emotional intelligence on a dental team
Scaling and root planing? Check.  
Periodontal therapy? Check. 
Xray expertise. Check. 
Emotional Intelligence? Wait, what?

For decades, dental hiring managers have sifted through dental candidates based on their hard skills, almost ignoring some of the most important aspects of a candidate’s suitability for the position, team, and office. But with so many studies and new research around the role that soft skills play in a healthcare setting, that is rapidly changing. More and more, we are seeing that soft skills are equally important in what makes someone successful as a healthcare provider and team member. Hiring consultants around the globe, dental hiring experts included, say people with high emotional intelligence (EI) make the best employees and leaders.

Defining Emotional Intelligence And Why Your Team Needs It

Emotional Intelligence (AKA EI or EQ) is one’s ability to perceive, control, and evaluate our own emotions and that of others. 

Daniel Goleman, who co-chairs the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, writes that emotional intelligence is twice as important as technical skills and intelligence when it comes to excellent performance. He writes that a person “can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas” but still not be the most effective leader. As practice owners, you need team members who take the business as seriously as you do and who share your ability to reach your goals for success. You need someone capable of not just leading themselves but leading others, too––someone who drives their own effectiveness and productivity.

Someone capable of leading your patients and their teammates that can model self-accountability, congeniality, emotional control and stability will improve not only the operations and success of your practice but, more importantly, patient experience, case acceptance and outcomes. 

The DentalPost Team recommends: Hire for emotional intelligence as well as technical skills!

When hiring for emotional intelligence, you will ask interview questions that prompt job candidates to describe their actions in past situations. We’ll walk you through some examples below.

The 5 EI Ingredients

1. Self-Awareness 

Self-awareness is having a deep understanding of your own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives. Those with strong self-awareness are honest with themselves and others. They recognize how their feelings affect themselves, others, and job performance.

Note: The decisions of self-aware people mesh with their values. The work they choose to do is likely to keep them engaged and energized. 

During the hiring process, ask the candidate to describe a time she tried to follow through on a plan of action and she failed to achieve her objective. Goleman says, “Self-aware candidates will be frank in admitting failure—and will often tell their tales with a smile. One of the hallmarks of self-awareness is a self-deprecating sense of humor.”

2. Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is the management of emotions within us. Conversations we have with ourselves in our minds free us from extremes in our emotions so we can think rationally and behave in a way that enables others to trust and help us. Negative emotions such as anger and guilt spill over to affect the emotions and performance of others. Likewise jubilant enthusiasm for something can hijack the group conversation and decision-making process. Managing our emotions allows us to think more deeply, respond more appropriately, and be more effective in our interactions with others and in our decision-making. 

Goleman says people who have mastered self-regulation are reasonable and are able to help create a work environment of trust and fairness. Dental practice teams who hire for this ingredient are least likely to be disrupted by politics and in-fighting, bullying, the toxicity of gossip, and polarizing subgroups. But be aware that a candidate who is expressive and enthusiastic about the work they would like to do also may be high on self-regulation. Don’t automatically discount this person out of fear they will be overly emotional. 

To evaluate for self-regulation, ask a candidate to describe how they manage negative feedback. Also ask your candidates to describe a time they got carried away by their feelings and regretted it later. Someone with self-awareness and self-regulation will turn their tale into one of life’s lessons they learned the hard way and will never forget.

3. Motivation

High achievers are internally motivated to achieve beyond their own and others’ expectations. Employees with high motivation tend to stay motivated even when the score is against them. Setbacks are faced with self-regulation, motivation, and resiliency to overcome frustration and depression. They stick to the task and apply more time if needed, or they creatively redefine the solution to a problem and try new approaches. 

Ask your candidates to describe a situation where they overcame the odds of getting something done. Ask the questions: What strategies have you used to manage multiple deadlines? Have you ever exceeded expectations and what was your approach? The answers to these questions may inform you about more than motivation. Sometimes the answers raise a red flag about the candidate’s ability to work well with and not overrun others.

4. Empathy

Empathy is being sensitive to and through your imagination or memory experiencing the feelings and thoughts of another person. Additionally, it includes thoughtfully considering others’ feelings and concerns before you speak or decide to act. In a caretaking profession such as dentistry, empathy for patients comes straight to mind, but an employee with high empathy also will be highly aware of the feelings of other team members and the impact of their own body language, words, and action on the entire team. Taking time to listen to others and acknowledging their feelings are prized commodities for earning both patient and team trust. Team members high on empathy know intuitively when to press forward and when to hold back.

Ask, “What does empathy mean to you?” Notice the response and ask more questions such as: When you are empathetic towards patients, how do they respond? When you are empathetic towards others working in the dental practice, how do they respond? Has there been an occasion at work when someone’s empathy for you made a big difference in your day?

5. Social Skills

In his research, Goleman determined that the ability to move people in a direction with friendliness was a key ingredient of emotional intelligence and top employee performance. He found that socially skilled people have a wide circle of acquaintances and easily find common ground with others. They believe that important things get done by collaborating with others.

Hiring employees who have a knack for relating to others and creating relationships is extremely important in a dental practice. How can we interview for this skill? Because socially skilled people build bonds readily, ask, “When you meet a new patient for the first time, what types of questions do you ask to get to know them? What types of things are you seeking to learn about the patient?” 

Hopefully, your candidates’ responses will go beyond what brings the patient there today and the patient’s dental history. A candidate that includes hoping to learn what is most important to the patient for that dental visit is a good start. A candidate who smiles and says, “I also try to get them talking about their wider life,” is even better. They might say, “I do this by introducing myself by more than my name. I say I have lived here in the community for nearly five years and my husband and kids love it here, too. There’s so much to do. Then they usually ask how old my kids are or what we like to do most here, and they start relating their own lives to that. I can naturally ask more questions from there.” 

More Emotional Intelligence Resources 

DentalPost offers a free EI Assessment so you can find out where you score for EI and learn your strengths and areas for growth. Those who are lower on EI can improve their abilities with awareness, feedback, and commitment. For more information about EI:

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