The Importance of Emotional Intelligence At Work

Improving emotional intelligence can help tremendously in enjoying life, maintaining important relationships and being happier and more effective at work.

Improving these skills can help tremendously in enjoying life, maintaining important relationships and being happier and more effective at work.

Emotional intelligence has become such a valuable quality that few people have not heard of the benefits and descriptions. Given that dentists interact with people in challenging interpersonal situations, it makes sense that emotional intelligence would be a valuable skill for dentists to have. Before it was even given a formal scientific name, the idea of emotional intelligence was always recognized as one of the skills that provides people with subjective benefits in life.

Emotional intelligence is not the same as other important personal and cognitive abilities, such as analytical intelligence, charm, charisma or even sense of humor — although some would point out that people with high emotional intelligence are at least average, if not above average, in the other 'measures' of intellectual and cognitive ability. Some of the early writings about emotional intelligence pointed out the features and benefits, but did little, if anything, to help people who self diagnose with inadequate emotional intelligence to remedy the situation. So, an important question is — can people learn emotional intelligence if it is not an innate skill?

Developing Emotional Intelligence

It turns out psychologists have identified several distinct traits of emotional intelligence, and that some of these traits can be improved — either by personal effort or through training. Peer reviewed studies show measurable and lasting improvement in at least some aspects of emotional intelligence. Improving these skills can help tremendously in enjoying life, maintaining important relationships and being happier and more effective at work, especially as a dentist.

Understanding One’s Own Emotions in Medicine

Understanding and recognizing feelings can be challenging for some dentists. The fear a patient may not have an optimal outcome and the fear you may have done something wrong, are generally unacceptable feelings in medicine. Rejection from patients who don't agree with your recommendation or who do not trust dentists can lead to defensiveness. In general, negative feelings like these are very unpleasant. But, according to experts in emotional intelligence, identifying the feeling and the precipitating cause is an important step in maintaining mental and emotional health.


Empathy can be very difficult in the current healthcare environment — which is rampant in hostility, requirements and restrictions coming from diverse and competing interests. This causes many doctors to react defensively, interfering with empathy. When everyone is worried about not getting their due rights, suspicion is raised and empathy suffers on many ends.

While dentists are right to feel squeezed, patients still have problems that need attention and empathy. Recognizing that patients' feelings are almost always about themselves rather than about challenging the dentists can be difficult to remember in the current hostile healthcare environment. But dentists who remind themselves to have empathy experience better dentists-patient relationships and satisfaction at work.

Managing Emotions

Managing emotions is about keeping feelings in check. For new dentists in particular, situations that echo bad outcomes can trigger feelings of dread and fear, even leading to paralysis in making decisions. Exaggerated feelings that are out of proportion to the situation and to the true threat of the situation are often related to other circumstances such as similarities to a past bad outcome, or an unfriendly coworker situation.

Recognizing emotions is important, and managing any emotions that are truly unjustified or exaggerated can help prevent misery for a dentists. Physicians who face paralysis when it comes to making medical decisions may resent or run away from heavy responsibility, shifting difficult decisions to others as much as possible.

Expressing Emotions

And, emotional intelligence is not about recognizing and shutting down emotions. It's about distinguishing which emotions need to be dealt with privately, and which need to be outwardly expressed or communicated in some way. A non-complaint patient may cause frustration, but ignoring the issue and treating it as if it doesn't exist, is not the right answer either. Explaining to the patient it is time for a different approach or that there is no other equivalent medical therapy, may be necessary.

When Emotional Intelligence Doesn’t Come Naturally

While emotional intelligence doesn't come naturally to everyone, gaining these skills through deliberate practice can make a huge difference in one's life. One of the first emotional challenges that a person may face when effectively working on emotional intelligence is getting a response such as, 'that isn't like you to be so nice (or polite, or sensitive, or calm etc.)." Perhaps the first exercise in emotional intelligence could be imagining and working though your own feelings and response to such a discouraging

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