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Going through the emotions

23 October 2015

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Being a good manager is about more than just leadership and organisation. It also important to develop ‘softer skills’ such as empathy and understanding

We’ve all encountered the professional who had great knowledge in their field, but who seemed to lack common sense or what is often referred to as – emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a broad range of skills, abilities, and competencies that enable you to recognise and manage your own and others’ emotions, as well as increase your ability to interact well with others, and achieve greater success at work and in your personal life. Professionals with high levels of emotional intelligence are able to solve personal and interpersonal problems, cope with daily stress, lead effectively, and establish healthy relationships.
Increasingly, managers should consider emotional intelligence when making hiring decisions and regard it as just as important as technical expertise. High levels of emotional intelligence can also make a difference between getting promoted and getting fired. Fortunately, the competencies that comprise emotional intelligence can be learned and developed even in those with the lowest initial levels.1  
According to Daniel Goleman, a leading researcher in emotional intelligence, there are two components of emotional intelligence: personal competence and social competence.2 Personal competence can be viewed as an essential foundation upon which social competence is established and consists of awareness and management of one’s own emotions. Social competence is possessing social awareness and social skills or relationship management ability.

Personal competence
Goleman identified three areas of personal competence: self awareness, self regulation, and motivation.3 Self awareness is knowing your internal states, preferences, and resources and includes the ability to:
1. Recognise your own emotions and how they affect your performance (emotional awareness).
2. The ability to accurately assess your own performance, strengths, and weaknesses, and to receive feedback from others and reflect on it to make improvements (self assessment).
3. Possessing a strong sense of your self worth and capabilities (self confidence).

Self regulation is the ability to manage your internal states, impulses, and resources, and includes:

  • Self control.
  • Trustworthiness.
  • Conscientiousness.
  • Adaptability.
  • Innovation.

Motivation is the general desire or drive that moves you towards your goals and has several important components:
1. Striving to improve or meet a standard of excellence (achievement drive).
2. Aligning yourself with the goals of your organisation (commitment).
3. Taking charge and going above and beyond the bare minimum (initiative).
4. Remaining persistent, resilient, and hopeful despite setbacks (optimism).
Think about an emotional trigger that has affected you at work or in your personal life. Perhaps someone said or did something that got you really upset. There are times when we are very aware of how we are feeling and other times when we just go from emotion to action or reaction without any awareness of our emotional state. Maybe you’ve seen a colleague or patient go into flight or fight mode. They escalate from zero to 100 without any warning and seemingly without any provocation. But when you discuss the incident with them, they lack emotional awareness of what triggered them, how they were feeling in the moment, and they have an inaccurate self-assessment of their role in the incident. They tend to blame others and won’t take personal responsibility for their reactions, and they are not motivated to make any changes.

Social competence
Personal and social competence complements each other. Without adequate ability to be aware of your own emotions and manage them, conflict with others is inevitable. Social competence allows a healthcare professional or practice manager to understand the emotions of others in their group, and manage relationships effectively, garnering respect and cooperation along the way.
Two key elements of social competence are empathy and social skills. Empathy is the awareness of others’ feelings, needs, and concerns. Having insight into and being able to regulate your own emotions and impulses can provide you with insight into others’. With greater understanding, you can apply social skills such as influencing others, communicating effectively, managing conflict, and providing strong leadership to manage relationships more effectively.
Social competence also requires being mindful and aware of political currents and power relationships in order to foster collaboration and build stronger teams. It is also critical to leverage diversity and engage and value everyone’s perspectives and different talents and skills. Inclusiveness is a mindset and a consciousness to choose to notice who is present and who is missing.
Healthcare professionals and practice managers might be aware of their own emotions, but may not be aware of how their emotions in a given situation differ from those of the people around them. You may be aware of being annoyed or frustrated with a patient’s lack of compliance with recommended treatments or with a colleague who moves more slowly than you would like. But you may not be aware of the fact that your patient is anxious about their diagnosis or that your colleague is afraid of making a mistake. High levels of emotional awareness and empathy in these situations would enable you to interact with each individual more effectively and help everyone to reach their goals more efficiently.

Increasing emotional intelligence
Clearly, there are many facets of emotional intelligence. It would be unrealistic to address all of these at once. Instead, review the elements of emotional intelligence described here and determine what areas are relative strengths and weaknesses for you. You might even solicit input from a trusted colleague or supervisor and identify one or two areas for improvement of emotional intelligence. Once you determine the areas you want to work on, create an action plan to develop those competencies. It is helpful to think about this process in the same way that you think about effective practice management: assess your current situation, set goals, develop an action plan, execute your action plan, measure your results, and evaluate your strategies.
Below are several suggestions to help increase your emotional intelligence:

1.Keep a journal
Pay attention to your internal thoughts and feelings, interpersonal interactions and outcomes, and your emotional triggers. In other words, make a note of the times during your day when you feel sad, anxious, or angry, especially when your emotional reaction was out of proportion to the situation. What happened? Who was involved? What were the precipitating events? By noting these situations, you are able to increase awareness and identify patterns. You can’t change what you’re not aware of.

2. Practice good stress management
Dealing with daily stress is an important competency in emotional intelligence. Stress is our physical, emotional, and behavioral response to adapting to a changing environment. When chronic stress is not managed, it can have a negative impact on health and performance and can lead to burnout. When facing adversity, it is helpful to leverage personal competencies of optimism and motivation to cope with stress and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Time management is an important tool that is at the intersection of stress management and practice management, and helps to bring efficiency to your work. You only have a limited amount of time each day to accomplish the necessary tasks, and if you mismanage your time, you miss out on achieving your goals. In actuality, we don’t manage time, but rather we manage tasks in various time frames. We can’t control time, but we can control what we do in the time we have, and thereby reduce stress. Also, make time to learn various stress reduction techniques.

3. Seek out personal and professional development opportunities
Some changes are easy to make on your own, but in some instances, you will get stuck, and you won’t know what to do. Consider participating in a support group, receiving professional counseling, or taking a class or workshop on a particular topic such as conflict resolution or effective communication.
It’s not enough to decide that you want to increase your emotional intelligence. You will need to make a plan and execute the relevant strategies day by day. As a healthcare professional or practice manager, not only will your patients and colleagues benefit, but you will as well.

Dr Peggy Mitchell Clarke, clinical psychologist and consultant.

1 Bar-On R. The Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence (ESI). Psicothema 2006;18, supl.: 13-25 (accessed 19 August).
2 Goleman D. Working with emotional intelligence. 1998. New York: Bantam Books.
3 Goleman D. Emotional intelligence. 2005 New York: Bantam Books.