The notion of emotional intelligence has been around since the 1960s, but it was popularized in the 1990s by author Daniel Goleman (with his book Emotional Intelligence) and the plethora of literature arising since that time. Emotional Intelligence of an individual means to perceive, assess and manage emotions of her own self and of other people.
How can improved emotional intelligence benefit nurses and the work that they do? For nurses in clinical roles, emotional intelligence is useful in terms of the nurse-patient relationship, the development and expression of empathy and compassion, and the ability to relate to others in authentic, meaningful ways. So what are traits of nurses with high EI?
Managing emotions is proactive and problem-focused. It is not the same as denying emotions, repressing them, or pretending they are not there. As the proverb goes, “If you don’t manage your emotions, they manage you.” A common example of this is nurse anger. Nurses often experience anger at patients, their families, and at other nurses and multidisciplinary team members. Anger that arises in these relationships is common and understandable, but may not always be well managed.
Nurses are taught to care, and often fundamentally see themselves as altruistic, supportive individuals. Even accepting that they are angry with a patient may be difficult. If nurses do not use EI skills—if anger is not identified, reasoned with, understood, and managed—the consequences for patient care are serious. Unidentified, unmanaged anger with patients easily results in less frequent nursing rounds, late medications, and even less-than-gentle physical and emotional care. In these cases, patient safety is compromised as soon as a nurse is not able to identify and manage anger. When anger between colleagues or multidisciplinary members is not identified and managed, teamwork suffers.
Reasoning, using emotions
In complex situations, people with good EI skills use emotions to reason more effectively. Reasoning while using emotions appropriately is a core skill for building a relationship with patients. It may be, as some nursing research suggests, that what nurses often call “intuition” or “trusting your gut” is really this ability to “think/feel” with reason, using emotions.
Focused listening and appropriate body language to support it
Focused listening is a technique used by the nurse to reflect on what a patient has said, and giving verbal or non-verbal feedback that shows understanding. By listening, nurses assess the situation and the problems of the patient; they enhance his/her self-esteem and integrate both the nursing diagnosis and the process of care at all levels. Communication should therefore be at the level of the listener, who is not able to assess clinical scientific knowledge, but has to understand what we are telling him or her.
Ability to gain control and regulate emotions
Self-emotion regulation is an ability to calmly respond to stressful events. This includes seeing the other side, knowing how to give in without giving up, and using coping thoughts and relaxation techniques. This is the ability to calmly respond to conflict or friction; Peaceful conflict resolution can be a natural result of self-regulation.
Assertive communication techniques
Assertive communication is the ability to express positive and negative ideas and feelings in an open, honest and direct way. It’s application is contextual and it’s not appropriate to be assertive in all situations. It allows nurses to take responsibility for their actions without judging or blaming other people, and allows nurses to constructively confront and find a mutually satisfying solution where conflict exists. An example could be a nurse needing to call a doctor for pain medication for a patient, but the doctor on duty makes the nurse nervous. In this situation, being assertive and confident is also advocating for patients.
Understanding how to use these tools in the nursing unit
Communication, regulating emotion, and control are certain traits of nurses with high EI. But the most important step is understanding how to bring them together to conclude in personal and unit success. Nurses with high EI can demonstrate a higher impact, create powerful first impressions, and balance optimism and pessimism correctly and in appropriate situations. Nurses with a high EI bring positive energy to relationships with patients, colleagues, and leaders. They generally know what they want in their career, and they have the tools to find out if they’re still uncertain.
A calm, assertive nurse with a high EI can be a great nurse leader. These nurses may find themselves more likely to earn a promotion, be given more responsibility, or find other ways to advance. Emotionally intelligent nurses take responsibility for leaving toxic workplaces, going after their goals, and advancing their careers. EI is also an important trait to help with stress management and burnout prevention. Developing emotional intelligence is a smart strategy for nurses who are approaching leadership roles, and who want the rewarding careers they deserve!
Ways to develop Emotional Intelligence?
Although there are tools out there to assess your emotional intelligence, there are also ways that leaders can do this on their own, or you could encourage your nurse associates to do themselves.
1. Seek Feedback on your behavior – this is hard to do at times but there is research to suggest that many of us do not have good barometers of how we are being received by others.
2. Evaluate all negative feedback and reactions to your behavior to look for evidence of where you may have problems with EI.
3. Self-reflect on how you have managed your emotions in highly charged situations with conflict– is there room for improvement?
4. Assess how you manage your stress level and whether this interferes with relationships with others.
5. Determine your EI strengths and weaknesses and develop a personal action plan.
6. Do cognitive rehearsals when confronted with difficult situations – assess in advance how you will manage if you are losing control of the situation.
Emotional Intelligence and Nursing Leadership Styles Among Nurse Managers, Brenda Tyczkowski, DNP, RN; Christine Vandenhouten, PhD, RN, APHN-BC; Janet Reilly, DNP, APRN-BC, Sylvia Kubsch, PhD, RN
Emotional intelligence: Why walking the talk transforms nursing care, Estelle Codier, PhD, RN, American Nurse Today
Emotional Intelligence in the Nursing Profession, The Journal of Nursing