Hi Fabiah readers, we hope you are doing well despite the challenges of this period. We will get through this together and come back even stronger. This article begins our Fabiah Blog series on Emotional Intelligence, which we are calling EI and Nursing.
As you may already know, Emotional Intelligence (EI) involves self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy. We use our EI when we think about what we are feeling before we act, or take a big, calming breath and remember the big picture, or put our own feelings aside so we can try to understand what someone else is feeling. Here is a simple definition: Emotional Intelligence is the ability to correctly identify and effectively manage emotions in ourselves and others.
Research suggests that higher EI is beneficial for a broad range of people and circumstances while lower EI, on the other hand, has many disadvantages, as described, for instance, by a 2010 article in the journal Psychology. Moreover, nursing in particular is a profession that depends on EI. First, nurses work in settings where emotions can run very high, and EI is an important tool nurses use to manage those emotions so that a safe and comfortable environment can be maintained for patients. Second, as part of a healthcare team where communication and collaboration are essential, nurses use EI to anticipate needs, quickly resolve conflicts, and help the team run smoothly.
Let’s look at a specific case.
Tabitha is a nurse with a very sick patient who refuses to take medication. Whenever she addresses the subject, Tabitha’s patient acts gruff and suspicious, and Tabitha feels insulted. Her patient seems to think she wants to hurt him. After reflecting on these feelings, however, Tabitha realizes her patient’s attitude is not about her. Something else must be going on. Tabitha also recognizes that if she wants her patient to overcome his fear and distrust around medication, it is important for her not to react negatively or force the issue, but to develop a therapeutic communication with her patient. A couple of days later, while she’s listening to her patient talk about his family, Tabitha learns of a brother who recently experienced severe side-effects from a medication. This, it turns out, is why her patient has been refusing medication; he is afraid something similar will happen to him. With this information and the patient’s trust, Tabitha can now talk to his doctor and begin addressing her patient’s fears.
In this case, Tabitha relied on her Emotional Intelligence to provide good patient care and avoid unhelpful stress. Initially feeling insulted by her patient’s distrustful behavior, Tabitha reflected before she reacted, and that moment of self-awareness gave her the chance to self-regulate. Once she understood why she felt insulted, Tabitha was able to ask herself whether her patient’s behavior was really about her or about something else. Once Tabitha had used her EI to regulate her own feelings, she was able to turn her attention to her patient and what he was feeling. Using empathetic attention, Tabitha was able to help her patient feel safe enough to open up. With a lower EI, Tabitha might have reacted on her initial feeling and become angry, while her patient became more entrenched in his distrust and fear about his medication.
There are many places in a nurse’s interaction with patients and colleagues where she or he uses Emotional Intelligence to think through what is happening, what everyone is feeling, and choose the best course of action. As we saw in this case, EI involves self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy, and improvement in these areas will increase EI. Nurses use these abilities all the time, subconsciously. It may also be helpful, especially in moments of stress, to be fully aware of the ways we use our EI.
We hope you found this introduction to Emotional Intelligence helpful. There are more ways that EI impacts nurses, which will be covered in later articles on the Fabiah Blog. In the next article ofthis series, we will talk about a concept called Emotional Labor.
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