Surgery center leaders who wish to improve their employees’ emotional intelligence skills should start with the job interview.

Leaders can learn a lot from applicants’ appearance and how they answer questions designed to measure their emotional intelligence, says Kathy W. Beydler, RN, MBA, CASC, CNOR, managing partner of Strategic Surgical Solutions in Eads, TN. “If someone is late for the interview, then that’s OK, but at least apologize,” Beydler says.

One approach an interviewer can take to assess emotional intelligence is this: “Tell me about something that you were able to overcome.”

“If someone tells you about an obstacle in their career and blames other people, then they are not self-aware,” Beydler says. “What I want to hear is that they take personal responsibility for their actions: ‘Here is what I could have done differently. Here is my response to the situation.’”

The idea is to assess the person’s self-awareness. “We want to know of the mistakes you’ve made, but also what you did to make it better,” Beydler explains. “You have to come to work with the idea in the forefront of your head, ‘I’m here for the patient today; things are going to happen with patients, and sometimes things will not go well.’ But you look back and say, ‘What could I have done better? What did I do well?’”

Part of feedback to one’s self is acknowledging the good things, kudos for a job well done, Beydler notes. There are some additional tactics to help train staff on emotional intelligence skills:

Choose to make emotional skills a priority. “As a leader, you have to make a choice,” Beydler says. “Are you content with your staff’s technical skills alone? Sometimes, nurses are so good technically but so bad EQ-wise that they will burn out other people.”

Nursing emotional skills are not only beneficial to patients; they’re also important to colleagues. “If one person is technically good but so poor in relations to their peers, then the perception is that this person cannot be touched because they are so good,” she says. “Then employees think, ‘If they never leave, what are my options? Do I live with it and stay here, or do I find a place with a better level of leadership and EQ?’”

Staff morale and turnover issues can be related to deficits in emotional intelligence. Surgery center leadership can improve morale when they acknowledge the need to improve staff emotional skills. “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge,” Beydler notes.

It is not easy for managers, but they can provide emotional skills feedback to staff at annual performance reviews. For instance, a manager can say, “Here’s the feedback I’m getting, and here’s what I’m observing.”

“Then, I would give concrete examples and share with the employee why this approach doesn’t work with other people,” Beydler adds. “They need to be open to suggestions and feedback.”

Ask employees to assess their own strengths and weaknesses. “Make sure people understand their own strengths and their areas of improvement,” Beydler says. “There’s no shame in saying, ‘These are things I’ve done well, and here are the things I haven’t done well.’”

Nurses can conduct a self-assessment of their own reaction to the good and bad things that happen to them in life and work. They should ask themselves a few questions: What has happened in my career, good and bad? What role did I play in things that went well and things that did not? Do I experience empathy? Do I experience vulnerability?

“We don’t want to be vulnerable people, and vulnerability is part of empathy,” Beydler says.

Emphasize culture of patients first. The key is for nurses to view each patient as though they were caring for their own child, Beydler says. “Look at that patient as someone you really care about in your life,” she says. “It could be your mom, dad, or partner.”

It does not take nurses long to develop a relationship with patients. A few minutes will do. For example, Beydler went through an emergency surgery experience during which she could view nurses through the perspective of a patient. Beydler had been through a rough experience and waiting in a room when a nurse wheeled her down to the OR. During the several minutes it took to travel to the OR, the nurse took time to speak with Beydler and to listen to her.

“She said, ‘I know you are here for emergent surgery, and I know you have had a hard time. I’m sorry, and I wanted to let you know,’” Beydler recalls. “That allowed me the time to tell her what I’d been through.”

It was the end of her shift, and before the nurse left, she gave Beydler a hug, showing she cared through her words and actions. “It was the way she spoke, looking me in the eyes and touching my shoulder, and I knew she cared,” Beydler says. “If we had more nurses like that, it would make a huge difference in how we take care of our patients.”

In contrast, when Beydler was very ill and lying on a stretcher, two nurses worked over her but did not acknowledge her. Instead, they talked about what they were doing that weekend and complained about work, Beydler recalls.

During yet another scene, Beydler witnessed surgery staff complaining about a defective piece of equipment and treating patients like they were fast food customers.

“They were not saying, ‘Thank you for choosing our center today, and we’ll go with you into the procedure room,’” Beydler says. “I was shocked and told the administrator that employees should not talk over their patients because the patient had to be their focus at that moment. Their job is to put that patient at ease.”