I often speak on topics related to emotional intelligence, and many people ask me, “What is emotional intelligence?” My initial answer is that it is everything outside cognitive or traditional intelligence. But when broken down, I use the framework of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.
I began studying emotional intelligence several years ago by observing and dealing with people who had high levels of emotional intelligence—and many who did not. I’ve learned that awareness is the first step in improving our personal and interpersonal competencies, to be the most effective we can be in our daily lives.
When I was working at an investment management firm years ago, we used to joke around about getting stressed out, and one of my colleagues would say, “We aren’t saving lives.” And that was a good reminder. But in healthcare, it is especially important to be guided by emotional intelligence, because sometimes you really are saving lives.
You might think that technical or clinical expertise is the essential element needed to excel in this environment, but we are not able to be the best we can be without emotional and social competencies to guide our decision making and interactions with others.
Think of the most successful people you know—not in terms of status or wealth, but those you think make the most impact upon others. They may be formal leaders, or they may be those who wield the influence to initiate change or inspire people to be their best, while holding no official leadership role. I bet the one thing that you can cite is confidence.
If you don’t believe in yourself and believe that you can achieve what you set out to do, you will fail. Confidence provides you with the stamina to accomplish your goals and sparks inspiration in others to follow you.
Trust and satisfaction in the patient–care provider relationship comes from a place of confidence. One of the goals we have in medical education is to foster students’ confidence in their interactions with patients. If you aren’t confident in yourself, your patients—and colleagues—won’t be confident in your competence. Lead with confidence in your own abilities, and others will follow.
Another important factor is empathy. Empathy provides insight into another person. If you can relate to and understand someone else, you can then start to understand what motivates them.
In empathy lies strength—strength of character, strength of insight, strength of understanding. Empathy also gives you the means to influence and motivate others.
Consider how you feel when you are met with understanding. Imagine now that you are a patient who believes they were truly heard and understood. Or imagine you are a nurse who feels the care and consideration of a physician. Empathy builds bonds between people, and when we feel like others truly care and understand us, this fosters trust and open communication. Errors occur when there is a lack of trust and communication, and this is preventable by fostering a culture of empathy.
Try this: to gain a greater sense of self-awareness (the first step in flexing your emotional intelligence muscles), reserve time to check in and consider how you are feeling, and how this might be affecting your own actions and interactions. Start with twice a day, perhaps at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., then add more—perhaps when you are washing your hands or walking up the stairs—as you become more practiced. Soon, you won’t need to be so deliberate, as you become accustomed to checking in with yourself on a regular basis.
As you become more self-aware, use this understanding of yourself to increase your confidence and be open to understanding and relating to others (empathy). You just might find that you are more effective than you ever thought you could be.
Do you want to learn how to cultivate your own confidence, and how this can lead to stronger relationships? Join me for an upcoming webcast.