Nursing in the 21st century requires exceptional technical and organizational skills. A lot must be handled in short bursts of time. But sometimes this focus has overlooked the soft skills that also are necessary.

“In nursing, we have focused on technical skills for many years,” says Kathy W. Beydler, RN, MBA, CASC, CNOR, managing partner of Strategic Surgical Solutions in Eads, TN. “What we haven’t focused on as much are the emotional and nontechnical skills. Some people call these the soft skills, but I think we need to focus on emotional intelligence — the ability to relate to other people.”

Often, a nurse who excels in technical skills and is less focused on people skills is described this way: “She is a great nurse, but ... ”

“That ‘but’ is what you’re waiting for,” Beydler explains. “It means she is a great nurse, but she doesn’t have good people skills.” The truly great nurses have both IQ and EQ, and use both, she adds.

The good news is that surgery centers can hire nurses with this attribute, and they can help current staff improve their emotional skills. (Editor’s Note: See story on how to develop a nursing staff with solid emotional intelligence later in this issue.) From a leadership perspective, raising the nursing staff’s emotional intelligence can result in higher performance.

“It will make a big difference in staff job satisfaction,” Beydler says. “If leaders develop the emotional quotient, it also lowers staff turnover and decreases staff burnout.” Nurses with better emotional skills also provide better patient care. Patients will gravitate toward nurses who possess both technical and emotional skills, she adds. There is not a single screening tool for finding nurses with emotional intelligence, but there are ways to identify those who lack these skills during the interview process. For example, Beydler once met a job candidate who arrived to the interview in comfortable shoes but wanted to wear high heels for the formal interview.

“The woman had her dress shoes in a bag, and she had on her tennis shoes. When I went to get her for the interview and introduced myself, she said, ‘Are you interviewing me?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’” Beydler recalls. “Then, she said, ‘Give me just a minute,’ and she put on her dress shoes in front of me.” The applicant was checking a box: “I have to wear dress shoes.”

When the interview was over, the applicant said she needed someone to mentor her. “I said, ‘Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to meet you,’ and she said, ‘Are we done?’” Beydler says. “I said, ‘Yes,’ and then she said, ‘Just give me a second,’ and she took off her dress shoes and put on her tennis shoes.”

Beydler learned from that interview that the applicant did not possess basic self-awareness and emotional intelligence when it came to a professional activity, such as a job interview. She also learned that the applicant needed to be mentored, something that Beydler did not have time for.

“To be self-aware, you need to seek constructive feedback,” she says. “If people give you constructive feedback, and you don’t receive it positively, then you are not self-aware.” Emotional intelligence might be lacking if the job applicant does not express a thought that shows self-awareness, she adds.

OR morale improves when each employee takes responsibility for issues that arise and quickly resolves them. For instance, a surgeon might say, “I need this type of suture,” but the scrub nurse and others do not have it. The nurse could take personal responsibility, ask to be excused, and retrieve the suture. Or, the nurse could blame someone else for the mistake. Surgery centers want to find the person who takes responsibility and fixes the problem.

“Do you learn from your mistakes, and do you change because of them?” Beydler asks. “That’s the point.”