Double-edge sword“Sensitive, but not sentimental.” That phrase can aptly describe the emotionally intelligent manager. Recent research suggests that leaders of legal and other organizations can put their fears about ineffective, “too soft” leadership aside. Why?

Research shows that emotionally intelligent managers’ greater sensitivities do not necessarily handicap their effectiveness at making tough decisions and their influence on subordinates. Instead, research suggests that increasing the emotional intelligence of managers can provide a double-edged advantage: improving their performance and well-being and also the performance and well-being of subordinates.

Why Read This Post? This post provides some good news to leaders of legal organizations who may have considered implementing a program to assess and increase emotional intelligence, but hedged going forward due to fears that perhaps this type of intervention could make their organizations’ managers and members “soft”. Worry no longer.

This post, along with the dozens of others on Psycholawlogy about the subject, shows from scientific study that research-based emotional intelligence education, training, and coaching can enhance organizational and individual effectiveness without sacrificing effectiveness. In other words, enhanced EI can provide an advantage against the competition – a double-edged sword.

Is an emotionally intelligent [legal] manager or leader possible? If so, what description fits that person? This post translates some findings from psychological and organizational behavior science and helps you answer those questions. This post supports your decision to invest time, financial resources, and human capital in building a more emotionally intelligent leadership and management team in your organization.

Soft skills questionsResearch Background and Questions Considered: Managerial Competency, Team Effectiveness, & Subordinates’ Stress. We all experience emotions. They occur inside us. Others around us contribute to our emotional experiences, too. Our capacity to identify, understand, regulate, and use that information. We differ widely in that capacity. The construct “emotional intelligence”, around for nearly two decades, and its various measures, provides one way to account for those differences.

Business leaders have for years been interested in emotional intelligence and how it can help improve selection, i.e. put the right people in the right positions, and how it can enhance training, i.e. help compensate for weaknesses in soft skills. But, as organizations invested more and more time and money in emotional intelligence, concerns developed. The authors framed their research in terms of motivation to find applied interventions. Also, they stated, “The current research also organizational preoccupations and aims to address some companies’ fears that managers trained to be more emotionally intelligent would become sentimental and incapable of take ‘hard decisions’ . . . .” So, the researchers aimed to investigate and answer a question that had not been addressed: “Are emotionally intelligent people sentimental? Namely, might their greater sensitivity constitute a handicap, particularly in circumstances in which emotions need to be put aside?”

This research study, according to the authors, intersects three important areas of emotional intelligence research: empathy, emotion regulation, and decision-making. People high in empathy have the ability to decode emotional information from others more quickly and accurately. As a result, these higher EI people can act towards others with greater sensitivity. Emotion regulation ability concerns dealing with emotions in difficult situations. Like empathy, this has important implications for managerial effectiveness. A final, and no less important, area concerns decision-making. Emotions figure in decision-making. This research study, according to the authors, attempted to reconcile previous research which has provided somewhat contradictory results about EI and improved decision-making. The authors expected subordinates of managers perceived as having high EI to perceive their managers as more capable of making emotionally difficult decisions.

Besides the questions of manager EI and sensitivity (empathy) and competence (managerial effectiveness), this study looked at something never studied in prior research. Prior research has shown that team member EI influences team member effectiveness and stress levels. No prior research, however, has shown how a manager’s level of EI can influence the team’s effectiveness and the manager’s subordinates’ levels of stress. Assuming a positive impact, the authors suggested “If this is right, it would mean that increasing managers’ EI would have a double advantage: improving their performance and well-being, but also their subordinates’.”

Data collection interviewResearch Methods – What the Researchers Did. The research team wanted to corroborate previous claims in psychological science and organizational behavior literature that emotional intelligence has added value for organizations. In consideration of that purpose and the research background and questions considered noted above, the investigators set out to do their work. Interviewers went to a business organization and met the participants. Using or adapting validated scales or questionnaires, they obtained data from the real-world. Sixty-seven triads, consisting of one manager and two subordinates, participated in this questionnaire and survey method field study.

The managers completed self-report assessments of trait emotional intelligence (TEIQue-SF) [see Emotional Intelligence & Work Engagement: Practical Implications for [Legal Leadership] Talent and Performance Management for a discussion of trait emotional intelligence and links to additional related resource materials] and managerial performance. The subordinates provided their evaluations of their managers’ emotional intelligence via a “360” trait emotional intelligence assessment patterned after the type administered to their managers, their managers’ competence to lead, and their managers ability to put emotions aside when performing management work. Also, the subordinates completed self-report measures of team effectiveness and stress levels.

Impact of manager eiResults & Discussion – EI Adds Value in Organizations. This part notes and discusses the results obtained without detailing the statistical methods and analytical techniques employed by the researchers. In short, the figure [Figure 2 from source article] shows that the team fulfilled the purpose of this study. The results support the argument that emotional intelligence adds value to organizations and their members. “Emotionally intelligent managers make better managers, as reflected by their greater managerial competencies, a higher team efficiency and less stressed subordinates.” A brief summary and discussion of the main findings, without discussing the study limitations noted by the authors, includes the following points.

Emotional intelligence does not foster sentimentality. According to the authors, that conclusion follows from their results which showed that trait EI helps managers regulate emotions and put them aside when necessary. Managers with low EI have difficulty putting their emotions aside when they had to make tough decisions. High EI managers, according to their subordinates’ appraisals, can put their emotions aside and make necessary, sometimes tough, decisions.  The authors noted that their study shows “emotional intelligence has nothing to do with mawkish sentimentality.”

Perceived EI predicts managerial competencies. Subordinates viewed managers with high EI as more competent and better managers than managers with average or low emotional intelligence. The results also showed that perceived team effectiveness gets a boost from more emotionally intelligent managers. Subordinates of managers with higher EI described their team as “more effective” compared to that of managers with lower EI. The third finding of the study showed that managers with high EI do not stress their subordinates. The authors noted that their analyzed data “showed that subordinates of managers with high EI were less stressed than subordinates of managers with average EI, who were in turn less stressed than those of managers with low EI.”

Iron fist velvet gloveApplication in Legal and Professional Organizations – EI Adds Value & Emotionally Intelligent Managers Are Not Just Nicer. This study did not involve lawyers or a legal organization. But, “This study corroborates previous claims that emotional intelligence has added value in organizational settings.” No prior study had confirmed that emotionally intelligent managers make better managers. They act and behave more competently. Also, managers with higher EI correlate with perceptions of greater team efficiency. Finally, and very important for the legal profession, emotionally intelligent managers create less stress in their subordinates. The take-away message includes this “Shed fears about feelings!” Emotionally intelligent, sensitive people can competently lead and manage workers in legal and other professional workplaces. Their value can give your organization or firm or department an edge over the competition.

This study’s findings can apply to the legal and other professional services realms without much difficulty. Greater team efficiency leads increased organizational performance. Less stress leads to increased satisfaction and less turnover. Managers, including leaders and managers in legal organizations, with higher emotional intelligence “greatly contribute organizational climate and success.” The authors noted that such leaders and managers “are not just nicer managers” and argued that their results showed “emotional intelligence has nothing to do with mawkish sentimentality.” Their results showed that competent managers can attune to feelings and show empathy and sensitivity. Also, the emotionally intelligent manager has the ability to “put them aside when necessary.”

Research shows that emotionally intelligent managers can exist. These special types add value to organizations. This can happen in legal organizations, too. What can describe this type of person’s behavior and impact? Just like the authors concluded their article, I suggest that the emotionally intelligent legal manager can exist and the expression “an iron fist in a velvet glove” aptly describes this special leader. Her subordinates will perceive her as competent and effective. He adds to increased perceptions of team efficiency. Finally, the emotionally intelligent legal manager or leader will not stress her subordinates, project team, or practice group.

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 – | Services – Organization Development Practitioner combining and leveraging 25+ years of diverse legal experience, 7+ years of allied health training and work experience, a Master of Science in Organizational Development Psychology, and educationally qualified or earned certifications in industry-leading normal (Myers-Briggs MBTI) and special business (Hogan Assessments) personality; ability (MSCEIT) and self-report (EQi 2.0) emotional intelligence; leadership (Certified Intentional Leadership Coach); and stress management assessment and tools (ARSENAL best practices system for stress resilient emotional intelligence) to partner with clients to discover needs and opportunities for growth and to design, develop, deliver, and evaluate custom interventions for individual, team, project, or organizational solutions. | Mission:  “America’s leading resource for normal personality and emotional intelligence assessments, and related coaching, continuing education, training, and workshops for judges, lawyers, law schools, bar associations, healthcare, medical, and other professional services providers and their organizations and leaders.”  Please visit Adlitem Solutions and Psycholawlogy again soon. Thank you very much.

Complimentary Assessment: Contact me via email at to arrange for a no obligation discussion and assessment of your firm’s interests or needs regarding emotional intelligence workshops, training, continuing education, or coaching. See this related post on my blog Emotional Intelligence Memo to Management: EI as a Buffer of [Lawyer] Stress in the Developmental Job Experience for more information about taking first steps.

Article Source: Mikolajczak, M., Balon, N., Ruosi, M., & Kotsou, I. (2012). Sensitive but not sentimental: Emotionally intelligent people can put their emotions aside when necessary. Personality and Individual Differences, 52(4), 537-540.

Image Credits: Double-edge here | Soft skills questions here | Data collection interview here | Figure – Article source | Iron fist velvet glove 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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