Chapter 21: Improving your emotional intelligence – honing your people-skills
|"People may not remember what you did for them, or even what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel."
Most doctors have a high IQ, which is how they manage to get into medical college in the first place, in the face of very stiff competition. However, a high IQ is not enough to ensure that you will do well in practice. Numerous studies show there is little correlation between IQ scores and success in medical practice . All of us know classmates who were walking medical encyclopedias but who have never done well in practice.
So if being well-informed and having a high IQ is not enough to become a successful doctor , then what is ? Research shows that the magic ingredient for success in most fields , including medicine , has nothing to do with cognitive intelligence. The key is a "soft” skill, called emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence was defined in 1985 by U.S. psychologists Drs. Peter Salovey and John Mayer as: "the ability to monitor one’s own and others feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide ones thinking and actions. Emotional Intelligence teaches you how to deal with your own feelings and those of others, and consists of five competencies.
Knowing your own emotions ( self-awareness ) . This is the ability to recognize your feelings, and is the cornerstone of Emotional Intelligence, because it is crucial to insight and self-understanding.
Managing your own emotions ( self-regulation ) . This is the ability to manage your emotions and impulses.
Motivating yourself. You need to be able to marshal your emotions to reach your goals.
Recognising and understanding other people’s emotions ( empathy ) : Empathy is the fundamental people skill ‘ that builds on emotional self-awareness and is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in others.
Managing the emotions of others (managing relationships or social skills) : The art of building relationships depends upon your skill in managing emotions in others, and these are the abilities that determine popularity, leadership, and interpersonal effectiveness. People who excel in these skills do well at anything that relies on interacting smoothly with others ; they are social stars.
It is hardly surprising that most doctors have never heard of emotional intelligence , or tried to improve their emotional quotient ( EQ). After all, medical colleges select doctors for their academic skills , and teach them to become skilled diagnosticians and technicians , which is why most doctors are technically competent. Unfortunately , no one teaches medical students or residents how to relate to their patients, or to handle their own feelings . While some pick up these skills from their teachers ( who serve as role models) , others never learn them.
Why is a high EQ so important for doctors ? Medicine is the ultimate service profession, and without understanding our emotions and those of our patients, we are not going to be able to perform our job competently. Not only does this hurt our patients , it hurts us also – and many doctors can never figure out why they have such a hard time keeping their patients happy , even though their technical skills are superb.
EQ testing of physicians has yielded interesting results. The EQ score of doctors was much lower than expected, the average being only 90 in physicians, while the EQ of the average citizen is 100. ( In comparison, the average IQ of doctors graduating from medical school today is 120 , much more than the norm of 100. ) Most physicians were weak in the intrapersonal area (understanding ones own feelings) and the interpersonal realm (ability to deal with others). This is hardly surprising. Some doctors have become so used to being put on a pedestal and giving orders, that they start thinking of themselves as being infallible and are not very considerate of their patient’s feelings.
Unfortunately, medical training is often responsible for actually dehumanizing doctors and causing emotional impairment, so that while their IQ may increase after medical college, their EQ definitely declines ! Not only do we see so much suffering that we get inured to it, we are also taught to distance ourselves from our patients. Doctors who get emotionally involved with patients or display their feelings are considered to be "unprofessional” since being emotional is considered to be a sign of weakness. In a profession that requires emotional sensitivity and compassion, we are encouraged to numb ourselves in order to cope with what we witness of the human condition. What a shame ! We need to remember Dr Peabody’s immortal words, "the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient”.
A major part of the problem is that medical training desensitizes residents and teaches them to ignore their own feelings. Training can often be brutal, and sleep deprivation is the norm for most residents. Doctors are expected to be self-reliant and independent and the focus is on cramming and learning prodigious amounts of information. There is little acknowledgement of the tremendous stress residents find themselves under, and practically no emotional support. If we do not nurture them, how can we expect them to nurture their patients when they start practice ? If they are not allowed to have feelings or to discuss them, how can we expect them to become compassionate when they go out in the real world ?
Physicians who can empathize and respect their patient’s feelings are much more successful at getting their patients to trust them; more productive; and less likely to get sued. Patients do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care ! We are now realizing the importance of emotional intelligence in medical practice and the Veterans Administration hospital system in the US has incorporated EQ self-assessments and training in its leadership institute program for doctors.
Remember that a high EQ will not only help you take better care of your patients, it will also help you progress in your career. Doctors need to interact with superiors, employees and colleagues. Those who know how to persuade others because of their high EQ usually manage to sail through life and achieve their goals. Success is often dependent not upon know-how, but know-who – and who you know ( and who knows you !) is vitally important for success. Many doctors feel this is "unfair” and resent colleagues who may be professionally incompetent , but still rise to positions of power because of their ability to please "higher-ups”.
Politics is an inescapable fact of life , and we need to learn that it exists, whether we like it or not. " People competence” is as important as technical competence, and smart people learn this early in life ! Social and emotional abilities have been shown to be far more important than IQ in determining professional success and prestige, and as the saying goes, IQ gets you hired, but EQ gets you promoted ! Rather than complain about it, why not learn to improve your own chances of success, by polishing your own EQ skills ?
Think of EQ as a different way of being smart – and the good news is that you can raise your own EQ. A high IQ is not incompatible with a high EQ. IQ and EQ are complementary skills, and the first step is to become aware of the importance of this skill, so that you can concentrate on using your high IQ to improve your EQ. Growing emotionally is a lifelong process. No matter how old you are , you can always learn to become aware of your feelings, to accept them, and to use the information they offer to your patients’ advantage and your own. Some doctors develop these skills intuitively, while others need to learn them
A number of books can help you improve your EQ, and these include: The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success by Howard E. Book, Steven J. Stein; and Raising Your Emotional Intelligence : A Practical Guide by Jeanne Segal. The best way to learn is to find a role model with a high EQ ( psychiatrists usually have high EQs ) and copy him. While a high IQ may help you get higher marks on an exam, a high EQ will help you become a happier person and more productive physician !