Q: What is it?
A: It is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions AND recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.
Q: Why is it important?
A: Humans are emotional creatures. Many people make decisions based on their emotional response without even realizing they are doing so. Having a high emotional intelligence helps you build relationships, reduce stress (yours and others), defuse conflict and improve overall job satisfaction. Emotional Intelligence is especially important for nurses who are entrusted with the care of others and exposed to raw emotions when people are in their most vulnerable states.
Q: How can I improve or increase my emotional intelligence?
A: Mindfulness, first - being aware of and taking inventory of how you're feeling as you enter a situation and how you respond in the situation. Reflection after a given situation can help you identify how you were feeling and what lead to a certain decision or action. Then, observe the cues of those around you - body language, words chosen, inflection - and how they change throughout a stressful situation.
Developing empathy is a necessary part of being a nurse. Now that you've come this far in nursing school and are looking forward to your career as a nurse, how can you take these lessons in self-awareness, self-care, mindfulness and mental health and apply them to others?
That starts with empathy. Our patients need empathy, not sympathy. Sympathy is the feeling of pity or sorrow for someone else. Empathy, however, is the ability to feel or imagine how someone else is feeling.
There are a few steps to develop empathy from PositivePsychology.com:
Create curiosity - be interested in what others are feeling/experiencing. Be sure that it is others who are different than you, not just similar: people with different backgrounds, ethnicities, social statuses, and neuro-identities. Active listening is a must!
Be uncomfortable - in order to truly be empathetic, you must step out of your comfort zone to experience others' feelings. Be humble - understand you are not the center of the universe.
Get Feedback - when are you listening well and where can you improve?
Examine your biases - where do you make assumptions and how can those be wrong? Try to expand your perspective to see a different point of view.
Walk a mile in their shoes - what is it really like to live like them? Do they rely on public transportation for every doctor's appointment? Do they need a little extra grace for late arrivals because of it? Build relationships with others you see but don't usually connect with.
Have Respectful, Difficult Conversations - Listen without interrupting. Be open to new or different ideas. Be quick to apologize if you've hurt someone's feelings - whether or not it was intentional.
Join a cause/project with shared goal - find something in common that you can work toward.
Expand your sources - use a wide variety of sources to gather information, including sources you hadn't thought about using before. Ask people where they get their information and use those also.