Negative emotions lawyers arguingLawyers frequently experience anxiety.  Negative mood states including tension, depression, anger, and fatigue also create stressful situations for lawyers in their work. Lawyers need a quick way to recover from negative emotions and negative mood states and avoid negative well-being consequences. Studies show that people who have this ability of adaptive coping usually have better performance outcomes and higher well-being. Emotional intelligence, according to a well-established line of research, serves as one of the best predictors of adaptive coping to stressful situations which stem from our reactions to circumstances in our lives and work which elicit negative emotions.

A team of Spanish researchers recently investigated the relationship between emotional intelligence and recovering from negative emotion.  They employed the four branch model of ability-based emotional intelligence and examined how that ability acts as an important mediator between life events and their consequences on well-being.  The results from their emotion [anxiety] induction laboratory study with undergraduate psychology student participants, although correlational in nature and not definitive, suggest next steps for continued research, and provide important guidance.

Applying the results of this research to our professional work and lives can make a difference. How?  Lawyers interested in providing top shelf service and who want to become regarded as valued partners with their clients, and who desire to maintain their well-being in the process, who learn about and adopt emotional intelligence strategies position themselves for long, productive, and healthy careers. Lawyers who do not have such learning goals and who do not become adopters of an EI mindset do not have those reasonable expectations.

The accumulating body of evidence persuades this conclusion – emotional intelligence abilities, skills, or competencies differentiate high performing lawyers in terms of well-being, stress resilience, and recovery from negative emotional states. The argument:  good lawyers and happy lawyers will build, develop, and have a relationship with emotional intelligence.  The “other” lawyers will not.  This post provides more evidence for lawyers, lawyer leaders and managers, judges, and other legal stakeholders, and their organizations about the relevance and importance of emotional intelligence for the legal profession.

A recent post on Psycholawlogy, [Lawyer] Anxiety, Self-Protective Behavior, Ethical Sinkholes, and Professional Responsibility, discussed anxiety, its connection with the legal profession, and in using the analogy of the “sinkhole”, discussed ethical and professional responsibility issues related to this negative emotion.  Today’s post suggests a way for legal professionals and their organizations to avoid or deal with the anxiety – ethical “sinkhole” connection – emotional intelligence.

Four branch ability EI circular model

Research Background:  Ability Emotional Intelligence.  The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) constitutes one of the most-used ability tests of emotional intelligence. The assessment’s underlying model defines emotional intelligence as an ability.  The ability breaks down into a four (4) branch model (see circular model figure above) described by them first in 1990 and refined by Mayer and Salovey (1997), each representing a class of ability. Together, these four branches, arranged from most specific (emotion perception) to more general (personality – managing emotion) combine and work together to promote the perception and recognition, facilitation of thought and action, understanding, and regulation of emotions in oneself and concerning others.

The MSCEIT assessment taps into those four hierarchically arranged abilities, and when interpreted by a trained practitioner, its results can predict a person’s ability to cope with stress and other life events which have consequences for well-being.  Research places ability EI as a variable which stands between a person appropriately responding to stress versus suffering a maladaptive emotional reaction.  The authors’ summary states, “In other words, this set of abilities included in EI explains important personal life outcomes, and how a person differs from another one to face life events.”

Several posts on Psycholawlogy (over 20) discuss the MSCEIT and research studies using the ability-based model of emotional intelligence measured by that assessment.  In one post, Important Notice to Lawyers: The MSCEIT Emotional Intelligence Test Will Not Show That You Are “Crazy”, the interested reader can get a general overview of it and then a more detailed description of the model and its four branches; read a discussion about several application areas – work, school, and health – of the assessment; and also consider a summary about the connection between emotional intelligence and opportunity areas for growth in real life, including cognitive ability, mental health and well-being, social functioning, and work performance.

Lawyers and negative emotionResearch Background: Emotional Recovery and Emotional Intelligence. Negative emotions cause an imbalance in our functioning. Emotional recovery, described as a process of restoring equilibrium, returns our psychological and physiological activation to our prior levels before a negative emotional reaction. Impaired recovery from a negative emotional experience has more important consequences for us than our initial reaction to negative emotions. Positive emotions promote the recovery process.  Recovery occurs by an active, not a passive process. A final aspect of the research background concerns resilience. Resilient people use positive emotions to recover from negative emotional states.

The authors’ research tested their idea that emotional intelligence could have a relationship with emotional recovery.  EI, they suggested, could perhaps facilitate a quick recovery from negative emotions.  The ability to cope faster provides an adaptive advantage. Prior studies, according to the authors, involved self-report measures of emotional intelligence. According to them, “these studies indicate that individuals with high EI show lower negative mood states before and during emotion induction and in recovery, than lower EI individuals.”

The authors cited a number of them, and suggested that the prior studies had an important limitation – the self-report emotional intelligence measures “did not really evaluate the EI of people since they are based on their self-perception.” So, the investigators used the ability-based model and assessment in an attempt to fill a knowledge gap in the research. They theorized that “it may be valuable to check if relationship between emotional induction and recovery emotional and self-reported measures of EI, also occurs when the EI is measured by performance tests.”

What Did the Researchers Ask?  Purpose of Research and Hypotheses Tested.  The researchers examined the relationship between emotional intelligence and recovery from negative emotions induction.  Past research has shown what people believe about their self-perceived abilities to recover from experienced negative emotions.  This research used an ability assessment.  They assessed and measured actual performance by using one of the leading ability-based model assessments.  This research looked at two (2) big ideas.

This research involved emotional induction.  In this process, the participants viewed nine pictures from an international data bank of images selected specifically for their potential to elicit emotional reactions.  The researchers used specially selected pictures to induce negative emotion and negative mood states.  According to the theoretical background, the two hypotheses tested by the investigators considered the following:  (1) participants with higher EI should show lower negative affective states and higher positive affective states during three time points (prior to, during, and recovery) of the induction process; and (2) participants with higher EI should react less on the induction phase and in the recovery phase should recover more than people with lower EI.

How Did the Researchers Investigate Their Hypotheses? This study involved undergraduate psychology students. The three stage laboratory study sought to induce negative emotion (second phase) by way of nine pictures which depicted the following:  war, attack dog, beaten female, man on fire, dead man, accident, toddler, injured child, and hung man.

During the first stage, the researchers employed the MSCEIT to assess the four branches (perceiving, facilitating, understanding, and managing emotion) of ability-emotional intelligence.  They measured the participants’ subjective level of anxiety by using a questionnaire. The 20 questions captured cognitive, emotional, and physical responses of anxiety.  The third assessment used in the study measured five mood states:  anger, depression, tension, fatigue, and vigor.

After viewing the images, the remainder of the second stage involved re-taking the anxiety questionnaire and taking a different version of the mood scale.  Together, the two versions of this scale provide a total mood disturbance score. The final aspect of the second stage involved a brief (15 minute) period of distraction followed by “recall” period in which the participants answered five “distracting” questions about favorite colors, songs, movies, and flavors and describing three important memories of their lives.

The third stage involved two final assessment administrations.  After the 15 minute break, during which they answered the five distracting questions, the participants then took the anxiety questionnaire (third time) and the A-form mood states profile (second time).

Happy lawyers recoveryResults and Discussion.  Without detailing the descriptive statistics, or their analytical methods and techniques, the following summary notes for this post’s readers the more salient results obtained and discussion points noted by the research team:

  • Viewing the nine images induced negative emotions and moods, i.e. more anxiety, more negative moods, and less vigor in the participants;
  • The negative mood induction elicited more negative than positive sentences in the participants’ answers to the five questions prior to the administration of the assessments of anxiety and mood in the recovery phase;
  • The results showed no significant differences between male and female student participants;
  • Recovery after the negative mood induction occurred took place;
  • The results confirmed neither hypothesis for the perceiving emotions and managing emotions branches of ability emotional intelligence;
  • Emotional facilitation and emotional understanding, assessed by the MSCEIT ability-based emotional intelligence assessment, “are the key branches in promoting recovery in negative emotions inductions settings”;
  • “Overall, results suggest that the branches of the MSCEIT Emotional Facilitation and Emotional Understanding are aspects of EI related to previous mood states and mood recovery, but not mood reactivity”;
  • Emotional facilitation and emotional understanding from the ability-based Mayer-Salovey model as assessed by the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) “are the key branches in promoting recovery in negative emotions inductions settings”;
  • One practical conclusion is that people “who do use emotions to guide their cognitive processes are those who recover better”;
  • In comparison to self-report emotional intelligence, in which people report their beliefs that perceiving and controlling emotions help to recover better from negative emotional states, training for managing of stressful situations should instead focus on the ability-based facilitation of emotional resources to enhance thinking, not control or management, and understanding emotional information, the manner in which emotions combine, and their causes and consequences to cope more effectively with negative situations

Take-Aways for Legal Professionals, Their Organizations, and Legal Leaders.  While this study has limitations, it has cracked open a new avenue for lawyers and their leaders to consider about when dealing with the negative impact of anxiety in the workplace.  Two branches of the four branch model of ability-based emotional intelligence, emotion facilitation and emotion understanding, can predict adaptive coping to the negative emotion – anxiety.  In this study, researchers showed that their participants with higher abilities in these two branches of emotional intelligence experienced recovery from the negative cognitive, emotional, and physical responses of anxiety occurred after a fifteen minute period. “Having said this, it would be useful to promote emotional capacities related to the components of emotional facilitation and understanding to cope more effectively with negative situations.”

Legal scholarship and EILegal Scholarship and Emotional Intelligence – Theory and Practice.  The quality of the legal scholarship and commentary about the subject and the practical importance of emotional intelligence for the legal academy and the legal profession continues to improve.  A recent well-written law journal article includes a summary of the Mayer-Salovey four branch model of ability emotional intelligence and the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Assessment (MSCEIT), and provides much-needed additional support for that argument.

Professor Christine Kelton’s thought piece, Clients Want Results, Lawyers Need Emotional Intelligence access hereprovides one of the most comprehensive summaries of emotional intelligence and the legal profession by a legal practice scholar. Professor Kelton offers an excellent review of the four branch-ability model of emotional intelligence and insightful commentary, too.  This serious and substantial article immediately achieves distinction. Professor Kelton’s source material draws deeply from, and emphasizes research from the psychological sciences.  She makes a unique, well-reasoned, and very readable, argument to the legal academy and its students, legal leaders, and lawyers and judges about its critical importance by linking emotional intelligence with a practical concern so often overlooked in the law school curricula, and later in the practice of law – honoring and attempting to meet or exceed client expectations.

Law Professor Christine Kelton’s well-researched scholarly and practice-oriented work in this area, like Dean Montgomery’s and the work of Professors Silver and Daicoff noted in the reference section below, will likely join the ranks (See “Further Reading”), and should become considered as one of the more solid and reliable, go-to resources for judges, lawyers, law students, legal academics and law school professional and career development staff, and legal leaders and managers. Thank you, Professor Kelton.  Her recent work ably provides necessary additional support for the paradigm shift that legal educators in other corners of the world, e.g. Australia see work of Professor Colin James here, have already begun.

Emotional Intelligence Services – By a Lawyer for Lawyers and Judges.  Dan DeFoe, JD, MS, owner and lead blogger at Psycholawlogy and owner and lead consultant at Adlitem Solutions, an organization development consulting practice, is a working lawyer with over 20 years experience. I worked over 12 years as an in-house corporate litigation attorney.  I earned an M.S. degree in organizational development psychology, and I am educationally qualified/certified to purchase, administer, interpret, and provide confidential feedback to clients about the results from leading scientifically validated emotional intelligence assessments, including the EQ-i 2.0, the world leading self-report assessment, and the MSCEIT, the leading ability-based emotional intelligence assessment.  I received my MSCEIT certification training from Dr. David Caruso, one of the authors of the assessment.

In addition to providing emotional intelligence assessments, feedback, and coaching services, my consultancy, Adlitem Solutions, also offers a variety of ways for lawyers, judges, and other legal and professional services providers to begin their journal of self-discovery.  I am certified in and offer the Hogan Assessments personality assessment inventories – Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), Hogan Developmental Survey (HDS) and the Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory (MVPI).  To my knowledge, I am the only working lawyer in America certified in Steps I, II, and III of the Myers-Briggs MBTI normal personality assessment.  Through my consultancy Adlitem Solutions, I utilize these and other tools and specialize in designing and providing custom interventions and solution strategies for law students, lawyers, other professional service providers and their member organizations and leaders. “People. Projects. Practices.”

Two of the creators of the MSCEIT, David R. Caruso, Ph.D., and Peter Salovey, Ph.D., have published an excellent, very readable book which nicely translates and applies the ability-based approach to emotional intelligence in a most practical format.  They state “The fundamental premise of The Emotionally Intelligent Manager is that emotion is not just important but absolutely necessary for us to make good decisions, take optimal action to solve problems, cope with change, and succeed.”  The point in that book is “that emotions do matter –all the time“.  Their book begins with a warning.  This post ends with that challenge “We believe that to ignore their role, to deny the wisdom of your own emotions and those of others, is to invite failure as a person, as a manager, and as a leader.”

Lawyers, consider beginning your growth journey and explore emotional intelligence in your life, your practice, and your career.  A lawyer who seeks to begin that journey of discovery will take several steps.  One of your first steps should include an emotional intelligence assessment.  Also, confidential feedback from a qualified practitioner should follow assessment.  Finally, a development plan which addresses opportunity areas and scheduling a follow-up assessment should occur, too.

Take your first step.  Leverage your resources and choices.  Engage a qualified emotional intelligence practitioner.  Do not leave your personal and professional development, career success, and personal well-being outcomes to chance. . . .

Thank You.  Thank you very much. Dan DeFoe JD MS – Adlitem Solutions | Organization Development for Professional Services Firms and the Legal Profession: People. Projects. Practices | Web – | Email: | Blog – | Combining and leveraging 25+ years legal experience, allied health training and work experience, a Master of Science in Organizational Development Psychology, and educationally qualified or earned certifications in industry-leading normal and special business personality, ability and self-report emotional intelligence, leadership, and stress management assessments and tools to partner with clients to discover, design, develop, deliver, and evaluate custom interventions for individual, team, project, or organizational solutions. | Mission:  “America’s leading resource for emotional intelligence assessment, coaching, training, and workshops for judges, lawyers, law schools, bar associations, and other legal and professional services providers and their organizations and leaders.”  Please visit Adlitem Solutions and Psycholawlogy again soon.  Thank you.

Article Source:  Limonero JT, Fernández-Castro J, Soler-Oritja J and Álvarez-Moleiro M (2015) Emotional intelligence and recovering from induced negative emotional state. Front. Psychol. 6:816. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00816. Copy of article currently available here.

Additional Source:  Mayer, J. D. & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence?  In P. Salovey & D. Sluyter (Eds).  Emotional Development and Emotional Intelligence: Implications for Educators pp. 3-31).  New York: Basic Books. Copy of book chapter currently available here.

Additional Legal Resources – Emotional Intelligence:  Kelton, C. C. (2014). Clients Want Results, Lawyers Need Emotional Intelligence. Clev. St. L. Rev., 63, 459 | See Montgomery, J. E. (2007). Incorporating emotional intelligence concepts into legal education: Strengthening the professionalism of law students. U. Tol. L. Rev., 39, 323 (copy of article currently available here) | See also Daicoff, S. S. (2012). Expanding the Lawyer’s Toolkit of Skills and Competencies: Synthesizing Leadership, Professionalism, Emotional Intelligence, Conflict Resolution, and Comprehensive Law. Santa Clara L. Rev.,52, 795 (copy of article currently available here) | See also Silver, M. A. (1999). Emotional intelligence and legal education. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 5(4), 1173 (access copies selected works regarding emotion and legal practice here).

Image Credits:  Negative emotions lawyers arguing here | Four branch ability EI model here | Lawyers and negative emotion here | Happy lawyers recovery here |Legal scholarship and emotional intelligence here |

Dan DeFoe

Owner and Lead consultant at Adlitem Solutions
I'm an attorney with 20+ years of experience and have an MS degree in organizational development psychology. I provide normal personality and emotional intelligence assessments, assessment interpretation and feedback, and professional development planning and training activities for lawyers, judges, other legal services providers, and their organizations.
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