In medicine, understanding verbal and nonverbal cues and effectively communicating with peers, colleagues, and patients are invaluable skills. It is an art form for some and a learned skillset for others. No matter how much, or little, effort is required to develop your emotional intelligence (EI), it is vital for all practitioners to learn self-reflection and continuously strive to improve. This journey can be started as an individual practitioner at any career stage or as a medical learner with a mentored plan. These actions translate into the bigger picture as a reflection of an organization’s emotional quotient (EQ) and make a significant contribution to its well-being.
“As professionals, we become very good at speaking but oftentimes we fail to master the art of listening. The interactions we have are not only verbal; therefore, it’s imperative that we learn to interpret nonverbal cues. Body language, verbal inflection, and other signs are all tells that require attention and interpretation.”
As human beings, one of the greatest challenges we face is learning effective communication. The skills that enable us to effectively talk to and interact with one another are not always innate. Adequate communication does not only apply to our work life but to our home life and, in fact, to every interaction we have. As professionals, we become very good at speaking but oftentimes we fail to master the art of listening. The interactions we have are not only verbal; therefore, it’s imperative that we learn to interpret nonverbal cues. Body language, verbal inflection, and other signs are all tells that require attention and interpretation.
“Self-awareness” is a state when we are in tune with our own emotions, including the way we are perceived by others. It is the first step in becoming emotionally intelligent and in improving our own EQ. Once we have self-awareness, we need to practice “self-regulation.” This refers to our ability to control those emotions and, more specifically, govern the way we are perceived by others. Bear in mind that it’s not only what we say but also how we are perceived based on our nonverbal cues and energy.
A true student of EQ will exhibit “motivation” when it comes to a desire to improve oneself. While it is important to be in touch with our emotions, there is always room for improvement. Some find it hard to face the reality of falling low on the EQ scale. Improvements are indeed possible and, in fact, so important to one’s overall success.
“Empathy” is one of those traits we don’t all possess. The person who is able to “read” those around them begins to appreciate the situations others may face – and can see themselves facing the same situations. Such empathy does not go unnoticed and will lead to an increased ability to interact, influence, negotiate, and succeed far better than others when it comes to business as well as personal situations. The term emotional intelligence has been thrown about for many years. As leaders, we should be cognizant of everyone around us. This includes colleagues, support staff, housekeeping, and our patients. The ability to listen, empathize, and respond with understanding and compassion goes a long way.
In this brief primer, our goal is to introduce the basic concepts of EQ. However, the subject matter is vast. Our intent is to pique your interest and encourage you to seek more. The writings of Daniel Goleman are some of the most poignant on the subject. It was an eye-opening concept when first introduced in the early 1990s – that EQ was as important or more so than IQ. If we were to consider every aspect of a given day, we may be surprised at just how many circumstances we face where a stronghold of EI could serve us so well. From interactions at the breakfast table with our family, to conversation in the doctors’ lounge, to interactions in the OR with our surgical and nursing colleagues, to discussions with our patients, all could be made so much better through a firm grasp of EI.
There are many assessments out there that enable us to better understand where we fall on the EQ scale. Having an assessment performed either in a group setting or as an individual is invaluable. As mentioned previously, many EQ skills are learned; however, we can’t make improvements unless we know where we need to start. Early in one’s career, medical learners can be directed and mentored to develop plans for EI improvement, resulting in higher EQ scores.
Once thought to be a stable trait, research suggests that EI can be enhanced through various learning modalities aimed at self-reflection. Medical learners can benefit greatly from early development of professional (sometimes referred to as personal or individual) learning plans, or PLPs/ILPs, for the purpose of continuous self-improvement. Depending on an individual’s training level, these plans should draw upon feedback gathered through didactic, simulation, clinical, and specialty experience.
Adult learning theory builds its constructs around the fact that adults learn best when they are actively engaged in the learning process and self-direct their own learning goals and activities. An ILP is a critically important tool for all medical learners that considers individual strengths, professional goals, specialty requirements, and helps identify what is needed in terms of personal adjustments and resources.
Learners should be assigned a mentor/faculty advisor to regularly meet and communicate about progress and to reassess the needs of the learner. These discussions should be led by the learner and demonstrate responsibility for self-improvement. Learning plans should include: 1) learning goals for a specific period of time, 2) an action plan outlined for each learning goal, and 3) one or more resources assigned to each action, including coaches, instructors, textbooks, counseling, websites, etc. Learning plans are most effective when reviewed and maintained regularly. The most useful plans harmonize reflective practice along with a commitment to personal growth. These plans are individually developed, self-reflective, and for everyone, not just low performers. The truly insightful plans are great indicators of the potential to become an independent lifelong learner.
Too often, plans to improve one’s EI are only tasked to those individuals who are struggling to perform at acceptable standards and frustrate faculty members, colleagues, or peers. Some of these learners (or practitioners) may be perceived as lacking insight to their own deficiencies, inadequately self-reflecting on performance, or disregarding faculty member feedback (often perceived as biased or misdirected) and may be unable to acknowledge their own personal role and responsibility in the learning process. Personal/professional learning plans are important tools for all medical learners, from the highest-performing to those performing at minimum levels or below in one or more levels.
Plans for an individual’s improvement should never be considered stagnant or permanent. As individuals exhibit self-awareness and improve upon themselves, their learning plans should adapt to reflect these changes in skillsets and effective communication.
Although EI has been described mainly as an individual endeavor, the concepts of attaining EQ can be applied to an organization and thereby utilized to improve organizational behavior. In this approach, organizational EQ as we define it is not about how individual EI affects organizational behavior, but rather it is a view of the EQ of the organization itself and subsequently then a strategy to improve an organization. One of the best methods of understanding this concept is through a portion of the SWOT analysis. SWOT is a tool to provide guidance for an organization through a critical assessment of its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This analysis can be divided down into an assessment of internal factors, which are Strengths and Weaknesses, and external factors, which are Opportunities and Threats. As with describing individual EQ, organizational EQ deals with the internal factors – a complete understanding of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses. The key factor in achieving organizational EQ is the very honest and deliberate analysis of these two factors. Believing that the organization is achieving its goals and complacently thinking that “it’s as good as it could be” would be a failure in organizational EQ. No organization has achieved perfection, and there is always the capacity for improvement, especially in an ever-evolving business landscape.
“Believing that the organization is achieving its goals and complacently thinking that ‘it’s as good as it could be’ would be a failure in organizational EQ. No organization has achieved perfection, and there is always the capacity for improvement, especially in an ever-evolving business landscape.”
One method of understanding an organization’s EQ is to know how the organization’s strengths and weaknesses are perceived by the organization itself – and also how it would be viewed from the perspective of key stakeholders. In the example of an anesthesia practice, the organization should attempt to understand the perspectives of not only its own leadership and anesthesiologists and anesthetists but, just as importantly, also those of patients, surgeons, staff, OR administrators, hospital administrators, insurers, and external vendors.
Internal and external surveys are one method of reaching an understanding of strengths and weaknesses. However, to properly conduct this assessment, surveys should involve direct interviews with representative stakeholders. The first step is to understand organizational EQ and is not intended to provide improvement plans, although it will later be a component of a strategic plan.
Again, it is impossible to cover organizational EQ in a brief article, but the hope is that organizations will further investigate these concepts through a study of SWOT analysis as well as how to create a comprehensive strategic plan.
Emotional intelligence allows for individuals and organizations to be self-reflective and understand their strengths and limitations, thereby providing the first set of insights into strategically planning for improvements. Without this understanding, the individual or organization risks stagnating or even becoming self-destructive. However, the ability to determine a path toward success begins first with emotional intelligence, both within the self and the organization.