Developing Healthcare Workers' Emotional Intelligence: Q&A With Emotional Intelligence Coach Harvey Deutschendorf

Emotional intelligence, or the ability to understand and control emotions, has been linked with to a number of qualities desired of healthcare providers: High EI has been positively correlated with job performance and satisfaction, stress management, social interaction and ability to identify emotional expressions. Some researchers have begun to explore the role of EI and patient-centered care and while research has yet to conclusively weigh in on the subject, common sense would suggest that providers with the high IE would be more likely to connect and communicate successfully with patients (see Birks & Watt, 2007).

Emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutschendorf, author of "The Other Kind of Smart: Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success," believes healthcare organizations should be concerned with the EI levels of their employees as it could affect how patients perceive the quality of the care they receive. Luckily for hospitals and health systems, EI isn't an inherited trait; it can be developed and improved through "learning new and better ways of interacting with the world around us," Mr. Deutschendorf writes in his book. "Unlike the intelligence quotient (IQ), which is pretty much set by the time we reach adulthood, we can change our emotional intelligence (EI)."

bookHere Mr. Deutschendorf discusses the role of EI in organizational success and provides specific tips for healthcare workers to change their EI for the better.

Question: You have long advocated the link between emotional intelligence and business and personal success. Can you explain why EI is so closely correlated with organizational and leadership success?

Harvey Deutschendorf:
It comes down to the basics of who we are as humans. We feel before we think. People forget what we say but always remember how we made them feel. Our success therefore is related to how well we are aware of our own emotions and the emotions of others. The more we are able to connect with people around us on an emotional level, the closer and more fulfilling we will be in our personal relationships. In business as well, we want to be around those that we feel a strong positive connection with. The more satisfied and fulfilled we feel at work, the more productive we become. Research has shown that the biggest reason people leave their jobs is dissatisfaction with their direct supervisor and the feeling of being unappreciated. Our happiness and well-being is directly related to the strength of relationships we form with others. A leader's success depends on how they are able to source out the best in the people they lead. People give their best for a leader that they trust, feel intrinsically motivated and inspired by.

Q: Having a high EI is probably especially important in a customer-focused industry, and even more so in healthcare, where customers many times are going through difficult situations. What are some ways healthcare workers can keep EI in mind as they carry out their day to day work and encounter various stressors?

Customers in healthcare settings are in a situation where they often feel extreme emotions such as fear and anger. They can be in a situation where they feel they have no control over what happens to them. These feelings will often be expressed at those they are around, which are their healthcare givers. Healthcare workers need to not take expressions of emotions, such as anger, directed at them personally. Feeling very vulnerable, customers can receive a great deal of benefit from someone who acknowledges their feelings, offers a listening ear and a comforting word or two. Healthcare workers who are empathetic are also vulnerable to burnout and must have ways of protecting themselves from taking on the stressors of their customers and the workplace. Healthy and balanced lifestyles with lots of activities that release stress are necessary to maintain the energy that is required of a caring, effective healthcare worker. In healthcare settings such as hospitals, I have recommended that staff meet for a few minutes at the end of their shifts to debrief. This would be an opportunity for staff to express, release and share emotions they are carrying. The opportunity to release stressors in a timely and safe manner, would help healthcare workers from carrying around a heavy stress load after they have left work. A confidante, partner or friend that is a good listener is important; someone that is trusted and cares about your well-being. Physical (exercise) and mental (meditation or yoga) outlets are vital for a balanced approach to stress release.

Q: One of my favorite parts of your book is that it provides a list of activities at the end of each chapter that individuals can complete to raise various components of their emotional intelligence (e.g., independence, flexibility, empathy, etc.). If you had to narrow all of these down to 3-5 most impactful activities, what would you suggest healthcare workers do to begin to improve their EQ today?

That's a great question! It's difficult to know where to start as many of the areas of emotional intelligence are so interconnected. Healthcare workers need empathy to be effective, yet at the same time have to limit the emotional attachment they have with customers otherwise are in danger of burn out. Self-awareness and clear boundaries are essential qualities for an empathic employee.

Put yourself in their shoes
Empathy starts with us being aware of our own emotions and being able to manage them effectively. This will help us be more aware of, and recognize the emotions that others are having. I would suggest that healthcare workers take a few moments during every day to think about the situation their customers are in and how they would feel being in their shoes. Perhaps a message on the office wall, a computer screen that would remind them that there are vulnerable people that are likely afraid, maybe angry, who are dependent upon them during this time.

Recharge and replenish
The next thing I recommend healthcare workers should do, is to have interests and activities outside of the workplace that they totally enjoy and replenish their energy. Pets are a great distractor. When I worked as a social worker in a hospital, I found that playing with our two poodles and taking them for walks was a great way to release daily stress. Music is another one that worked for me. The important thing is to find at least one activity that makes you feel absolutely wonderful when you do it, and do it regularly, preferably every day.

Making sure our needs are met
Establishing healthy relationships outside of work is also crucial for healthcare workers. They can't afford to be around people who drain their energy, or "emotional vampires" as they are known. Because many healthcare workers are givers, they may have a difficult time saying no to others and looking after themselves. Many also have to go home and look after children and or elderly parents. Having at least one person with whom one can share our inner thoughts and emotions and who is understanding and supportive, is very important. If healthcare workers are missing this in their lives, they need to take action to change this. It may mean talking to a counselor, seeking out a support group and making themselves a priority; making this their time and they are the focus. If healthcare workers feel guilt over looking after themselves, they should constantly remind themselves, or have others remind them, that they won't be of value to others or themselves if they allow themselves to burn out. A golden rule to follow would be, "Look after yourself first so you can then look after others."

Develop your own life
Because their working environment involves closely working with other people, healthcare workers may forget that they are also individuals that have dreams, goals and hopes of their own. Holding on to their own lives when others are asking so much of them, requires a sense of independence. If this does not come naturally, there are ways that can develop this needed sense of self and independence. Write down personal goals, for a week, month, six months and six years. Do at least one thing daily, regardless of how briefly, to move you towards your goals. Spend some time alone every week, even if only for a few minutes, to be with your own thoughts and just be. Try going to a movie alone, for coffee or lunch.

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert and internationally published author of "The Other Kind of Smart: Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success," published by the American Management Association of New York. He is certified to administer the Bar-On EQI, the first scientifically valid test for emotional intelligence that has been approved by the American Psychological Association.

More Articles on Emotional Intelligence:

Healthcare Emotional Intelligence: Its Role in Patient Outcomes and Organizational Success
Survey: Patient Satisfaction May Depend on Bedside Manner More Than Medical Skill
Trust — At the Core of the Patient Experience

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