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Do You Know Yourself Inside Out? Understanding Emotional Intelligence

Posted September 15, 2015

Tonya Lanthier, RDH

dental-dentist-RDH-Hygiene-hygienistAfter the recent stock market scare, Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz sent an email to all Starbucks employees reminding them to be sensitive to their customers, given how they may be feeling with the stressful situation at the forefront of their minds. He wrote:

“Our customers are likely to experience an increased level of anxiety and concern. Please recognize this and–as you always have – remember that our success is not an entitlement, but something we need to earn, every day. Let’s be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations.”

He was reminding them to be emotionally intelligent.

What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence, often abbreviated EI, is the ability to recognize your own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. It means you can identify different feelings and use that information to guide how you react, both inwardly and outwardly.

One’s emotional intelligence is also what drives your performance as a leader. Therefore, of course, it’s critical to have it in order to be a good leader. It’s also critical to have emotional intelligence as a health care provider.

Emotional intelligence in the dental office
The dental offices that focus on how they make the patient feel are some of the most successful practices that I’ve worked in. Your practice’s success completely depends on ensuring a positive patient experience, which you can do by letting your patients know that you are concerned about their health and you’re on their team, validating their feelings and anxieties.

Whenever I tell people I’ve just met that I am a dental hygienist, they always tell me about the best or worst dental experience they’ve ever had. I hear about paraffin wax treatments, massage chairs, warm blankets (even Snuggies), and beautiful gift bags. A friend of mine goes out of her way to create a positive patient experience, even outside of the office. Dr. Ashley Curington, in Buford, Georgia, takes to Facebook to give away 12 prizes to her patients for the 12 days of Christmas. She shares videos of her standing in front of the tree in her Batman pajamas, drawing patients’ names out of a hat. It makes the patients feel more connected when she authentically shares her holiday traditions with them – and it’s really entertaining!

It’s smart to hire people with empathy and high emotional intelligence. The good news is that most of us have a decent amount. The better news is that it can continue to be developed.

A simple thing to remember is that people are typically motivated by one of three things: beauty, money, or health. It’s your job as the health care provider to figure out what’s most important to the patient, and to your team.

Emotional intelligence helps you present treatment plans in a meaningful way
I once worked with a hygienist who was too aggressive with treatment and didn’t really look at the patient to figure out what their fears were or what motivated them. Not surprisingly, it was difficult for her to get the patients to accept treatment. Her emotional intelligence was not high enough to determine their fears or motivations, which would have helped her present the necessary treatment in a light that would have been the most convincing to them.

Emotional intelligence helps teams run more smoothly
I worked in one dental office in particular that was very well ran. The dentist had everyone on board working together – it was like a family. They looked out for each other’s needs. If they needed food, someone ran out and got food. If something needed to be done, they all stepped up. It was like a village, but it only worked because every single person in that office had emotional intelligence, allowing them to see and solve problems before they even arose and address the needs of their team members without having to be asked.

Emotional intelligence helps you manage your team
As a leader, you have to figure out what your team needs from your company to be successful. If you can figure out what their needs are and how your company can get them what they want, you’re going to attract better people.

Howard Schultz wasn’t just looking out for his customers when he sent that email: he was reminding his team that he was on their side and they were all in the business together. Acknowledging that they were likely to have a rough day, he preeminently validated the feelings of his employees. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with rude behavior from customers throughout the day, which was likely to happen, they understood where their customers were coming from and were able to remove themselves from the equation, not taking a snippy remark or a lack of patience personally, while remembering that the head of the company had their back. Schultz taking a little extra time that morning to communicate with his team probably created a much better day for everyone involved.

Yet again, we can all learn a lot from Starbucks.

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