The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Patient Experience Improvement Strategies

During a large corporate meeting, a Patient Experience (PX) leader dropped his head as he presented the downward trend of patient experiences scores in the quietness of the hospital environment domain.  He felt embarrassed and frustrated because the scores did not justify the cost of a pricey quietness tracker.  He also spent an exhaustive amount of time in rolling out a new quietness campaign to the thousands of staff across the health system.  When the COO questioned his initiatives and inquired about his plan of action moving forward, the PX leader viscerally blurted out, “how about you step up and actually help me by holding your leaders accountable!”  After realizing the words he just vomited, he quickly back peddled and said, “I meant we, as leaders, need to role model expectations and hold our teams accountable.”   After the meeting, the PX leader sincerely apologized.  He was shocked at what he just said.  This behavior was very uncharacteristic of him.  For next few days, weeks, months, he couldn’t stop replaying the situation in his head.  It was like a never-ending bad dream.  All he could think was, ‘why did I say that – have I lost my mind?”


Emotional Intelligence and The Hijack


Have you ever unintentionally said something unprofessional?  Or, do you know someone who has?  This is what Dr. Daniel Goleman coins as an emotional hijack.  An emotional hijack is when our limbic brain (emotional headquarters) trumps our cortex (logical).  Stress can actually disrupt our logical and rational thought process and place us on fight or flight mode. How do you reduce stress? Click To Tweet The PX leader, in the aforementioned story, automatically went on fight mode due to the buildup of stress triggers; hence his inappropriate and emotive reply to his COO.


It is well documented that improving the patient experience is stemmed from building meaningful relationships with our patients and with each other.  Although this may seem pretty fundamental and simple, it is not.  Case in point, building meaningful relationships in everyday life can be challenging.  Add an extra layer of emotionally charged situations, such as those endured in the healthcare environment, only adds fuel to an already existing fire.  When our emotions are intensified, such as when we are forced to make quick decisions that affect another’s well-being, we often find our temperament challenged.


We also know how difficult it is to work with other people who are experiencing an emotionally charged situation.  When emotions run rampant in others, such as the scenario above, we be left feeling disrespected, devalued and marginalized.  Worse, when our emotions become hijacked, we make others feel the same way.



Emotional Intelligence Can Improve the Patient Experience


How can we improve outcomes when we are working in emotionally charged situations? Well, since we can’t avoid them, we need to learn how to work through them.  This can be accomplished by improving our emotional intelligence.


Emotional Intelligence (EI) is defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.   Goleman (1998) identified key domains of EI including self-awareness, self-regulation and management, social awareness, and relationship management.


Some of the many benefits of improving your emotional intelligence in the workplace:


  • Improved stress management
  • Enriched health and well-being
  • Enhanced collegial relationships
  • Greater patient experiences
  • Increased workplace productivity and performance



Improving our Emotional Intelligence


Our EI can be strengthened by exercising both our EI knowledge and our EI practice.  That is, we need to not only be knowledgeable about EI strategies, but we also need to put this knowledge into practice.  Below are a few ways we can increase our EI knowledge and apply them into our day to day practice.





  • Knowledge: Become aware of your stress triggers.  In other words, what situations or behaviors stress you out?  Answering that question with a broad brush, such as ‘everything’ is not the answer.  Think of specific examples.  Examine what exactly triggered the emotion. Although you can’t control the situation, you can control your reaction to it.


  • Practice: Journal your feelings. This simple act can improve not just your self-awareness, but your mood, too.




  • Knowledge: Examine what your core values are. Think about your own personal code of ethics. Understanding what is most important to you will help you make good choices.  Hold yourself accountable and own your problems. Don’t blame other people for your problems.  Make a commitment to admit mistakes and accept consequences. In addition to helping you take responsibility for yourself, this practice will earn you the respect of others.


  • Practice: Breathe and tell yourself ‘you got this’. The next time you find yourself in a challenging situation, be aware of how you act. Practice deep-breathing exercises and think through your emotions. Repeat a few positive affirmations such as “ I am stronger than this”, “I will take the higher road and remain calm”, “I maybe frustrated now, but I am gaining strength by believing in myself”.


Social Awareness


  • Knowledge: When working with people who are dealing with an emotionally challenging situation, put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Consider situations from their perspective. This can shed a completely different light on things and allow for conflict resolution.


  • Practice: Acknowledge other’s feelings. Suppose you ask a colleague on an earlier shift to stay on to cover you because you’re running late for work. Although she agrees, you can hear the disappointment in her voice. Respond by addressing her feelings. Tell her you appreciate that she is willing to stay for you, and that you’re just as upset about being late. Promise to pay it forward when she needs you— and keep your word.


Relationship Management


  • Knowledge: Open and honest communication is key to building rapport with others.  Improve your communication skills by paying attention to how much you’re listening compared to how much you’re speaking.


  • Practice: One way to do this is to apply the Question-Wait-Question (QWQ) formula.  This formula reminds us to give the person we are conversing with time to respond.  We often use filler words to help fill in awkward space during conversations instead of giving the other person time to process what is said, collect their thoughts and speak.


Although we can’t change life’s adversities, we can change the way we react to them.  It is imperative that we educate ourselves on the concept of emotional intelligence and commit to putting this knowledge into practice. Improving our emotional intelligence will not only help improve patient experiences but will also help improve our own workplace satisfaction.


Contact Cheri to discuss what Cheri Clancy & Associates can provide for your organization! She can help you create better teams, patient experiences, healthier workplace environments, leadership training and more!



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