach and maintain wellness.

Emotional intelligence can be defined as “your ability to recognize and understand emotions, both in yourself and others, and then to use this awareness to manage your behaviour and relationships.” Similarly, mindfulness focuses on “being present to what’s happening around you and within you.” By using strategies to slow down and observe in-the-moment experiences, develop self-awareness, and control your emotions, mindfulness actually helps to develop emotional intelligence.

How can emotional intelligence lead to lawyer wellness?

  1. Be empathetic without your emotions taking over

Many lawyers experience compassion fatigue that can make it difficult to separate themselves from the stresses of the job. Developing emotional intelligence allows you to become “good at understanding emotions without letting them overwhelm you.” According to leadership consultant Jeffrey Deckman, emotional intelligence allows you to have empathy for people’s feelings, without causing “you to overcompensate, either one way, where those feelings suck [you] into a vortex, or the other way, where [you] can’t allow any feelings.” Being able to manage your own emotions also allows you remain calm and positive when dealing with conflict with clients or coworkers, which minimizes the effect these situations can have on your mental health.

  1. Manage workplace stress and prevent burnout

Lawyers can be at particular risk for workplace stress and burnout. A survey conducted by the Canadian Bar Association found that “lawyers perceive stress and/or burnout, anxiety, and depression as some of the biggest health issues facing [the] profession,” and statistics show a high rate of substance abuse and suicide in the profession. Ann Holland, a consultant with the Forbes Coaching Council, suggests “emotional intelligence is the coping mechanism that best equips us to manage stress in today’s workplace.” Emotional intelligence allows us to “manage our emotions and impulses to become more flexible, detach from issues that are not in our control and to express emotions in an assertive, constructive manner,” all of which help when dealing with the stresses of the workplace.

  1. Find happiness in your work

Legal work can be professionally satisfying, but the challenges often chip away at balance and personal wellness. Studies have found that high emotional intelligence is associated with a growth mindset, where workers are “motivated by their inner ambition and drive to improve and achieve, take initiative, or act on opportunities.” By taking the time to figure out “how you work best, what your goals are, and what accomplishments make you happiest,” you can find yourself more engaged, productive and content.

With all the stresses associated with legal work, any strategies to improve wellness are welcome. Emotional intelligence allows you to experience the benefits of professional self-awareness, which can lead to genuine happiness in your work. Why not focus on developing the skills that can help you find and maintain balance—and even thrive—in the midst of your work?