Before discussing how a healthcare worker uses emotional intelligence when establishing communication with a client in a health care environment, it is imperative to first have a clear understanding of what emotional intelligence is. Only then can we assess how it is used by a healthcare worker when communicating with client and its relevance in such a setting.
Defining what communication means in this context is also important to understanding how a healthcare worker uses emotional intelligence to establish effective discourse with a client. Communication is much more than just words and encompasses intrapersonal, interpersonal and observational skills which are critical when communicating with a client. With this in mind, it could be said effective communication and emotional intelligence are intrinsically linked and dependent on each other.
According to Akerjordet and Severinsson (2007, p. 1406), emotional intelligence was first defined by Mayer (1990) as the ability of a person to regulate their emotional state and understand what impact emotions have on an individual’s actions and thought processes. Expanding on this broad definition, Ioannidou and Konstantikaki (2008, p. 121) lists five key elements of emotional intelligence.
Firstly one must understand their emotions, then exercise control over their emotions, have clear emotional incentives, acknowledge other’s emotions, and finally, manage their relationships with others. Using these fundamental elements of emotional intelligence, it becomes possible to explore how a healthcare worker might employ these skills when communicating with a patient.
Defining what is meant by communication in this context needs to be briefly explored. When evaluating communication from within the Roper, Logan and Tierney model, it’s clear that communication is a key component of the relationship between healthcare worker and patient. Assessing a patient’s ability to hear, their cognitive and emotional wellbeing, language, social skills and cultural nuances is essential to establishing effective communication (Holland et al, 2008).
As McEwen and Kraszewski (2010, p.1) point out, understanding and engaging various modes of communication affords the healthcare worker an opportunity to critically analyse the interactions between themselves and the patient. Information garnered through this analysis can prove vital when formulating an individual care plan for the patient.
The links between emotional intelligence and communicating effectively can now be seen as taking a holistic approach to patient care. Establishing trust and respect is the foundation of good communication, and the use of emotional intelligence allows the healthcare worker to address the needs of a patient individually and this cultivates trust and respect within the relationship.
However, as Birks and Watt (2007, p.368) point out, the level of emotional intelligence each healthcare worker possesses will vary and empirical studies measuring emotional intelligence are flawed. This brings into question any ideas of uniformity in the emotional intelligence approach to patient care. As such, developing consistent levels of effective communication within a healthcare environment through the use of emotional intelligence seems unlikely.
This view is countered by Ioannidou and Konstantikaki (2008, p. 121), who suggest that emotional intelligence is something that can be taught. With the acceptance of this idea and with the use of the previously defined model of emotional intelligence, we can see how emotional intelligence can be used uniformly in a healthcare environment as an effective means of establishing open communication. According to Reeves (2005, p. 175), reading, exercise activities such as yoga, and spending time reflecting in a quiet space can also greatly enhance emotional intelligence.
The first step for a healthcare worker is to understand their emotions. Becoming aware of their emotions and identifying what specific influence or situation triggers them, enables the healthcare worker to then decipher the patient’s emotional state which in turn facilitates communication, understanding and empathy. Along with this heightened personal emotional awareness healthcare workers gain more broadly, social awareness, better self-managements skill, social awareness and improved relationship management skills (Winship, p. 942).
Communication with a patient is also greatly enhanced by taking a holistic approach to patient care. The benefits of healthcare workers acknowledging the psychological, spiritual, cultural and social needs of a patient have been shown to engender closer relationships with patients. This encourages open communication and a sense of mutuality is achieved with the patient as well as aiding the continuity of care the patient receives while in the healthcare system (McQueen 2004, p. 103).
According to Faguy (2012, p. 237), the bases of all good relationships are three fold. Firstly, we must be attentive to each other’s needs, relate to each other, and share our thoughts, feelings and ideas.
These three foundations of relationships are embedded in the ideology of emotional intelligence and all require communication. By using emotional intelligence, the healthcare worker is forming strong relationships by actively listening to the patient, respecting their needs, and communicating empathetically through a shared understanding of emotions and needs.
In conclusion, it’s apparent that the role emotional intelligence plays in communicating with a patient is critical to the success of the relationship between healthcare worker and patient. Although some elements of emotional intelligence are innate to all people, becoming emotionally self-aware requires practice and a degree of dedication to achieve a level that is beneficial to patients within a healthcare environment. Once a healthcare worker has learned to self-reflect and actively starts to listen, a more meaningful and productive level of communication with a patient is achieved.
This mutuality is then likely to manifest into better outcomes for the patient, both physically and psychologically. The healthcare worker is also a major beneficiary of this holistic approach to communication by achieving increased job satisfaction, gaining more self-respect through emotional awareness, and most importantly, knowing that communicating with a patient using emotional intelligence has played a critical and positive role in the healing process for the patient.