There is no question that nurses may appear to an outside observer to be primarily task-oriented, but the reality is that an equally important aspect of nursing involves communication with all people, including colleagues and patients. 

When it comes to authentic and clear communication and the nurturing of functional, healthy relationships, this includes the ability to read, interpret, and respond to one’s emotions and the emotions of others. This skill — and this is indeed a skill that can be sharpened and strengthened over time — is called emotional intelligence (EI).

The Impact of Your EQ 

Your “emotional quotient” (EQ) is one way emotional intelligence is referred to in the literature and popular culture; it’s also commonly referred to as EI. Daniel Goleman brought the concept to the public with his seminal 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence. Over the last few decades, it has found its way into healthcare, the corporate world, academia, and other spheres.

In terms of a framework, EI is often broken down into five realms:

  • Recognizing your own emotions
  • Managing your own emotions
  • Self-motivation
  • Recognizing and understanding the emotions of others 
  • Managing relationships 

The five realms are then described in the context of four quadrants: 

  • Self-awareness
  • Social awareness
  • Self-management 
  • Relationship management

Rather than being a relatively fixed number like your IQ, your EQ is a set of skills and personal attributes that can be consciously improved throughout your life and career. And when examining the five realms and four quadrants above, it’s easy to see that the highly relational aspect of nursing can benefit from a nurse focusing on their personal development in these areas.  

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The Relational Nurse

Most forms of nursing are relationship-based. Picture an emergency department, a clinic, a dialysis center, a home health agency, an inpatient hospice, an ICU, or a labor and delivery unit. In the daily work of a nurse clinician, effective communication with colleagues, patients, and their families is essential. This communication can exist as the lowest common (transactional) denominator or be much more, built on a foundation of emotional and relational intelligence.

Patients don’t remember nurses whose communication is unemotional or robotic; they remember nurses who went above and beyond with their kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness. The physical skills of the nurse hold meaning, of course (e.g., skillfully hanging a unit of blood inspires patients’ confidence in their care), but mastery of communication and relationship-building is where the rubber truly meets the road.

In relationships and communication with colleagues, nurses’ emotional intelligence also comes powerfully to bear, whether as a clinician or a leader. A nurse’s ability to maneuver within a potentially complex workplace environment is based on their ability to converse with numerous stakeholders:

  • Doctors, surgeons, and other clinicians
  • Patients and family members
  • Case managers, IT professionals, coders, third-party vendors, and administrators

The relational nurse is a conduit, bridge-builder, negotiator, mediator, and educator, and the better the nurse is prepared to serve in these roles, the more successful they will be. 

Making EI Count

It takes many players to help make these facets of nursing come alive and make their mark. Within nursing schools and on the NCLEX licensing exam, EI could play a more significant role in educating nurses about emotional intelligence. If healthcare leaders and employers chose to emphasize EI and make it a part of their orientation, ongoing training, and corporate mission and values, everyone involved would be well-served. Yet it mostly comes down to the individual nurse prioritizing their emotional intelligence and personal growth

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No matter how it’s addressed, emotional intelligence has a place in healthcare, nursing, and medicine. Nursing care itself is far from having a solitary focus on manual tasks. Relationships are at the core of nursing, and EI is where nurses can genuinely choose to shine. 

Minority Nurse is thrilled to feature Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column.

Keith Carlson
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