Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Hello friends!

Whenever I’m asked about common challenges facing dental practices, I can confidently say that the number one stressor is team dynamics. And that would probably still be true no matter what type of office I was consulting with! The fact is, humans are so wonderfully complex and ever-changing that team collaboration will likely always be a challenge. It’s the kind of challenge, however, that can be approached like a great adventure: with excitement, awe, and strategic preparation. 

The concept of emotional intelligence, or EQ has likely been on your radar in some capacity for decades. Popularized by Daniel Goleman in his 1995 bestselling book, the EQ model often appears in contrast to “traditional” or “academic” intelligence, or IQ. 

Emotional intelligence has several models, but I’ll be focusing on four areas where it comes into play:

Self-awareness: how well we know and understand our own thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

Social awareness: our ability to correctly interpret the emotions of others.

Self-management: how well we manage or control our own thoughts, feelings, and behavior.

Relationship management: our ability to manage the meeting point between our emotions and the emotions of others. (Where the magic happens!)

Now, I want to acknowledge that all brains are different, and the work to increase emotional intelligence for neurodivergent folks and people managing mental health issues may look different. In fact, making space for that diversity of thought is exactly what EQ is all about. 

So where does EQ matter most in your practice, and how can you and your employees be more intentional about it? 

Here’s where my #1 tip comes in: increasing EQ in any social setting is all about metacognition. Such a great word, right?!

Metacognition is your brain’s awareness of itself—after all, the brain is the only organ in our bodies that is literally self-aware. 

How can we use this to our advantage? 

Before your next social interaction, think about how you want to show up in that moment. One way to do this is to name three emotions you want to model in that interaction. These intentions are going to be different depending on what you want to achieve, and could sound something like: “funny, open, and direct” or “quiet, thoughtful, and friendly.” 

Use these words as an emotional roadmap through your interaction. If you find yourself experiencing different or unexpected emotions, take a moment to notice what you’re feeling, and how your body is reacting to those emotions. This is mindfulness—allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without judgment. You can rely on your three words to bring you back to your intended emotional outcome. 

How does this relate to your leadership style

You can set the tone for meetings, performance reviews, challenging and rewarding conversations alike with this strategy. Not only will you be consistently increasing your own EQ, you’ll be modeling the same thoughtfulness in your employees. Check out the amazing research on leadership and mirror neurons to understand why this works! 

Your team: Understanding EQ, metacognition and mindfulness isn’t a secret technique reserved for leadership. In fact, talking about these strategies with your team is a great way to deepen interpersonal connection. Your employees can and should be thinking about how they show up emotionally in all interactions. Everyone on your team will benefit from modeling vulnerability. 

No matter where you sit on the team, you can suggest establishing group norms for emotional safety, communication, and trust. This doesn’t need to be done at every meeting, but if you have a set of norms in place, they should be revisited every now and then to make sure they’re still relevant and still working for every team member. 

Recruiting and hiring: If you and your team are consciously working to increase EQ, your recruiting and hiring practices will positively reflect that effort. In my previous post, I wrote about the importance of purpose and how it relates to your mission, vision, and values. Making sure your recruiting, hiring, and onboarding practices explicitly reference your purpose will go a long way towards building a great team. 

In the interview process, ask scenario-based questions to get candidates talking about how they would respond in real-world situations. This is especially important now that COVID has increased nearly everyone’s stress levels. Learning about your candidates’ de-escalation techniques and how they’ve responded to similar situations in past roles will give you a sense of their emotional intelligence. 

The patient experience: Imagine your front desk person, hygienists and dental assistants setting emotional intentions for every patient interaction. I hope that idea is as exciting to you as it is to me! Of course, things will not always go as planned, and there will always be room for improvement. Using the metacognition tip will allow you to reflect with your staff on how you can continually improve patient experience. Your ability to recognize and manage emotions while giving or receiving feedback with your team is great practice for interacting with patients, and vice-versa.   

I was inspired to write this post because of a great episode from the Organize Chaos podcast. You can listen and watch here! The featured guest, Amy Posey, talks about the inherent discomfort of emotional intelligence, and I’ll end with her quote:  

“I don’t want to discount the discomfort that comes with this because it is uncomfortable. One of the things I tell new managers all the time is, get used to that feeling of being uncomfortable pretty much all the time at work. That’s when you know things are happening. When you get comfortable, that’s when things are too easy, and you’re not learning.” 


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