I wish I had known…how to understand the people in a law firm (part 4)

mirror_wordsFor the last several weeks I have been discussing how understanding the people that you work with will lend itself to a much happier and more successful work environment.  Last week I shared the first of two steps to gaining a better understanding of your co-workers: understanding law firm Logistics.  More specifically, a law firm’s Logistics is comprised of proximity, affinity and necessity. These details determine work assignments within the firm.  Understanding who the key personnel are in your law firm and how each person’s role lends itself to the support of the others and to the successful completion of the work will go a long way toward helping you to understand the critical role that your co-workers play in the organization.

The second of the two components needed to gain a better understanding of the people in a law firm is getting to know each individual on a personal basis by utilizing the skill of Emotional Intelligence. You can assess your Emotional Intelligence by determining your own Emotional Quotient (EQ).  EQ measures how well you recognize emotions in yourself and others, and how well you manage these emotional states to work as a group or team.

This is a skill that can be developed and, when developed, leads to deeper and more effective relationships, both personal and professional.

There are essentially 5 categories that make up your Emotional Quotient:

  • Self-Awareness– The ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions and drives, as well as their effect on others.
  • Self-Regulation – The ability to control or re-direct disruptive impulses and moods and the propensity to suspend judgment and think before acting.
  • Motivation – A passion to work for reasons that go beyond money and status and a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence.
  • Social Skills– A proficiency in managing relationships and building networks.
  • Empathy – The ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people.

At this point, you are probably thinking one of two things.


1) This is really cool information OR

2) This information is overwhelming

If you are in the first camp, you are probably a fairly introspective person who enjoys self-analysis that leads to personal growth and improvement, as well as stronger interpersonal skills.

But if you are in the second camp, don’t despair!  You may not be naturally inclined to self-analysis. That is ok, especially if you recognize it (this is your self-awareness at work!) but you have to admit you would benefit both personally and professionally from having a better understanding of the “inner workings” of yourself and others.  And I am here to make this simple for you!

So, let’s just boil EQ down to these categories:

Self-awareness and Self-regulation:

What makes you tick?  What sets you off?  How do you handle yourself and interact with others when your limits are pushed?  What preferences do you have for how you want things done…and why?

I think the best way to get in touch with these details is to do one (or both) of the following: 1) journal it out (ask yourself these questions and answer them, in written form) and/or 2) interview some of the people closest to you and be prepared to hear their perspectives about you.  Both of these exercises will give you a sense of how you operate and why. Having this information allows you to better utilize the strengths and address the challenges that may arise from your personal style. Knowing yourself can also help you to better regulate your emotions during stressful times.


I know that it can be difficult to find the motivation to get to know the people in your workplace, especially if socializing is not your natural inclination or you find that often, your schedule does not seem to accommodate such a luxury!  But ask yourself these questions and determine if it would be worth the effort: Would you like to have an easier time relating to the people in your workplace – whether that is co-workers or clients?  Would your work life benefit if communication was flowing well and expectations were easily articulated and met?

Social skills and empathy:

When you start to understand yourself and can see that you have both strengths and flaws, you can embrace your own humanity.  You can celebrate the unique and important contributions that you make in the world—and also recognize the unique contributions of others in your personal and professional life.

Equally as important, when you realize that you have shortcomings, you are humbled.  And when you are humble, you are able to embrace the humanity of the people around you as well.  All of this understanding breeds better social skills and helps us empathize with one another. These skills foster deeper connections, better communication, lasting loyalty, motivation to create mutual benefit, and a whole host of other great outcomes!

So, what’s next?

Once you’ve considered and explored the above EQ categories, start simple.  Go to coffee or lunch with the people that you work with.  Get to know them.  Are you an introvert?  That’s ok!  Take the spotlight off of yourself and ask questions.  Ask questions that will keep them talking for the entire meeting, if you want!  Questions such as:

  • When and where did you start your career?
  • What do you like to do outside of work?
  • Do you have a family?
  • What is your favorite part of your job?
  • What is your least favorite?
  • Do you volunteer anywhere?
  • What is most important to you in your life?

You don’t have to be this mechanical, but this list of potential questions is a place to start.

Bottom line: let people tell you their story!  A person’s story will tell you a great deal about them—where they come from, what they care about, what bothers them, how they like to work, how they like to contribute, and even more! When you get to know people, they are easier to relate to.  You may even find that you have a great deal in common!  And even if you don’t have much in common, you will at least have a much better understanding of their strengths, preferences and flaws so that you can better determine how to get on the same team and how to have a more enjoyable workplace.

I hope that you have enjoyed this series about understanding the people in a law firm and that these insights and tools will help to greatly increase your level of both interpersonal and work life satisfaction, as you move forward!

Jennifer Konieczny has been an attorney for 11+ years. Having worked in big firms, small firms and corporate settings, she fully understands the challenges that attorneys face. Her passion is coaching attorneys in the areas of professional skill-building and lifestyle management, in order to help them thrive in their careers.

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