Leveraging the Power of Emotional Intelligence in Nursing

The Power of Emotional Intelligence in Nursing

Emotional intelligence in nursing has grown in popularity as the healthcare industry adopts a more patient-centered paradigm. With a heavy emphasis on improving patient and family experiences, skills such as showing empathy, listening and respecting patient’s goals, preferences and choices as well as addressing their emotional, social and spiritual needs are critical. Nurses who have high emotional intelligence have been correlated with improved patient experience scores, nurse retention, less burnout, and both physical and emotional wellness.

What is emotional intelligence?

According to Dr. Daniel Goleman (1995), emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, manage and evaluate emotions in oneself, in others and in groups. Emotionally intelligent people know what to say during conversations, and they know when, why and how, or how not, to engage with others. Goleman developed a framework of five fundamentals that delineate emotional intelligence:


The ability to understand what issues or conditions elevate or permeate emotions; self-awareness, confidence and intuition is prevalent.


The ability to stay calm when emotions are running high impulsiveness or careless decision making is rare because rationalization is adept.


Continuous striving to improve and eager acceptance of challenges.


Identification with and understanding the desires, needs and perspectives of others. People with empathy recognize the moods of others, even when these moods are not obvious. Listening, avoiding stereotypes and managing positive relationships are advocated.

Social skills

Helping others to develop and grow is viewed as more important than focusing on one’s own successes.

Emotional Intelligence and Patient Experience

Having high emotional intelligence in nursing is cardinal to positive patient experiences because it demonstrates care and compassion. Researchers have found that even when patients thought their nurses were very busy and didn’t spend a lot of time with them, even the smallest gestures of compassion were important to the patients and this translated into high patient experience scores. Moreover, emotional intelligence training and education for can decrease horizontal workplace bullying because nurses have the tools and knowledge needed to address inappropriate behaviors early, before emotions and consequences escalate.

Improving Emotional Intelligence

Those with high emotional intelligence build rapport easily with others because they are sensitive to those around them and respond in a warm, friendly and empathetic ways. Those with a low emotional intelligence struggle to demonstrate empathy, which makes it difficult to connect with people.

Fortunately, emotional intelligence is a learned behavior and can be improved upon. Nurses can improve their emotional intelligence by becoming knowledgeable in self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, motivation, empathy and social skills. Several tests measure emotional intelligence and can provide useful insights.

To improve your emotional intelligence in nursing, here are 3 ways that can help you develop these core skills:

1). Reflect on your own emotions.

Take some time to reflect on your own use of emotions. By first identifying your own emotions and reactions, you become more mindful and start the process of building control.

Think about how you typically respond during an emotionally charged situation. Do you become angry or sad?  How do others act around you when you are emotionally charged? For example, how would you react to:

  • An email that implies you are wrong and several colleagues and leaders were copied on it
  • Your friend blames you for something you feel is unfair
  • Another driver cutting you off on the highway and then gives you an inappropriate finger gesture
  • A colleague berates and undermines you in front of your patient

2). Use the power of the pause.

“The power of the pause” is basically taking time to stop and think before you act or speak. The pause helps you to feel comfortable in your words and how you are saying them. It also allows you time to breathe in and exhale out.

Taking a deep breath helps to improve oxygenation in the brain. Just a few seconds of improved brain oxygenation causes the brain chemicals that causes an emotional outrage to fade. This improves your cognitive brain function. In other words, you think clearer, and you have better control of your emotions.

The pause is easy in theory yet difficult to practice. Try it!

3).  Show Empathy.

Empathy is the ability to communicate and lead others by understanding how others perceive thoughts, feelings or points of view. For example, imagine someone falling in front of 500 people on stage. Put yourself in their shoes. This helps us to see things from someone else’s point of view.

Learning to listen to others demonstrates empathy. People want to be around others who take the time to listen. Nodding, asking open ended questions and paraphrasing show empathy. Empathy training help you build confidence when having empathetic conversations. Here are a few ideas on how to communicate with empathy:

  • That sounds like it was very difficult
  • I’m sorry you experienced that
  • How did that make you feel?

In summary, improving emotional intelligence in the nursing profession provides awareness of the behavioral propensities that improves patient experiences, inter-professional communication and workplace environments. The more nurses can understand their own thoughts, feelings and emotions the more they increase their emotional intelligence. When we reflect on our own emotions, think before we speak and engage in empathetic communication, we become better listeners; better nurses.

How is your organization leveraging the power of emotional intelligence in nursing?  What tips and techniques have you found successful?  I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment below.

Emotional Intelligence in Nursing About the Author: Cheri Clancy MSN, MS RN, NEA-BC, CPXP is a passionate patient experience expert, author, speaker, and entrepreneur. She is the founder of Cheri Clancy & Associates, LLC, a coaching and training firm that uses hard science as a catalyst for soft skill leadership development. Cheri published her first book with Sigma Theta Tau, titled Critical Conversations in Healthcare: Scripts and Techniques for Improving Interprofessional and Patient Communications. She has received various honors and awards including the 2016 Professional Nurse Recognition Award with the Organization of Nurse Leaders, New Jersey and was featured as ‘The Leader to Watch’ with AONE. Cheri is one of the 12 Art of Nursing speakers in the 2018 program.