The Role Of Emotional Intelligence
A lot of people are talking about emotional intelligence (EQ) these days. In a time where technology has made it possible for people to maintain relationships and go to school with little face-to-face interaction, many are starting to recognize high EQ as a valuable asset in the workforce.
In nursing, this topic is even more essential. Nurses spend the vast majority of their time interacting with patients, peers and other ancillary healthcare staff. All the intangible aspects of communication (body language, perception, facial expressions and tone of voice) make a huge impact on how nurse and patient interactions develop. Research indicates that nurses with high emotional intelligence are not only happier and more successful, but also create better patient outcomes and improved care quality.
With such powerful results on the line, both nurses and employers are on the hunt for a better understanding of emotional intelligence in the workplace. How does EQ change the way nurses do their jobs? How could high EQ lead to better healing for patients in a healthcare facility? Can nurses improve their emotional intelligence? We asked nurses who understand EQ to share their insights into these and other questions.
What is emotional intelligence, anyway?
“The book definition is an ability to understand and manage emotions—both yours and the people you are relating with,” says Stephanie Sargent, RN and VP of product development and quality at SE Healthcare. “It’s a behavioral competency.”The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
“People with high emotional intelligence tend to excel in verbal and social intelligences and are more open and approachable,” says Rebecca Lee, RN and founder of Remedies for Me. Sargent compares it to reading comprehension. “Everyone has a different level. You can apply the same concept to EQ. People with the highest levels can think objectively under pressure.”
A thought experiment can help you understand the impact emotional intelligence has. Sargent suggests thinking back to an emotionally charged situation you experienced recently. “How did you react when it was happening?” Sargent asks. “If you were an objective bystander, how would you have read that situation? How would an objective bystander have reacted?”
The difference between the two readings of the situation can indicate where you are in your grasp of your own emotional intelligence.The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
Why do nurses need emotional intelligence?
“The nursing profession is an extremely interactive one,” Sargent says. “You work with so many different people, and the way you interact with them can impact their posture toward you. Those with high EQ have an easier time and a more successful career.”
Emotional intelligence is extremely important in the nursing field because you work with patients all day long, Lee explains. “Patient care can cause stress, sadness, danger, exhaustion and joy, all at the same time.”The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
Specifically, Lee says emotional intelligence can help nurses to build better rapport with patients, peers and management, which can in turn create fewer barriers to quality care. “Emotional intelligence will allow you to interpret when a patient is angry, in pain, happy or sad,” Lee says. “Understanding their emotions will help you in your approach. If they are in pain, you will not take them lashing out at you personally. If a patient is sad, then they may need time alone or may not want to talk to you.”
Lee points out that EQ can also help nurses create a better work-life balance, enabling them to identify and deal with emotions from the job. “It can also help you be more self-aware and accept constructive criticism in order to better yourself as a professional,” Lee says. “Nurses with emotional intelligence resolve conflicts more easily with creativity, cooperation and by staying calm under stress.
A push toward more emotional intelligence in nursing
When nursing began as a profession, soft skills (some of which involve EQ) were a major chunk of the job. Sargent says that has really shifted in recent years. “Nurses do so much more now than they used to, so programs focus on making sure their graduates are technically proficient. This means that many nurses don’t have training in the emotional intelligence skills.”
“Lots of programs and hospitals are trying to bring that back,” Sargent says. “There are all these excellence programs where they teach nurses which words to use and how to position themselves.” As an example, Sargent says a nurse might say, “Alright Mr. Smith, I’m leaving now. Is there anything else you need? I have the time.”The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
“You don’t have the time,” Sargent adds with a laugh, “But saying that puts your patients at ease so they will speak up if they need something.”
It can also appear in more subtle ways. Sargent says she gets down to the patient’s eye-level when explaining something. “It changes the power dynamic, you’re not towering over them or about to walk out the door. It makes them more comfortable.”
As more hospitals and healthcare systems move to patient-centered care, emotional intelligence is becoming a hiring and training priority for employers. Sargent says the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) is a huge motivator for healthcare providers. Based on the survey results, hospitals can receive more or less funding from insurance—and many employers offer incentives to employees who are highly reviewed.
“One of the questions on the HCAHPS is, ‘How often did the nurses treat you with courtesy and respect?’” Sargent says. “It’s a big accomplishment when a nursing unit really knocks it out of the park. They might be celebrated by the hospital. It’s a measurable mark of a job well done.”The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
Can you improve your emotional intelligence?
“Definitely,” Sargent says. “There is science out there that EQ can be learned. It starts with understanding where you are on that continuum.” Sargent has noticed highly analytical personality types, for example, who sometimes need extra practice interacting with patients. “They are really good at the technical work. Maybe they never make an error or they have IV inserts down to a science.” While they can be excellent nurses, if they put more work into their EQ, then they will have more success with their patients.
“There are loads of assessments out there,” Sargent says. “You can learn a lot if you start reading up on the subject.” Of course, for many nurses, this learning happens on the go. Sargent does a personal debrief, thinking over what went well and what didn’t go well. Ask yourself, “Did I handle that as well as I could have?”
“The best nurses I’ve known stayed cool as a cucumber in the worst of circumstances,” Sargent says. “They don’t get frantic, and they engineer the best possible outcomes out of the worst circumstances.”
Lee says having a mentor for your nursing career can help you improve your EQ. “With their years of experience, they can guide and teach you methods for how to deal with difficult situations or patients. They can also give you constructive criticism and be honest with you.” Lee says when it’s someone you trust, you can truly reflect and incorporate what you learn into your nursing practice.The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
The Awareness of Emotional Intelligence by Nurses
and Support Workers in an Acute Hospital Setting
Janet Lynn Wilson
Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, Sheffield Hallam University, 36 Collegiate Crescent, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S10 2BP,
Abstract: This paper describes one component of the findings of a larger study exploring the experience of ward staff and
their response to patient death in an acute hospital setting. A consistent theme arising from the study was the lack of
awareness of the concept of emotional intelligence and the way this could be used to manage staff members own emotions in
effectively handling stressful situations involving colleagues, patients and relatives. In this article the concept of emotional
intelligence within nursing is examined, including how it is recognised and used by nurses and healthcare support workers.
Differences between the two staff groups in the study, in relation to their awareness and use of emotional intelligence, are
discussed along with consideration of how education can help staff to identify and develop their own level of emotional
intelligence.The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
Keywords: Emotional intelligence, stress, coping, staff wellbeing.
1. Introduction and Background
The concept of emotional intelligence has its origins in the work of Thorndyke  who identified that it
was discrete from academic intelligence and was a necessity in order to be successful in the practicalities
of life. Two types of emotional intelligence were distinguished by Gardner . These are ‘interpersonal’,
which is the capability to have an understanding and insight into others, and to work well in co-operation
with them, and ‘intrapersonal’, which is concerned with self-awareness and the ability to recognise
personal emotions and how these affect others. Goleman  advocated that having these skills, facilitates
social success as they enable people to form relationships with others easily and read their emotions and
responses accurately. These results in them are able to lead and manage others and to handle disputes
These views are echoed by McQueen  who described emotional intelligence as discrete from
academic abilities and involving a number of aspects including, individual self-awareness, ability to
recognise and manage emotions and having insight into how to relate to others. Mayer and Salovey 
described emotional intelligence as being able to accurately perceive, evaluate and express emotions,
understand the concept of emotional knowledge and to regulate emotion in a way that promotes both
emotional and intellectual growth. It is seen as a set of abilities that can determine a person’s capability to
be successful in life.
1.1 Components of Emotional Intelligence
According to Heffernan et al. , people who are emotionally intelligent perceive themselves to be
confident and are better able to understand, control and manage their emotions. They identified four factors
of emotional intelligence: wellbeing, self-control, emotionality and sociability. “Wellbeing” involves the
individual having a good level of self-esteem and the characteristics of feeling happy and satisfied with a
positive outlook on life. “Self-control” is concerned with the ability of the individual to regulate and
control their emotional responses, and their competence to handle stress. “Emotionality” is the skill to
show empathy, communicate feelings and be aware of the perspectives of others in a situation. The final
factor of “sociability” concerns the social competence of the individual, their ability to demonstrate strong
social skills and to be assertive and influence others. These are similar to those elements described by
Kooker et al.  of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and management of social
relationships.The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
1.2 Emotional Intelligence in Healthcare
Emotional intelligence is a feature that has been identified as being essential in nursing. Cadmen and
Brewer  contend that the ability of any healthcare worker to manage their own emotions while
interpreting and responding to those of others is a prerequisite of anyone working in the caring professions.
Whyte  wrote that the nurse who is emotionally intelligent is one who can work in harmony with both
their thoughts and their feelings, and Smith  strongly supports this view stating that student nurses
need to understand the emotional nature of nursing, have emotional skills in order to deliver competent
nursing care and develop emotional intelligence in order to deal with chaotic working environments. Faguy
 states that emotions are a key motivation for action and that, in order to live an authentic, rewarding
and self-fulfilling life, we need to make use of both our intellect and our feeling.
Freshwater and Strickley  suggest that nursing is becoming more technical and this is at the expense
of the human qualities of empathy, love and compassion. There is also the viewpoint that within the
National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom (UK) the recent focus on clinical outcomes,
national standards and bed occupancy has resulted in a loss in the valuing of human relationships and
emotions. The current Chief Nursing Officer for England produced a vision and strategy for nursing,
midwifery and care staff in 2012 that identifies six values and behaviours, which should be at the heart of
nursing and healthcare . One of these, “compassion”, is described as intelligent kindness demonstrated
through relationships and involving empathy. Another is ‘communication’ resulting in successful caring
relationships and effective team working. These qualities and behaviours are identified as being present in
those who are emotionally intelligent [2, 3, 6].The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
Research into the use of emotional intelligence by nurses has found a positive correlation between high
levels of emotional intelligence, staff wellbeing and performance.
It was concluded by Codier et al. , in their study of staff nurses in the clinical environment, that high
levels of emotional intelligence were correlated with high performance levels. This outcome supports the
findings of research by Akerjordet and Severinsson  who found that emotional intelligence is central to
growth, development and professional competency in nursing, and of Rochester et al.  who identified
emotional intelligence as a significant factor in successful nursing practice.
In relation to staff wellbeing, Mikolajczak et al.  studied Belgian nurses, finding that those with high
levels of emotional intelligence experienced lower levels of somatic illness and burnout when confronted
with stressful and emotionally challenging situations.
1.3 The impact of Emotional Intelligence levels in Healthcare Staff.
The emotional intelligence levels of nursing and other healthcare staff has been found to have an impact
on their ability to perform their work in a competent manner and also on their own health and wellbeing. A
study by Birks et al.  found that those with high emotional intelligence scores showed a greater ability
and willingness to use social support networks, were more confident in their ability to cope with stress and
had improved organisational and time management skills. Those with a low emotional intelligence score
did not use social support networks and were more likely to engage in destructive or harmful behaviours
when stressed, such as eating more, drinking alcohol and smoking. Por et al.  measured emotional
intelligence in mature student nurses and found similar results. Students with high levels of emotional
intelligence had higher levels of perceived competency and lower levels of stress.
1.4 Development of Emotional Intelligence
There has been research, which has demonstrated that emotional intelligence is not static but can
fluctuate and it is possible to both learn and develop it throughout life . Birks et al.  conducted a
study into emotional intelligence and stress amongst students from four health professions; dentistry,
nursing, medicine and mental health, over a period of one year. Although most students’ emotional
intelligence score was stable, there were some who increased their score and, as a result, were found to
have a significant decrease in their stress levels.
Emotional intelligence is related to and used to manage the effects of emotional labour in nursing .The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
It involves an individual’s own awareness of their emotions and how to manage them in relating to others
. In McQueen’s study, emotional intelligence was used to focus on how participants used it in their work
setting when managing their emotions following patient death.
2. Research Method
2.1 Study Aims
The overall aim of the study was to explore the experience of ward staff to patient death, and their
response to it in an acute hospital setting. Ward staff included both Registered Nurses and healthcare
support workers. The objectives included identifying the support mechanisms staff used and to compare
the two groups.
A Heideggarian phenomenological approach was used following van Manen [20, 21] as it was the lived
experience of participants that was being sought and this approach recognises that the experiences of
researchers and participants can be combined to create a shared understanding of the phenomena being
studied.The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
2.3 Data Collection and Sample
Unstructured and semi-structured interviews were undertaken with 13 participants who were recruited
through purposive sampling. The selection criteria for participants were that they worked on the acute
medical wards involved in the study, that they were Registered Nurses or healthcare support workers and
that they had been involved in caring for patients who had died. Eight of the participants were Registered
Nurses and five were healthcare support workers.
2.4 Ethical Considerations
Ethical and research governance approval was sought and gained from the relevant NHS and university
committees. Unit managers were provided with information and their permission obtained to approach
staff for inclusion in the study. All 13 participants in the study signed informed consent forms.
2.5 Data Analysis
The interviews were recorded and then transcribed by the researcher. Initial analysis of the transcripts
involved reading and re-reading the transcripts to identify common themes. Heidegger referred to
phenomenology as hermeneutic, meaning to be an interpretive rather than merely a descriptive process.
Following van Manen , the next step of the process was “phenomenological reflection” and involved
carrying out a thematic analysis to determine the essential themes.
3. Findings The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
During the interviews, several participants expressed the view that they realised their response to death
in the work setting was not an issue that they had given much thought to before being involved in this
research. Some recognised that they were formulating their own views, making sense of their experiences
and identifying the strategies they used to support themselves and others, during the interviews. For
example, some participants reported being quiet when they went home or irritable and realised now that
this happened when they had experienced a patient’s death on the ward during their shift. Initially some of
the staff stated that they did not consciously engage in certain strategies, which helped them to manage
their emotions following patient death. However, as the interview progressed, some of them identified
specific actions, such as seeking out certain colleagues to talk to, having a short break for a drink of tea or
spending time alone reflecting on the incident. They realised that these were strategies they employed to
assist them in managing their responses to death, but had not previously identified them as such.
There were a number of areas where the responses of Registered Nurses differed from those of
healthcare support workers. Registered Nurses were proactive in seeking out colleagues with whom to talk
for support and reported contacting the ward by telephone, when off duty, to ask about the condition of a
certain patient who they were concerned about. It was also the Registered Nurses who reported instances
when they cried with relatives and talked about taking time out to have a cup of tea. It was a healthcare
support worker who failed to recognise becoming abrupt and snappy at home following a patient’s death
until it was pointed out by family members. Younger members of staff from both groups commented on
the support they were given by more senior and experienced members of staff. Registered Nurses
identified that they tried to rationalise their thoughts after a death and that the person was now out of pain
and at peace following a long illness. Several also reported that they had a checklist in their heads, which
they went through to examine whether they had done everything required in caring for the patient. This
staff group also talked about trying to maintain clear boundaries between work and home, and of the banter
amongst staff being helpful.The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
Both Registered Nurses and healthcare support workers related experiences of patient deaths, which
were traumatic for them, either because of the nature of the death or because they triggered memories of
deaths in their own personal lives. Registered Nurses identified that there was a big expectation that they
could cope with a death, carry on with their work and offer support to more junior staff. Registered Nurses
reported finding their own networks, whereas healthcare support workers talked about receiving support
from colleagues on the ward. Registered Nurses identified that there was a need for managers to
acknowledge the pressures at ward level in relation to patient death and for there to be more openness
amongst staff in talking about death in this acute care environment.The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
The findings from the interviews indicate that several staff were not aware of the concept of emotional
intelligence and did not have a high level of self-awareness regarding their own emotional responses to
death or the strategies they used to manage these responses.
The study highlights the need for staff to be provided with knowledge and skills to enable them to
identify, use and increase their levels of emotional intelligence in this kind of work environment. Some of
the participants in the study did use social networks effectively, showed confidence in their ability to
manage stress and demonstrated time management and organizational skills. This suggests that they did
use emotional intelligence although they were unaware of this concept and had not identified it in these
terms for themselves. Others did not make effective use of social networks and recognized that they did
not manage their stress effectively. These staff tended to blame managers, the hospital and other colleagues
for the lack of ability to manage their stress. Birks et al.  identified similar findings from their study,
that those with low levels of emotional intelligence blamed others, as well as factors outside their control,
for being disorganised. The research by Birks et al  also identified harmful behaviours in those with
low levels of emotional intelligence including eating more, drinking alcohol and smoking. None of the
participants in the current study mentioned any of these behaviours. This may be because they did not
engage in these activities or they may have not thought it acceptable to admit to harmful activities as a way
of managing their emotions.
Several participants expressed the view that their colleagues were very supportive. Hochschild 
identified this feature as collective emotional labour in her study of flight attendants. This involved staff
helping each other in boosting morale and giving support when one of them had a challenging experience
with a passenger or some other stressful event. The result was that staff became close and intimate with
each other, and this helped them work as a cohesive team. In the current study, the ward staff demonstrated
some of these features of supporting each other and working as a cohesive team. There were some
occasions when members of staff did not talk to each other, but mostly they appreciated having their
colleagues around them to share experiences and to give and receive support. Raising awareness of, and
developing skills in, emotional intelligence could be very beneficial to ward staff at all levels in the clinical
setting. It could also provide better standards of care for patients, as emotionally intelligent healthcare staff
will be better able to care for the emotional needs of patients.
The findings also indicate that Registered Nurses are aware of the organisational issues around patient
death and that they are mindful of their responsibilities regarding management of their work and of
supporting more junior staff. This could relate to the issue of professional identity, of Registered Nurses
feeling they have a responsibility to support more junior colleagues. The code: standards of conduct,
performance and ethics for nurses and midwives  states that Registered Nurses must make sure that
everyone they are responsible for is supervised and supported. The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay Registered Nurses in the study reported
supporting junior and more inexperienced colleagues following patient death, and the four participants
who had worked in this area of healthcare for less than two years all stated that they felt well supported by
the more experienced staff.
The strategy of maintaining clear boundaries was mentioned by some participants in the study who felt
that it was an important issue for them in helping to manage the emotional stress they experienced at work.
This involved staff reporting that they developed definite boundaries, both between work and home and
also in how close a relationship they formed with patients. Binnewies  found that detachment from
work was beneficial to employees enabling them to be more productive when at work and to have a higher
level of psychological wellbeing than those who struggled with detaching themselves from work-related
Staff in the study, who did not form these boundaries, reported being affected at home by emotional
experiences at work. They described difficulties with sleeping and thoughts of work situations intruding
into their minds when at home. This resulted in a lower level of psychological wellbeing, as identified by
Binnewies . The ways in which staff may actively detach from their work include talking to family
members when initially home from work in order to help clear their minds of the event, engaging in a
hobby that demands their whole attention, or developing rituals, which help them to disconnect from work
. In this study, most participants said that they talked to family members following a shift at work and
one person related a ritual she had of saying a mantra to herself as she left the ward, which enabled her to
detach thoughts of her work from her home life. No one reported being involved in a hobby that they had
to concentrate on in order to detach from their work.
The development of positive responses to situations has been found to build personal resources and
resilience over time . Some staff used positive thoughts of rationalising about death; that the person
was now at rest and not suffering, which could help to build positive resources for them.The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
All participants universally used “talking”, and there is extensive evidence that this is a beneficial and
useful strategy. Talking can be used to make sense of a death, create a durable coherent story and to
resolve the experience [27-29]. All of the staff talked to someone who was known to them but none had
met with a counsellor or talked to someone they did not know. Talking to someone not known personally
can be helpful, as the counsellor or other person will have no existing knowledge of the situation and could
be seen as being more independent and non-judgmental than those known to the staff member.
Humour was mentioned by two participants who explained that they used banter to cope with a stressful
situation. This supports the view of Abel  that nurses use humour in order to help them cope with a job
that involves high levels of stress and emotional labour.
It is recognised that emotional intelligence is an essential requirement for nursing and other healthcare
staff and that some are not aware of this concept or able to identify how they can best manage their own
In this study, most Registered Nurses and healthcare support workers did not appear to be aware of the
concept of emotional intelligence or how this could be developed and utilised in their work environment.
Several staff did report certain actions they took when faced with stressful events but several had not
previously considered them to be strategies consciously engaged in to manage their emotions. Por et al. 
identified that many nursing courses do not include the teaching of emotional intelligence and
recommended that this topic should be added to the curriculum. Birks et al.  demonstrated that it is
possible for individuals to both increase and further develop their emotional intelligence. This could be
done through the teaching of self-awareness to staff and of exploring various ways that may help develop
constructive coping strategies and resilience. Clinical supervision meetings could also be used to facilitate
discussions around this topic. Issues covered could include creating clear boundaries, talking to others,
exercise, an interest or hobby, time alone and reflection as useful approaches to help manage personal
emotions. Different activities and strategies may be of benefit to different individuals and increasing selfawareness could help staff identify what activities help them most effectively when they encounter a
stressful event. The Role Of Emotional Intelligence As A Nurse Essay
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