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Grow Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is based on the idea of a collection of abilities that, together, constitute a form of intelligence that is different from cognitive intelligence (e.g., "what's your IQ?"). This form of intelligence is defined as the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves and for effectively managing our emotions and the their impact on our relationships.1

While many EI models exist, the concept of EI consists of four core competencies, each contributing to the overall construct:

  1. self-awareness
  2. self-management 
  3. social awareness
  4. relationship management

In other words, EI is the ability to understand our emotions beyond allowing them to automate our behavior, integrating that understanding of our emotions into our actions and our relationships, and experiencing growth and development because of our thoughts and emotions. So why is EI so important?


Workplace Applications
An article in Human Resource Executive indicated a growing concern among managers and human resources professionals that recent graduates lack the "soft skills" necessary to be successful in the workplace, including the ability to work well with others.2 Many of you reading this may be at the beginning of your career, and are probably wondering how EI relates to your career. A degree demonstrates mastery of a bevy of technical skills that can help land a great job, but remember to think longer-term. Career-minded graduates will find it interesting that EI researchers believe EI is at least as important as cognitive intelligence, if not more, in determining success in the workplace.

Further, a number of studies conclude as many as two-thirds of the knowledge, skills and abilities tied to exceptional workplace performance are emotional and social qualities.3 Unless you work in an isolation tank, you'll have co-workers, a manager and possibly even direct reports. Almost everyone's work affects-and is affected by-other people, and where people are involved, emotions follow.

Consider a favorite manager or an amazing healthcare professional. Why was this person a good manager or an amazing healthcare provider? It likely wasn't because of his education, credentials or even his last performance review. Chances are it was because of the way he interacts with others in your organization or with patients.

Conversely, think about your worst manager. This person was promoted at some point to a management level position, but probably doesn't have well developed people skills. That person likely has technical skills similar to the people he manages, but is lacking in more than one competency area of EI, and so has difficulty communicating with and working effectively with his teams, others on his level and even his managers.

Healthcare providers often work in difficult situations, and losing control of emotions can significantly impact patient care. A recent article in Nursing Inquiry explores how EI can be included in educational programs for nurses, and into the profession.4

Sounds good in theory, but how is it being applied in the workplace? One of my graduate school professors was the head of organizational development for a prominent New Jersey healthcare organization, and one of her projects involved working with physicians to improve their bedside manner. Why? The physicians were talented medical professionals, but were notoriously short and impersonal from their patients' perspectives. Patients felt as though their doctors didn't care about them, and they didn't always totally understand the diagnoses or treatment plans outlined by the doctor. The goal of this program was to refine methods for providing real-time feedback to physicians and other caregivers to increase their self-awareness and social-awareness as a means to improve their bedside manner.

Why Is EI Important?
Awareness of your own emotions (for example, knowing why you become upset when your manager criticizes your performance) and managing your reactions can save you from those embarrassing "I wish I hadn't said that!" moments. Awareness of how others affect you and the reactions they provoke in you can help you to be a more influential presence in negotiations, debates or in sensitive situations with patients and co-workers.

On a larger scale, consider that the people who rise to the top in departments or organizations often are classified as charismatic leaders who manage their emotions well. They are aware of what they need and want, and seem to instinctively know how to rally others around a cause to reach a desired result.

The connection between EI and leadership inspired me to investigate emotional intelligence by studying the degree to which each of the core competencies was present in high and average performers in a healthcare facility. The project, conducted at a facility in the Philadelphia suburbs, was fairly comprehensive, but the outcome that relates to your career is simple: the leaders were significantly more emotionally intelligent than the average performers. The leaders were dynamic and savvy-and people liked them. 


Improving EI
The first test of EI was published in 1990. Now if you Google the term "test emotional intelligence" you'll find an array of free tests of emotional intelligence (these tests are usually not validated, but are still free, fun and offer some insight about your emotional intelligence quotient, or "EQ"). If you work for a larger healthcare facility, you may be able to participate in programs designed to increase EI and EQ through your human resources and/or training department.

The bottom line is, unlike cognitive intelligence, which tends to stabilize after adolescence, EI can be improved through coaching and practice. Just being aware of your emotions and making a commitment to improve your reactions and relationships is a start. So, what's your EQ?


1. Goleman, D. (1998).Working with emotional intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

2. Robertson Denby, E. (2005). Ready . not. Human Resource Executive, 19(10), 56-58.

3. Cherniss, G. (2000). Social and emotional competence in the workplace. The Handbook of Emotional Intelligence. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

4. Freshwater, D. & Stickley, T. (2004). The heart of the art: emotional intelligence in nurse education. Nursing Inquiry, 11(2), 91-98.

Victor Gaines is a management consultant for TWC, a consulting firm that focuses on improving organizational performance.

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