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Mastering Emotional Intelligence: transforming lawyers into powerful communicators

Communication is the root of connection, It builds trust, a key tenet of any healthy relationship. It's well known that lawyers aren't the best communicators, that they're often lacking in emotional intelligence. Behavioral strategist Shadé Zahrai tells how to evolve one's communication habits.

"Self-awareness is the root of good communication," says Zahrai, former lawyer turned award-winning peak performance consultant. Perception and awareness go hand in hand. We all perceive things differently; recognizing that and genuinely trying to see things from another point of view is what makes a great communicator.

Cognitive appraisal is the term Zahrai uses to describe our conscious and subconscious processing of information. She points out that although the subconscious is not present in a situation, it influences our emotional response and decision-making. Essentially, it stores screeds of memories that impact how we consciously react to something.

"The subconscious loves to give you answers, typically based on default processes that were formed through previous experiences, creating biases. But those answers aren't always correct, or they don't give us the full picture," says Zahrai.

The core of emotionally intelligent communication is tapping into your subconscious. Zahrai implores us to analyze how we interact with others and to ask how well we really know ourselves. She says being self-aware of how we are wired, how we react, and paying attention to that, requires conscious effort. "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate."

The hard truth is that lawyers score low when it comes to emotional intelligence (EQ) which is an essential skill for success in business and life. EQ is crucial to our interactions, our ability to communicate authentically and to persuade others. So how does one change or improve their EQ?

Listening is a crucial aspect of EQ and communication. And while most of us assume we are fine at listening, it seems we couldn't be more off the mark. As the late American author Steven R Covey said, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Zahrai believes today's fast-paced world bears some responsibility. We are always thinking ahead to the next meeting, project, event or commitment, and instead of genuinely being present with someone, we are formulating our response in our heads and waiting for a space to interject. We might think we're having a conversation but in reality, we're not.

Zahrai is adamant we need to change this. "If you really want to improve your ability to communicate, to influence, to drive outcomes, the most important thing you can do is actually listen to people. It's a basic element of emotional intelligence."

Rewiring neural pathways or old unhelpful habits is her solution to becoming a better listener. "When you consistently have a particular thought, you create a new neural pathway, a brain-based pattern. By changing thoughts, we can unwire old patterns and create new ones."

She recommends conducting a communication self-assessment, taking notes for a week or two about how you reacted to others, how you addressed them if you asked questions, and what kind of questions were they? A self-assessment can show where your biases lie: you can then begin working to undo them.

Zahrai suggests acting like an investigative journalist - be curious, ask people questions about themselves and their situations - you will eventually gain their trust. Empathy is also key to being a good listener and communicator. Genuinely caring completely changes the nature of a relationship, be it professional or personal.

It's important to see our work relationships as more than transactional and to put in the same effort with colleagues as we do with our families.

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