Emotion perception ability drives the emotional intelligence (EI)–performance relationship in workplace job contexts which involve the management of diverse individuals, functions, and lines of business. This post has two purposes. First, it discusses a recent research report which describes this important advancement in the stream of EI research. Second, it hopes to add kindling to the flame and tries to carry the “torch” of EI’s importance in the legal profession forward.
The researchers investigated the relationship between EI and workplace performance in a “high managerial work demands” (MWD) job context. This study examined how the emotion perception ability facet of an ability-based EI model affects teamwork effectiveness. The researchers drew upon TAT, “trait activation theory”, to investigate their hypothesis that high EI individuals will act in emotionally intelligent ways which facilitate job performance in a high MWD context. TAT basically suggests that the environment provides emotion cues which activate traits which in turn cause individuals to act in certain ways that are consistent with those traits. The final aspect of the the experimental studies involved teamwork effectiveness. Prior research shows that higher EI workers’ job performance positively impacts teamwork performance.
A general description of a high MWD job includes the “management of diverse individuals, functions, and lines of business”, “working with and through significant stakeholders”, and the workers experience “stress and intense emotions” in “challenging jobs”. The researchers did not investigate legal services specifically in their study. However, after considering its general description, most lawyers should not need to flex too many intellectual muscles to make a connection between the practice of law and high MWD. While true “solo” practitioners exist, virtually a lawyers practice in teams of some sort. Legal services managers would do well to consider the important practical implications about the EI-performance relationship and how its better teamwork and job performance in the legal service environment job context can impact outcomes in the workplace.
Theoretical Model: EI, TAT, MWD, Teamwork Effectiveness, and Job Performance
The model employed by the researchers involves several parts. This section provides a summary description of those parts and outlines the way that they fit together for their study of the EI-teamwork effectiveness relationship in a job context of MWD.
This study involved an ability-based emotional intelligence (EI) model conceived by Mayer and Salovey. It has four (4) subdimensions. Each concerns a different aspect of emotion: perception; facilitation; understanding; and regulation. These interrelated branches span a continuum, which ranges from fundamental psychological functioning (perception) to self-management (regulation). The MSCEIT Version 2.0 used in the study (Mayer Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test) measures this model of EI. People who have higher EI, according to this theory, are better able to navigate the emotion-laden contexts, experiences, and interactions of life. Accurate emotion perception, a fundamental psychological function, serves as the foundation for the effective operation of the higher level emotion management abilities. The researchers theorized from available empirical evidence that the emotion perception facet operates as the trigger for the more strategic goal-oriented and self-management aspects of this ability-based EI.
Under “trait activation theory” (TAT), organizational contexts provide trait-relevant cues. These cues activate traits. People behave in ways consistent with those traits. The image at the head of this post depicts an “office party”. Parties provide cues relevant to the trait of extraversion. Persons higher in extraversion might pick up on those cues and behave in ways consistent with extraversion compared to less extraverted persons in the room. Under TAT, day-to-day work job responsibilities (task), interactions with others on the job (social), and the climate or culture of the organization (organization) can provide trait-relevant cues. A final aspect is that the cues trigger traits which can provide opportunities to act and impact job performance in either positive or negative ways.
The researchers investigated the EI-performance relationship in a special job context – high “managerial work demands” (MWD). This job context involves the management of diverse individuals, job functions, and lines of business. This also involves working with and through significant stakeholders. According to prior research, these work contexts likely contain “salient cues arising from both the task and social levels that relate to effective interpersonal and intrapersonal functioning”. Under trait activation theory, TAT, the emotional cues will activate EI abilities. People will then behave consistent with their EI abilities. The high stakes of MWD contexts, then, comes into play. Higher level EI players will behave and do their work in ways that facilitate their effective performance.
One gauge of effective interpersonal functioning is teamwork effectiveness. Effective information exchange between workers, active collaboration, and appropriate response to team member needs characterize teamwork effectiveness. Prior research shows that emotionally intelligent workers can better sense, understand, and respond to team members’ emotional cues. The researchers reasoned that under TAT, higher EI should relate positively to teamwork effectiveness. They also reasoned that a high MWD job context will strengthen that relationship.
The final aspect of the researchers’ theoretical model concerns job performance. They proposed that under the study’s job context of high MWD, the higher EI would relate positively to job performance through its positive impact on teamwork. They did so because prior research shows that “perceiving responding appropriately to stakeholders’ social needs and emotions is an important facilitator of task performance in interdependent work settings”.
Methods and Measures
A collection of 212 individuals from a variety of industries and 462 supervisors of those participants took part in the study. The researchers used the MSCEIT 2.0 to assess and measure the EI and four dimensions of EI (perceiving emotions, facilitating emotions, understanding emotions, and managing emotions) of the focal participants. The supervisors of the participants rated the participants’ teamwork effectiveness using a 4 item scale. The researchers assessed the participants’ job performance by using supervisor ratings obtained by another 4 item subscale from a different instrument. MWD context, the final variable measured, got assessed using a 3 item questionnaire. The participants rated their current jobs according to the extent which their job involved them having responsibility for different products, technologies, or services; responsibilities for multiple functions or groups; and whether there had been a dramatic increase in scope in their work. The investigators included several controls for: demographics, impact of conscientiousness on performance in team and job settings, personality traits, cognitive ability, and job complexity and emotional labor demands.
After tabulating the data obtained, the researchers performed regression analysis and the results are summarized:
An MWD job context moderates the positive relationship between EI and teamwork effectiveness and the relationship is stronger for employees working in a higher MWD job context;
Emotion perception ability relates most strongly to teamwork effectiveness under a high MWD job context;
Teamwork effectiveness mediates the effect of MWD on the EI-job performance relationship; and
Teamwork effectiveness mediates the effect of MWD on the relationship between emotion perception ability and job performance.
Discussion and Implications
This research shows that emotional intelligence relates more positively to teamwork effectiveness in a high managerial work demand context. This relationship results in increased job performance. The cue rich environment of a high MWD job context allows higher EI individuals to use their ability to increase job performance. The emotion perception branch contributes most strongly to this effect. Future research can further explore the apparent critical role that this component plays in the ability-based model of EI.
One group of researchers / commentators suggests that EI is a universally positive attribute. But, the researchers in this study conclude “that the relationship between EI and performance is not as direct, positive, or as exaggerated as . . . have suggested.” Compared to cognitive ability, which generally exerts a positive effect on performance, the study authors suggest that that EI may perhaps be like a personality trait. In other words, EI may be adaptive in some contexts and less so or even detrimental in others.
Who Is On Your Legal “Dream Team”?
Emotional intelligence and job performance share a complex relationship. In job contexts which involve high managerial work demands, individuals with high EI may be more effective team players and may perform their work tasks better relative to others with less EI ability. The results of this research study can reasonably be extended to the legal services workplace. Investing in the EI of workers in legal services environments in terms of selection or emotionally intelligent employees or training may be a worthwhile endeavor.
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Source: Farh CI, Seo MG, & Tesluk PE (2012). Emotional intelligence, teamwork effectiveness, and job performance: the moderating role of job context. The Journal of applied psychology, 97 (4), 890-900 PMID: 22390388.
Legal “Dream Team”: Perry Mason, Della Street, and Paul Drake: See “Dream Team”
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