How to Tap Into Your Emotional Intelligence in the ED and at Home

Posted on Thu, Aug 06, 2015
How to Tap Into Your Emotional Intelligence in the ED and at Home

Part 2 of a series of articles on the importance of developing emotional intelligence for medical professionals.

By Marc Milano, MD, FACEP

Our last discussion left off defining the key aspects of emotional intelligence (EI). It should be clear that a strong supply of emotional intelligence can make one’s interactions better, one’s relationships stronger, and one’s quality of life higher.

I have long been fascinated by the lack of correlation between intellectual intelligence and success. In fact, many of the most intelligent people I have known have struggled in many ways, both personally and professionally. I’m sure that you have known these same individuals – brilliant but socially inept, highly intelligent but frequently unfulfilled.

During medical school and residency, I was lucky to have a great deal of emotional intelligence instilled in me by my teachers. I have had some good fortune in life as a result of those great influences. I don’t define my success financially, or by status, but rather by how others see me and relate to me, as well as by how I impact others. Many people have asked me how I have navigated my career and my life, as they would like to achieve a certain goal or reach a higher level. I always respond by telling them that it’s not raw intelligence that matters; rather, it’s emotional intelligence that has helped me most.

The Benefits of Using Emotional Intelligence

Several years ago, my wife and I decided that it was time to move to a larger home in a suburban setting to raise our growing family. We found the perfect place. One problem – it would have been a 90-minute commute from my job. As I looked around at possible places of employment that were closer to the new house, I found one – six miles away! I cold-called the director and explained the situation. He politely told me that the site was fully staffed and he was not looking for anyone. Thinking in an emotionally intelligent way, I told him that I would be glad to wait, but I could possibly help by covering parties, meetings, etc. This was music to his ears. He offered me an interview. During the interview, I explained my philosophy as an employee. I told him that every day when I walk into work, I’m thinking about how I will strive not to create headaches for my boss. Two months later, I had a full-time offer from him. He actually moved staffing around to accommodate me. I appealed to what mattered to him – covering difficult shifts and helping him avoid stress.

Intellectual intelligence can get you only so far in life. If you can’t use that intelligence in a way that helps you control yourself and interact positively with others, it may be largely wasted.

Emotional Intelligence touches every aspect of our lives. A few examples:*

  • Relationships: If you understand your emotions and how to manage them, you will be more effective in expressing your feelings. More importantly, you will understand how others are feeling. It will improve communication and help you build stronger relationships both professionally and personally.
  • Mental Health: Understanding and managing your emotions, and looking deeply into what causes you to respond a certain way will decrease your stress. Stress makes us vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
  • Physical Health: If you can’t successfully manage your stress levels, your health will suffer. Stress can raise your blood pressure, impair your immune system, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke and speed up aging.
  • Work Performance: Emotional Intelligence can assist you in smoothly navigating the social and political complexities at work. It can help you lead and motivate others and propel you toward excellence. Emotional Intelligence is now being viewed by many employers as being as important as your technical ability, and they may seek to assess your EQ as part of the hiring process.

How to Raise Your Emotional Intelligence

Remember: The brain receives all of its information via the senses, and if this information is highly stressful or emotional, primal forces take over and our ability to act is then reduced to fight, flight or freeze. If we keep our emotions in balance, we have access to a wider range of reactions and responses. This will result in better decisions and better outcomes. Stress impairs memory. Memory is linked to emotion. One must stay connected to the emotional brain while also tapping into the rational brain. By using both, you will have more choices in responding to an event, but you will factor emotional memory into the process. Doing so will help prevent you from making recurrent mistakes in the future.

To achieve Emotional Intelligence, you must work to reduce stress, remain focused, and stay connected to yourself and others. This is done by learning key skills. The first two relate to controlling and managing stress, and the last three skills greatly improve communication.**
  • The ability to quickly reduce stress in the moment in a variety of settings
  • The ability to recognize your emotions and keep them from overwhelming you
  • The ability to connect emotionally with others by using nonverbal communication
  • The ability to use humor and play to stay connected in challenging situations
  • The ability to resolve conflicts positively and with confidence

We will expand on these five skills in future discussions. Please continue to follow me on this journey. You can become a better you, and make your world a better place.

Marc A. Milano, MD, FACEP, is chief of the department of emergency medicine at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset in Somerville, N.J. He serves as physician head coach of the Patient Satisfaction Coaching Program at Emergency Medical Associates, an emergency medicine practice headquartered in Parsippany, N.J. Dr. Milano received his undergraduate degree from Rutgers University, his medical degree from St. George’s University in Grenada, and completed his emergency medicine residency at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, N.J.

* Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence
** Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence

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