Nurses have distinct intellectual qualities that they use to adapt to patient needs. Nurses are bright, critical thinkers and assertive decision makers. Yet, there is a quality that launches a good nurse into a great one. It is a quality that is sometimes hard to put a finger on. It is called Emotional Intelligence.
Emotional intelligence or EI is the ability, capacity and skill to identify, assess and control the emotions of oneself, of others and of groups. This quality plays an important role in nursing success whether they are working in management or at the bed side.
There are several different EI models and some disagreement on a specific definition, but the overall concepts and applications to nursing are the same.
Although a nurse may be born with general EI and related personality traits, Daniel Goleman (author of the book “Working with Emotional Intelligence”) and other researchers agree that the ability to develop, learn and improve EI is possible.
As nurses, we must be open to developing our EI skills in order to meet the needs of our patients, just as we would if we were learning a new clinical technique.
Goleman's model outlines four main EI constructs:
- Self-awareness. The ability to read our own emotions and recognize their impact while using gut feelings to guide decisions.
This concept is not new to nurses and tightly follows the Peplau nursing theory. We have to "know ourselves" and our reactions before we can help manage others appropriately.
- Self-management. The ability to control our own emotions and impulses and adapt to changing circumstances.
Once we, as nurses, have identified where our strengths and weaknesses lie, we must look for opportunities to improve those skills. My favorite skill is modeling. Find people you respect who use a particular skill well (i.e. listening to angry families or managing an intense meeting) and then “mimic" them until you get the hang of it.
Other ideas include reading articles and self-help books, attending webinars and learning everything you can on leadership, conflict resolution and communication in nursing.
- Social awareness. The ability to sense, understand and react to others’ emotions while comprehending social networks.
Now comes the difficult part. We have to look for opportunities to use our new skills so that they become a part of who we are. In a hospital, opportunities abound. Every minute we have the opportunity to show openness, gratefulness or compassion towards patients or coworkers.
My favorite personal quote is "everyone deserves a little grace." I use this to remind myself to keep my emotions in check. I then proceed to implement newly learned EI skills.
- Relationship Management. The ability to inspire, influence and develop others while managing conflict.
In nursing, relationships many times are based on stature. Stature is the ability to help others. We are attracted to people we believe have high stature because of the possibility of receiving a reward. Pride is the emotion related to increased stature, while shame is the emotion related to decreased stature. Insults are an attack on stature that often provokes humiliation, anger and violence.
As nurses, we should focus our EI on positively affecting stature. These include being open to other viewpoints and motives and showing empathy and compassion. Note that your EI will not be perceived as high if you inflict anxiety, fear, anger or shame. These often result in a loss of stature and only create humiliation in others.
As great nurses, we can increase our emotional intelligence and improve our ability to recognize, interpret and respond constructively to emotions in our self and others. Our patients and coworkers are social beings and emotional competency is an essential social skill. Although it takes hard work and time, improving our EI will be highly rewarded by our patients and everyone around us.
Beaumont, L. (2009). Explore the Logic of Passion. EmotionalCompetency.com ©
Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books