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Emotional Intelligence in Nursing

While nurses must possess a great deal of scientific and technical knowledge, they must be emotionally intelligent as well. In a profession that requires practitioners to understand and care for the whole person, emotional intelligence is pivotal.

Nursing is a highly emotional job, and the career comes with incredible highs and lows. Emotional intelligence in nursing ensures success, from patient outcomes to the management of nursing staff.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

The Institute of Health and Human Potential (IHHP) defines emotional intelligence as “the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions” and “recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.”

In his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, psychologist Daniel Goleman listed the major components of emotional intelligence. They include:

  • Self-awareness
  • Emotional control
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Relationships

The five elements of emotional intelligence in nursing can determine a nurse’s success and health, as well as affect the well-being of patients and coworkers.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Nursing

Emotional intelligence in nursing practice is an enormous part of the management of staff and the care of patients. While emotion doesn’t always play a huge role in other professions, it’s inherently a part of nursing — providing care is an emotional endeavor.

study titled “Emotional Intelligence in Nursing Work” stated, “Caring for someone is associated with the performance of physical tasks, whereas caring about someone implies care at a deeper level, where feelings are explicitly involved in the relationship and the resulting care. If nurses are to form relationships and engage with patients to care for and about them, this involves their emotions.”

Thus, while nurses do plenty of physical labor, they also perform emotional labor, which means managing one’s emotions in a way that’s required to do a job. Emotional intelligence in nursing is imperative when it comes to emotional labor, as the requirements are often complex and evolving.

Emotional intelligence takes on more importance as nurses progress into leadership roles. An article titled “Leadership and Emotional Intelligence in Nursing and Midwifery Education and Practice: A Discussion Paper” stated, “The need for emotionally intelligent and ethical leadership in the professions is paramount to highlight and confront the challenges for all involved in health service provision.”

While emotional intelligence impacts all industries, understanding emotions on a personal and social level is a crucial part of being a nurse. Examples of emotional intelligence in nursing are vast.

How does each element of emotional intelligence relate to the nursing profession? 

Self-Awareness and Emotional Control

Emotional intelligence in nursing is not just critical when caring for others; it’s vital for self-preservation. Nursing can quickly become an emotionally overwhelming and demanding job. The aspects of self-awareness and emotional control ensure that nurses can recognize their own emotions and manage their reactions to those emotions, protecting both their mental health and their patients’ well-being.

A report from the National Academy of Medicine found that around half of United States nurses could suffer from burnout on the job. Furthermore, that burnout could contribute to decreased quality of patient care and prove costly for the healthcare system. Nurses’ mental states are tied to outcomes for patients and require attention.

Another report stated, “The consequences of burnout are not limited to the personal well-being of healthcare workers; many studies have demonstrated that provider burnout is detrimental to patient care.” It went on to say, “Furthermore, the symptoms of burnout seem to overlap with those of depressive disorders.”

Emotional intelligence allows nurses to keep their fingers on their own emotions, understanding when they’re feeling burnt out or depressed. They can take steps to understand their emotions and control their reactions. While depressive disorders should be dealt with by a mental health professional, recognizing emotions along the way could help nurses identify when to ask for help.

If nurses know when their emotions are being taxed, they can take the steps necessary to re-center mentally. Their ability to control their response to often negative emotions proves beneficial for the patients they care for. Keeping calm in stressful and even life and death situations is imperative for nurses. Awareness and emotional control allow nurses to understand the emotions they’re feeling and temper their reactions for the best possible outcome.

Motivation

Self-motivation, as it relates to emotional intelligence, is the drive to improve personally and achieve goals. Many people might call this resilience or ambition.

Motivation and nursing go hand-in-hand. Nurses must motivate themselves to expand their horizons, explore new specialties and more. Emotional intelligence can help drive the choices of nurses to ensure they’re in the best roles for them, where they can bring passion to their work and improve the lives of their patients and teammates.

Self-motivation is especially significant as nurses move into leadership positions. Emotional intelligence in nursing leadership helps nurses understand how they can use emotions to effect change in their staff and hospital communities. Self-motivation is essential to making the most of emotionally intense work as caregivers and leaders.

In a high stakes profession that affects many lives, leading with self-awareness, emotional control and motivation makes a huge difference in the lives of staff members and patients.

Empathy

Caring for others requires empathy, or the ability to understand how others are feeling. This is not to be confused with sympathy, which is feeling pity or sorrow for another person. Empathy requires seeing a situation from the perspective of other people, including those who are very different from you.

Empathy builds a shared trust and connection between caretaker and patient. It can help nurses make the right choices and present information in a way that patients comprehend. Nurse, author and podcaster Kati Kleber, BSN, RN, CCRN said, “Rather than focus on fixing or making patients and their loved ones feel better, shifting that focus to just feeling with them can be significantly more meaningful.”

Empathy is also fundamental between nursing leaders and their staff. Understanding others’ experiences, perspectives and challenges allows nurse managers and other leaders to help staff members gain their own self-awareness and emotional control, as well as ensure patient safety by identifying possible emotional challenges among other nurses.

Relationships

All of nursing boils down to relationships. The relationships nurses form with patients and their loved ones are central to the process of nursing. To ensure patients are compliant and honest, nurses must foster an environment of openness and trust. All the components of emotional intelligence from self-awareness to empathy play roles in nurses’ relationships. Each relationship is unique, presenting diverse challenges and opportunities for displaying emotional intelligence in nursing.

Further, nurses must maintain open and healthy relationships with other healthcare professionals. When a care team works together, understanding each other’s perspectives and challenges while being aware of their own emotional reactions, healthcare work becomes a more positive experience and outcomes improve. Studies show that collaboration between doctors and nurses could have a positive impact on many health variables for patients.

Healthy relationships are where nurses can show that they care about patients — a caring connection is at the heart of nursing.

To impact emotional intelligence in nursing, consider an RN to BSN degree. The University of West Florida’s online RN to BSN program opens doors to more opportunities for nurses, allowing them to demonstrate a commitment to the nursing profession and advance their careers.

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