Entering Practice:
Emotional Intelligence and Empathy

Emotional Intelligence

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.  

Here's a short TED Talk on Emotional Intelligence you should take a look at.

And there are exercises you can use from Positive Psychology to improve your emotional intelligence here


Developing empathy is a necessary part of being a nurse. Now that you've come this far in 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.


Watch this video on the importance of Emotional Intelligence, how it relates to social interaction and four domains and how to develop it in just a few minutes.

Developing Empathy

There are a few steps to develop empathy from PositivePsychology.com: 


Working with others

Nurses work with people. Other nurses. CNA's. Doctors. Physician Assistants. Nurse Practitioners. Patients. Family members. EVS. Registration.. Unit Coordinators. Managers. Supervisors. Police Officers. Paramedics. EMTs. You get the idea... the list is endless...

As a nurse, you will work with people who are not well - physically, emotionally, or psychologically. You must remain centered and calm or you could cause more harm. 

But how? How do you - a human who is placed in the middle of someone else's chaos - remain calm? 

First, stay safe... give yourself and the other person space. The more unpredictable they are, the more space you need to provide. If you feel like you are in danger, you will react to the words or behavior more than respond to the person behind the words or behavior. The same goes for them - if they're in a psychiatric crisis and feel threatened by your presence, they will react more than listen. 

Next, be mindful - pay attention to and observe the reactions and responses of those around you. Did they grimace before answering your question? Are their words more clipped? Do they wait for you to look at them before answering you? Are they speaking quickly? Do they bounce from one topic to another? Are they antsy/fidgety/restless? Listen to their words, watch their facial expressions and body language, and listen to their tone of voice. 

Finally, be separate - don't take anything personally - even if they try to make it personal!