Intense emotions occur often in service encounters.  Many of us have experienced something like – “We’re sorry . . . your flight has been. . . . .” – which can prompt one to experience any number of negative emotions. Likewise, lawyers and legal leaders know that strong negative emotions might erupt after counsel informs her client  “Sorry, . . . .the Judge has considered and overruled your objections to the notice and subpoena, and ordered you to appear on the date and time specified for your deposition at your company’s home office located . . . . .”

Service researchers have shown that intense emotions during interpersonal interactions between the service provider and the client or customer can have dramatic impact. Client emotions affect their value judgments and behavioral intentions. The same line of research has shown that the client’s perception of how well the service provider responds to and handles the waves from the emotional currents in service encounters can predict satisfaction and loyalty, i.e. whether the client likes you and will use your services again. This post discusses a new valid and reliable scale for examining employee emotional competence – actual behavior – perceived by the client in service encounters and discusses implications for lawyers and legal leaders.

Who Should Read This Post and Why. “Turbulent” describes the legal services climate today. To provide their best service, lawyers must display emotionally competent behavior in their interpersonal interactions with clients. The emotional content of those service encounters varies dynamically. Context matters in service delivery. Each interaction matters. Lawyers, law students and legal academics, legal leaders and managers, and professional development directors and trainers should read this post. These professionals should have interest in learning about a new way to measure client perceptions and gather feedback about how their lawyer handles the emotional dynamics of a discrete client service encounter.

No research studies have addressed the issue of service provider emotional competence from the client perspective in the legal services context. Also, little if any mention about developing a scale to measure service provider emotional competence appears in legal scholarly commentary. This post fills that gap as it translates important research results from the business management field for application in the legal services

Research Background – Need for Measure of Client Perceptions of Service Provider Emotional Competence. Emotional intelligence, the concept, means different things to many people. The research featured here discusses the ability emotional intelligence model and measure and a newer concept, employee emotional competence. The authors discussed the differences between the ability emotional intelligence model from employee emotional competence. Ability emotional intelligence concerns the abilities to perceive emotion in self and others; use emotion to facilitate thought and assist reasoning and decision-making; understand own and others’ emotion; and manage own and others’ moods and emotions.∗ According to the authors, this ability concerns the potential to display emotionally competent behaviors.

Employee emotional competence refers to the manifestation of emotionally competent behavior. These behaviors reflect emotional intelligence. Employee emotional competence goes beyond the potential to display emotionally competent behaviors. It involves the employee responding to customer or client emotions. How employees handle these interactions creates, shapes, and maintains the climate for service. Prior research€ has shown that customer perceptions of employee emotional competence influences customer satisfaction and loyalty. The prior research, however, had limitations. The earlier study measured emotional intelligence from the perspective of the worker, focused on intrapersonal competencies, and had other limitations on the dimensions measured. Customer perceptions of actual behaviors and how competently the provider meets expectations matter most when it comes to shaping their loyalty and satisfaction intentions.

Purpose of Research Study – Develop a Scale to Measure Employee Emotional Competence from a Customer Perspective.  Managers need to evaluate employees’ actual displays of emotionally competent behavior as perceived by the client or customer in discrete service interactions. Client or customer perceptions of service provider emotional competence help shape the service experience because nothing matches those perceptions as the best source of information. Existing measures of ability emotional intelligence, according to the authors, measure potential, not actual emotionally competent behavior. They focus on the employee perspective and potential intrapersonal competencies.

Consequently, as existing measures of ability emotional intelligence also do not measure the customer’s perception and evaluation of employee emotional competence, a gap existed. This research, which sought to develop and validate a reliable scale to examine employee emotionally competent behavior from the customer perspective, fills that important gap.

Development of a Reliable and Valid Client/Customer-Based Measure of Employee Emotional Competency – Initial Steps. The authors used a multi-stage development process. They began by reviewing the literature and then generated items. This part involved the researchers conducting in-depth interview with people who had two service encounters in which they experienced severe negative emotions. The customers not only explained their emotional states before, during, and after the service encounter, but they described whether and to what extent the service provider displayed emotionally competent behavior. The customer also described how the service provider’s behavior impacted their experience. From the data gathered during this stage, the authors defined employee emotional competence as “employee demonstrated ability to perceive, understand, and regulate customer emotions in a service encounter to create and maintain an appropriate climate for service.”

The steps before exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses involved additional stages involving data collection, analysis, questionnaire development, and scale purification from various well-recognized processes which resulted in the following scale dimensions.

Employee emotional competence from the viewpoint of the client or customer involves interpersonal behavior. The customer can see and experience these. The interpersonal behaviors which comprise the measure developed and tested by the researchers involves three dimensions of employee service provider’s behavior: perceive emotions (actual performance identifying, i.e. discerning emotions from language, appearance, and behavior, customer emotions accurately); understand emotions (actual performance understanding, i.e. recognize and interpret their causes, and how emotions shift over time, how they differ, and which emotion is most appropriate for in any given context, customer emotions); and regulate emotions (actual performance in managing, i.e. moderating customer negative and increasing positive emotions by providing support or supplying comforting messages customer emotions to alter that person’s emotional experience in a discrete service encounter).

The service encounter experience has many components. A valid measure of employee emotional competence must tap into and differentiate that construct from employee empathy (compassion and caring), assurance (knowledge and courtesy along with ability to inspire trust and confidence), and affective state (subjective feeling states involving enthusiasm, activity, and alertness versus anger, contempt, guilt, fear, and nervousness).

Also, a valid and reliable measure of employee emotional competence should correlate with several other components of the service encounter experience. The researchers therefore included measures of positive and negative emotions, customer-employee rapport, service encounter satisfaction, and loyalty intentions toward the employee and company, and affective commitment to the employee.

Development of a Reliable and Valid Client/Customer-Based Measure of Employee Emotional Competency – Final Steps and Results. This part will identify the 13 item employee emotional competence scale consisting of three dimensions without detailing the additional data collection in a validation sample and the various statistical techniques and analyses performed in refining the measure and confirming its reliability and validity.

Each dimension is an important determinant of employee emotional competence. Each dimension has a direct path to the overall construct of employee emotional competence. The three dimensions, and their respective factors, of client or customer perception of employee emotional competence are:

  • Perception of Customer Emotions (5) includes the client or customer perceiving that the service provider “was altogether capable” of recognizing customer upset, perceiving how customer was feeling, identifying the emotional state the customer was in; “fully aware” of customer emotional state; and “perfectly interpreted” customer emotions;
  • Understanding of Customer Emotions (3) includes the client or customer perceiving that the service provider “perfectly understood” reasons for upset, reasons for feelings, and why customer or client “was bothered”;
  • Regulation of Customer Emotions (5) includes the client or customer perceiving that the service provider “had a very positive influence”, “did everything” to make feel well; “behaved tactfully” to make feel better; “positively influenced” way feeling; and calmed down by behavior

Additional validity analyses showed that all dimensions correlated positively and significantly with customer-employee rapport, service encounter satisfaction, loyalty intentions toward the service provider, and affective commitment to the service provider. The researchers conducted a final data collection to confirm the scale’s reliability and validity. They reported their findings, stating in pertinent part that “. . . all [employee emotional competence] dimensions correlated positively and significantly with the following dependent variables: positive emotions, customer-employee rapport, overall service satisfaction, and loyalty intentions to the company.” Their validation sample study provided “strong support” for the scale’s design and purpose – to consider a discrete service encounter, and provide managers and service providers a valid, reliable measure of customer emotions, attitudes, and behavioral intentions.

Discussion and Implication for Legal Services Providers and Their Leaders and Managers.  This research did not involve lawyers or legal service encounters. But, the results translated and applied to managing the legal service encounter can have important implications for lawyers, their clients, and legal service organizations and their leaders and managers. Clients and their lawyers do not use the same criteria when evaluating the service provider’s performance. Results from research studies across many different types of service engagements show that the client’s evaluation of the service provider determines the client’s experience. That evaluation drives satisfaction and loyalty. Here, emotions matter.

This research study provides a valid and reliable way for service providers and their managers to diagnose and manage service encounters. The three (3) dimension employee emotional competence scale can help to predict client’s emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses to service encounters. It provides a deeper understanding of the emotional behaviors likely to elicit favorable client evaluations.

Legal services managers and lawyers cannot ignore the emotional components of the legal service encounter and the lawyer-client relationship. As detailed in the current definitive guide, see here the time is now to go beyond just being smart, and lawyer with emotional intelligence. This post has featured a peer-reviewed research article in which the authors designed, developed, tested, and produced a valid and reliable easily administered instrument which better equips service managers to manage emotionally charged service encounters.

The authors state “Service managers who implement our scale can capture all three emotionally competent behaviors [perception, understanding, and regulation of client emotions] that an employee must demonstrate to be perceived as displaying high EEC [employee emotional competence]. Legal leaders, managers, and lawyers operate in a service setting that feature emotionally charged, personalized and intimate services. Service encounters there can generate intense, often negative, emotions. Reason to have great concern about clients view their organization’s service providers’ emotional competence attends each service encounter. “Thus, managers of these service settings should be particularly concerned by measuring and managing the EC [emotional competence] of their contact employees.”

As noted in the resources below, training can teach, develop, and improve emotional competencies. The employee emotional competence scale consists of 13 items spread across three dimensions. Each item of each dimension plays a critical role in reaching the desired result – the lawyer demonstrating emotionally competent behavior. Pay attention to each item. According to service research, simply saying something to ourselves like “I’m really emotionally intelligent” will not cut it for the clients. Lawyers must do it. But how?

Lawyers must learn about, develop, and demonstrate emotionally competent behaviors. Simply relying upon being “lawyer smart” alone misses a very important aspect of legal service. Science shows that lawyers as service providers must demonstrate to our client-customers the emotionally competent behaviors of perceiving, understanding, and regulating emotions. Success here means that we will meet their service expectations and drive client intentions of loyalty and satisfaction. Lawyers should want to please them and meet all of their clients’ needs in each legal service encounter. Turbulence abounds. Lawyers should want to navigate in calm, safe seas. That’s possible. We just need to learn how, and lawyer better by paying more attention the emotional side of lawyering. . . showing emotionally competent behaviors each time that we serve our clients.

For related resources about emotional competence training, access the following resources on Psycholawlogy:

Professional development alert: Evidence-based emotional intelligence training can improve your work success and your life.

Important Announcement About Emotional Competence – Adults Can Be Trained & Receive Important Benefits

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, including an appellate clerkship, solo practitioner and of-counsel lawyer, and senior corporate trial attorney, 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 Jungian (Myers-Briggs MBTI) and special business (Hogan Assessments) normal personality; ability (MSCEIT) and self-report (EQi 2.0 [derived from Bar-On model]) emotional intelligenceleadership (Certified Intentional Leadership Coach); and stress management (ARSENAL best practices system for stress resilient emotional intelligence) assessments, tools, systems, and coaching to partner with client organizations, their leaders, and member to discover needs and opportunities for growth and to design, develop, deliver, and evaluate results from implementing 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 programs, 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 About Emotional Intelligence As Ability, Self-Report, and Competency: Contact me via email at to arrange a time for a no obligation discussion and assessment of your firm’s or firm members’ interests or needs regarding emotional intelligence workshops, training, continuing education, or coaching. For information about taking first steps, see this related post at Psycholawlogy – Emotional Intelligence Memo to Management: EI as a Buffer of [Lawyer] Stress in the Developmental Job Experience .

Related posts on Psycholawlogy about emotional intelligence, lawyers, and the practice of law which might interest you include the following:

Lawyers, the RULER, the Mood Meter, and Emotional Intelligence

Trait Emotional Intelligence [EI] and Lawyers: EI As a Shield Against Burnout and Job Dissatisfaction

Legal Education and Empathy Assessment: Implications for Mental Health, Well-being, and Future Performance

Emotional Intelligence and Orthopedic Surgery Residents – New Study Shows One Way to Go: Up. . . Up. . . Up! – Suggested Lessons for Legal Educators and Lawyers

All-Star [Lawyers] Players – The Top Five (5) EQ-i 2.0™ Attorney Emotional Intelligence Work Success Factors

Featured Article Source: Delcourt, C., Gremler, D. D., van Riel, A. C., & van Birgelen, M. J. (2016). Employee emotional competence: Construct conceptualization and validation of a customer-based measure. Journal of Service Research19(1), 72-87 (copy currently available here)

Other Resources: € Delcourt, C., Gremler, D. D., Van Riel, A. C., & Van Birgelen, M. (2013). Effects of perceived employee emotional competence on customer satisfaction and loyalty: The mediating role of rapport. Journal of Service Management24(1), 5-24 (copy currently available here) |∗Mayer, J. D., Caruso, D. R., & Salovey, P. (2016). The ability model of emotional intelligence: Principles and updates. Emotion Review8(4), 290-300 (copy currently available here) |

Image Credits: Great Wave here | Atticus Finch here | Yes No Survey here | Emotion Wheel 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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