Even the original researchers in the emotional intelligence field–Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey–have taken different sides in the controversy as to whether EI can be learned. That uncertainty has put law firm professional development managers in a difficult spot, second-guessing the usefulness of providing lawyers with EI training programs.
The most recent research suggests that, instead of EI being an attribute you are either luckily born with or unfortunately stuck with lacking, it’s a skill you can learn. And a skill that can be learned through a program that is not particularly arduous for either trainees to undergo or management to provide.
In two recent studies, people were enrolled in an 18-hour emotional-competence course designed to teach “understanding emotions, identifying one’s own emotions, identifying others’ emotions, regulating one’s own emotions, regulating others’ emotions, and using positive emotions to foster well-being.”
Results of the first study showed that "the training with e-mail follow-up was sufficient to significantly improve emotion regulation, emotion understanding and overall emotional competencies. These changes led in turn to long-term significant increases in extraversion and agreeableness as well as a decrease in neuroticism."
Results of the second study showed that "the development of emotional competencies brought about positive changes in psychological well-being, subjective health, quality of social relationships and employability. The effects were sufficiently large for the changes to be considered as meaningful in people’s lives."
So compared to people who didn’t take any course, or who took a course on improvisation, the emotional-competence trained group scored better on various emotional measures, becoming by external measures more extroverted, less neurotic and more agreeable. They also simply felt better–they reported better physical and mental health, and happiness. And not just right after the course, but for many months later.
Notably, the course also improved "employability," as judged by human resources professionals who watched videotapes of interviews with participants before and after the course.
The implications for lawyers is obvious–we are on the low side of emotional intelligence no matter which assessment is used, as much as a standard deviation (15%) lower than the average American, according to some assessments. An 18-hour training program is a manageable one for both lawyers and firms with an important upside–better client service, better morale and a better culture.