Connecting Emotional Intelligence, Team Communication, and Patient Safety

An Early-Career Nursing Memory

Photo by Barry Diomede/Albany Stock Photo.

Many years ago, fresh out of nursing school, I was in charge one night, with no other RNs on the unit. We had an “active GI bleeder” who needed hourly boluses of either ice water or iced milk through an NG tube. (Yes, the standard treatment at that time was gruesomely uncomfortable for the patient, and in later years determined to be counterproductive.) I had more than a dozen other patients to care for, but everyone got their meds and, miraculously, the bleeding man made it through the night.

When my supervisor made rounds at the end of the shift, I reported that all was well and that my critical patient had survived. Her only response: “Mrs. Todd! There is blood on your shoes!”

This senior nurse, standing there in her starched whites and impeccable shoes, didn’t recognize that I had feared I would be inadequate to the task, or even acknowledge my pride as a brand-new nurse in actually saving someone’s life. In retrospect, I can’t help wondering if her choice to focus on a superficial fact, irrelevant to the crisis, could be interpreted as an indication that she lacked a certain acuteness of emotional intelligence . . . at least in that encounter.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

In “Could Emotional Intelligence Make Patients Safer?” (AJN, July), emotional intelligence is defined, based on the pioneering model of Mayer and Salovey, as the ability to correctly identify emotions in oneself and others, to understand emotions, to use emotions to facilitate reasoning, and to manage personal emotions in emotional situations. According to article authors Estelle and David Codier, recent research in this area suggests that emotional intelligence abilities may influence individual performance and team function in ways that make patients safer by improving communication and supporting constructive conflict resolution.

Emotional Intelligence and Team Communication

In today’s rapid-fire health care settings, communication (between staff members, and between patient and clinician) is often rushed and incomplete. This can result in errors, or at the very least, in a frightening and unsupportive environment that strains the patient’s coping skills. The ability to tune in to your own emotions and to those of the people around you is a skill that can help “reset” interactions and promote calm collaboration. As the authors note:

” . . . nurses must be able to accurately assess their own bias, fatigue, and stress levels as well as the influence of emotional factors, such as conflict or hostility, in the work environment. This is especially important as nurses are increasingly facing heavier workloads, administrative system pressures, and nonclinical demands—all of which may increase the potential for errors.”

Read the article, which is currently free, to learn more about the benefits of emotional intelligence for collaboration and conflict resolution on health care teams, as well as for more effective and compassionate therapeutic relationships with patients.

2017-07-17T16:49:20+00:00 July 17th, 2017|Nursing, patient safety|1 Comment
Clinical editor, American Journal of Nursing (AJN), and epidemiologist

One Comment

  1. Marcia Proto July 18, 2017 at 8:20 am

    So happy that Betsy identified that educating all nurses around communication, team work and emotional intelligence is not only critical to supporting a positive work environment, but has direct correlation to quality outcomes and patient safety! For over 6 years, the Connecticut League for Nursing (CLN) has been implementing programming and workshops to support practicing Healthcare Professionals, nurses and those wishing to enter healthcare roles addressing the CORE skills, customer service and the development of an individual’s EQ to enhance the patient experience. Would love to connect! Best. Marcia Proto, Exec. Dir. Of CLN 203-494-1121.

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