Emotional intelligence (EI) can seem like just another buzzword to nurses who have not yet encountered the plethora of literature supporting the crucial aspects of EI in nursing, medicine, career and personal life. First mentioned in the 1960s, EI was brought into the mainstream by author Daniel Goleman with his 2005 book, "Emotional Intelligence." A person's emotional quotient (EQ) and IQ are viewed by many as equally important to both success and happiness.

The Institute for Health and Human Potential (IHHP) defines EI as "the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions, and recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others." IHHP also states the following on their website: "This means being aware that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people (positively and negatively), and learning how to manage those emotions — both our own and others especially when we are under pressure."

Nursing care and emotional intelligence

In the hospital, nurses are faced with ill, distressed and confused patients whose emotions are often running high. Hospitalized patients may feel isolated from their normal support systems, and authentic empathy on the part of the nurse can change the tenor of their stay enormously.

Despite the fact that home health patients are in their own environment, the home may be fraught with stress, uncertainty, dysfunction and other challenges. The home health nurse can use EI to deliver holistic care grounded in emotional connection and compassion.

No matter the setting, nurses, nurse leaders, researchers and educators can utilize EI to put patients at ease and provide optimal care.

Developing nurses' emotional intelligence

Self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy and communication skills are all crucial to emotional intelligence. Emotional reactivity and "shooting from the hip" are not emotionally intelligent ways to respond when under pressure, thus a person with a more developed EQ can regulate his/her emotions and stay cool under duress.

Some people are more skilled than others when it comes to taking responsibility for their own actions and words, and apologizing when it's prudent to do so. The emotionally intelligent nurse learns to turn off the faucet of blame, choosing instead to look deeply at him- or herself, and communicate with others in ways that are positive rather than alienating.

It is entirely possible to learn skills related to verbal and nonverbal communication, conflict resolution, deep listening and motivational interviewing. Nurses desiring such skills can seek out books, podcasts, articles, webinars, conferences and seminars that offer this type of learning. While rare, some healthcare employers may offer education and team-building activities related to the development of EI.

Awareness is key

Awareness is key when it comes to developing and fostering emotional intelligence in nurses and non-nurses alike. Becoming aware that EI can be learned can be the first step on the journey.

EI can be strengthened informally by earnest individuals willing to do the work on their own; it can also be powerfully bolstered through formal learning.

Nurses, nurse leaders and nurse executives can all choose to recognize the importance of EI, and do their utmost to bring emotional intelligence into the mainstream of nursing care.