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Tapping into the power of emotional intelligence at work

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The team meeting went well. You had what you thought was a great exchange of ideas on the protocols for identifying and presenting treatment recommendations to a patient. You felt confident that your expectations were clear. You arrive at the office the following Monday morning feeling like a Michael Bublé song, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day … I’m feeling good!”

An hour later, you’re scratching your head wondering what the heck happened. “I thought we had a new understanding of how this process was supposed to go. I was certain my expectations were clear, and we had reached an agreement. Ugh, this is so frustrating! Now what do I do?”

Pathway or portal? 

No doubt, the frustration is real and palpable. How will you use this emotion to best serve yourself and your team? This emotional reaction of frustration can be a pathway or a portal; the choice is yours. 

Let’s play out the two options here. Frustration reigns if you hold onto this emotion and begin to feel a sense of aggravation, disappointment and exasperation. If negative energy is your pathway, it surrounds you and colors your view of the day. “Managing people is so much harder than it should be. Maybe I just don’t have the right people. Maybe it’s this new millennial workforce.” You feel it, your team feels it and your patients can feel it. You’re no longer channeling Michael Bublé and feeling good. Now it feels more like the Bangles’ Manic Monday. Odds are, that with your focus on frustration, you will find additional opportunities to confirm your emotion as the day progresses. Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, science journalist and author of the best-selling book Emotional Intelligence,* notes that, “Emotions are contagious. We’ve all known it experientially. You know after you have a really fun coffee with a friend, you feel good. When you have a rude clerk in a store, you walk away feeling bad.”

On the other hand, if you see your initial reaction of frustration as a portal, an opportunity to recognize a disconnect and identify your next best step forward, you can break through the frustration to progress. Don’t deny your emotion; use it. Frustration is helpful as a signal, a sign that something isn’t right. Your next best step forward is a pause to consider how to re-engage and support an employee’s growth and development while also serving your patient well. Tapping into the power of the simple pause is a critical step in developing your emotional intelligence. Its importance cannot be overstated; yes, the pause is that simple and yes, it’s that powerful. 

Your challenges 

You have two challenges: how to deal with the situation at hand and how to get on the same page with your employee. 

First, redirect the conversation back to your philosophy of care and how to best support the patient’s overall health. The rules of improv comedy will serve you well here: 

  • Always support your team members.
  • Use the “Yes, and...” method. Find a point of agreement (however minor). 
  • Commit to your chosen position.

If you overtly contradict or belittle your employee, you miss out on a growth opportunity and instead sow the seeds of anger and distress with your employee, while also confusing your patient with the message that you and your team are not on the same page. Although you may feel momentary pleasure in expressing your frustration or in walking away to deal with it another day, neither of these responses serves anyone well. Instead, heighten your awareness of your initial reaction of frustration, so you can recognize that your best course of action is very often the exact opposite of your initial response. Pause, reflect and then lean into the opportunity at hand.

Once your patient fully understands his or her condition and your recommendations, be sure to meet with your employee as soon as possible. Schedule a conversation, a coaching session where you let your team member know that you want to support their success and see an opportunity to talk about how to present their findings and recommendations to patients. The key word here is conversation; this is not a lecture or a reprimand. 

Emotional intelligence at work

The four skills that come together to create emotional intelligence (EQ) are self-awareness, social awareness, self-management and relationship management. Two of these skills focus on understanding and managing yourself, and two are focused on understanding and managing your relationships. Studies conducted since 1995 when Mr. Goleman published Emotional Intelligence consistently show that people with high EQ outperform those with high IQ only. This new understanding creates a better understanding of our full scope of intelligence potential.

Is developing EQ so important? That depends on your personal goals and the way you wish to run your practice. Mr. Goleman sets out a solid challenge for the EQ case, “The more socially intelligent you are, the happier and more robust and more enjoyable your relationships will be.” 

Dentistry is a relationship business. While we are communicating, connecting and building better relationships, we’ll also be creating a happier workplace, a more successful practice and a more fulfilling life. Can you hear that? Michael Bublé is back … “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life … I’m feeling good!” I find my greatest happiness at work when clients share that kind of joy and tell me they’ve never been happier in practice. Despite some of the frustration you may currently be experiencing, it is possible to create practice that you love. That’s my wish for you — you deserve it! 

*Goleman, Daniel. 1995. Emotional intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books. 

Ginny Hegarty SPHR, a nationally recognized author, senior professional in human resources, dental consultant and management strategist, focuses on practice leadership and communication. Her book, PIVOT, Practice Leadership Redefined, is available at Contact Ginny via