12 Simple Tips to IMPROVE Emotional Intelligence in Nursing

Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN

The concept of emotional intelligence emerged in the 1950s when Abraham Maslow introduced his ideas on Emotional Strength. The concept was popularized by the 1995 publication "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ," a book written by Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist. Nurses today understand the importance of emotional intelligence but often ask if there are ways to know how to improve emotional intelligence in nursing? In this article, I will share the elements of emotional intelligence and thoughts about why nurses need to develop the skills of EI to be effective. As you continue reading, you will learn 12 tips to improve emotional intelligence in nursing and find sample scenarios demonstrating poor emotional intelligence and high emotional intelligence.

What Is Emotional Intelligence In Nursing?

Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to perceive, regulate, and manage emotions. Emotional intelligence in nursing is the ability of a nurse to understand, use, and manage their emotions in ways that promote effective communication, empathy for others, conflict resolution, and stress reduction. Although some researchers suggest emotional intelligence is an inborn characteristic, most believe individuals can learn to strengthen their abilities to demonstrate emotional intelligence.

10 Reasons Why Emotional Intelligence Is So Important In Nursing

Exercising the use of emotional intelligence in nursing can have positive results on several levels. It requires you to practice the art of self-reflection and be willing to work on yourself, but the benefits are too many to name. The following are ten reasons why emotional intelligence is vital in nursing.

1. Exercising emotional intelligence makes leaders more effective.
2. Exercising emotional intelligence in nursing practice promotes a trusting environment within the healthcare team.
3. Emotional intelligence supports therapeutic nurse-patient relationships.
4. Employee morale is higher when nurses and nurse leaders implement the elements of emotional intelligence.
5. Emotional intelligence helps nurses understand their own emotions and recognize when they feel overwhelmed or burned out.
6. Emotional intelligence in nursing creates an environment for effective communication among members of the healthcare team and between patients and providers.
7. Emotional intelligence makes it easier to manage and resolve conflicts in the workplace.
8. Emotional intelligence in nursing creates an environment conducive to high performance among nurses and peers.
9. Emotional intelligence helps nurses recognize personal triggers that lead them to feel emotionally distressed at work and find ways to reduce stress.
10. Emotional intelligence in nurses promotes collaboration across professional platforms.

What Are The Five Key Elements Of Emotional Intelligence In Nursing?

According to Daniel Goleman, there are five elements: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Understanding and implementing emotional intelligence in nursing can make a significant difference in your relationship with patients, their families, and peers. The following are the five elements of emotional intelligence.

1. Self-awareness:

Being self-aware means knowing how you feel and recognizing how your emotions and actions affect the people around you. Self-awareness characteristics include having a clear understanding of your strengths and weaknesses and conducting yourself with humility.

2. Self-regulation:

The element of self-regulation deals with your ability to express your emotions appropriately. Nurses who practice self-regulation typically adapt well to change and are flexible. Some characteristics of nurses who learn self-regulation is their ability to diffuse difficult or tense situations calmly and rationally.

3. Motivation:

One of the key elements of emotional intelligence is motivation. Self-motivated nurses work diligently toward achieving their goals and are known for setting high standards for the quality of work they produce.

4. Empathy:

Successful nurses understand the importance of practicing empathy with patients, their families, and peers. Being empathetic means having the ability to put yourself in someone else's situation and consider their thoughts and feelings before acting.

5. Social Skills:

Emotional intelligence in nursing requires strong social skills. Nurses who develop effective social skills are good at managing change.


In healthcare, there is a significant need to have a trusting environment among team members, quality patient and family-centered care, and strong leaders. Practicing emotional intelligence in nursing makes it possible to accomplish these things. The following are some examples of possible scenarios that could occur in the workplace and the outcome of those situations with either lack of emotional intelligence or a display of high emotional intelligence in nursing.

1. Scenario: Frustrated Nurses

Nurse Jill is the charge nurse for the Med-Surg floor. Today, there are nineteen patients on her floor. Three nurses have been assigned to work Med-Surg. Nurse Jill assigns seven patients to two nurses and five to the third. The nurses with seven patients are angry and feel like Nurse Jill is showing favoritism and threaten to report her for unfair treatment.

Lack Of Emotional Intelligence:

Nurse Jill tells the nurses she is the charge nurse and to "suck it up" because they have patients to care for, and she doesn't have time for their drama.

Display Of High Emotional Intelligence:

Nurse Jill understands the nurses with the larger patient loads are frustrated and explains to them that her decision to assign more patients was not to make them feel overwhelmed. She explains that the third nurse is new to the med-surg floor, and she wants to be sure she has time to get comfortable with her new role. Nurse Jill assures all the nurses on her team that she is confident in their ability to provide excellent care to patients and that she is available to help them if they get behind on work or need an extra hand.

2. Scenario: Open Discussion

The Director of Nurses has scheduled a mandatory staff meeting to discuss proposed changes to the on-call schedule for nurses on staff at the hospital. Nurse John and Nurse Adrian have ideas they want to share.

Lack Of Emotional Intelligence:

The DON talks about her ideas and how she has figured out the best way for things to run smoothly in all nursing units. Nurse John shares his idea about giving nurses the option to volunteer for call first, then assigning nurses to the shifts that are not covered. Nurse Adrian constantly interrupts Nurse John, and the Director of Nurses laughs at them both.

Display Of High Emotional Intelligence:

After opening the meeting and setting the stage for discussion, the Director of Nurses offers employees an opportunity to express their thoughts and ideas. Nurse John feels confident about sharing his idea, and Nurse Adrian shows respect by complimenting his recommendation and sharing her ideas.

3. Scenario: Giving and Accepting Feedback

Ward clerk, Denise, had some spare time and decided to organize patient charts and set up a new folder system to help the nurses. Denise asks Nurse Barbara what she thinks of the new system of organization.

Lack Of Emotional Intelligence:

Nurse Barbara rolls her eyes and says the system will never work and that Denise should have left the organization up to the nurses. Denise becomes angry and responds that if the nurses weren't so disorganized in the first place, she would not have felt the need to organize things for them.

Display Of High Emotional Intelligence:

Nurse Barbara compliments Denise's initiative to help the nurses organize important charts and folders and offers a few suggestions about how Denise's organization system may be a little easier to navigate. Denise thanks Barbara for her feedback and tries to implement her recommendations.

4. Scenario: Body Language, What You Say When You Say Nothing

Shift change is a busy time for nurses. Today, Charge Nurse Karen is discussing the status of patients on her unit with oncoming nurses. Four nurses are coming onto the next shift, and four are leaving.

Lack Of Emotional Intelligence:

Despite attempts to keep their attention, the nurses present for shift change avoid eye contact with Nurse Karen. One nurse is leaning against the wall with her arms crossed while two others write notes to one another. The nurses coming onto the shift are shuffling through their nurse bags and clipboards while Nurse Karen continues with the report.

Display Of High Emotional Intelligence:

The nurses working off-shift, pay attention to Nurse Karen as she reviews the patients on the unit and add pertinent information about the patients they cared for during their shift. The nurses coming to work for the next shift take notes about their assigned patients and ask questions, as needed and when called upon, to ensure they have enough information to give proper, time-efficient care.


(The following are 12 expert tips to help nurses improve their emotional intelligence.)

1. Slow down!

Emotional intelligence in nursing means recognizing your emotions and taking control before they control you. When you experience anger, frustration, or deep sadness, take the time to slow down and examine what happened to make you feel this way. Something my mother used to tell me is, "You can't control what other people say or do around you or to you, but you can control how you respond to them." Remember, no matter the situation, you can choose how to react.

2. Keep a journal.

Sometimes one of the easiest ways to recognize your emotions is to write them down. Emotional intelligence in nursing practice means being able to control your emotions even when they feel uncontrollable. The next time you feel experience strong emotions, whether you act out or not, write down what happened and what your response to the event was. Then, after you have had time to think about it, consider what you could have done to make the situation better.

3. Hold yourself accountable for your actions.

If you genuinely want to improve emotional intelligence in nursing, one of the first steps is to hold yourself accountable. Whether you choose to shift the blame to others or find it hard to admit your mistakes, being an effective nurse using emotional intelligence means you decide to acknowledge your issues and face the consequences.

4. Practice measures to calm yourself before reacting.

Nursing is a rewarding job, but there are times when it can be pretty stressful. At times, you may feel like it is easier to lash out at others than to keep your composure. The next time you feel stressed or face a challenging situation, be aware of your reaction. Count to ten, and practice deep breathing. Think before reacting, and if you feel as though you cannot express yourself without being out of control, walk away until you are calm.

5. Know your values, and don’t compromise.

An excellent way to show emotional intelligence in nursing is establishing a set of personal values and making it a point to stick to them. Take the time to get to know yourself and what is important to you. If you know the things you value, you will find it is easier to face ethical or moral decisions.

6. Seek to find good in everything you do.

One sign of emotional intelligence is having the ability to look at situations and see the good in them. Even challenging situations or failures can be something you use to learn and grow. For example, you may have applied for a new nursing job, but someone else received the offer of employment. You can choose to be upset or keep in mind that you made new professional contacts who will remember you later.

7. Reflect on why you chose to become a nurse.

It can be easy to lose focus on why you chose a nursing career. Loss of focus and the frustration that comes with it can result in burnout, strained relationships, and increased stress on the job. Take the time to think about why you became a nurse. Set goals that are attainable and reward yourself when you accomplish them.

8. Consider how you would feel in someone else’s position.

Anyone can support their own point of view. Emotional intelligence in nursing and life in general means using empathy to consider others' feelings. Before you react to a disgruntled coworker or respond in haste because you feel like your opinion is right, take the time to consider how the other person feels. If you were in their position would you feel unappreciated, unheard, or unimportant? Recognizing and respecting the thoughts and feelings of others is a sign of emotional intelligence in nursing.

9. Pay attention to what others are not saying and respond to others' feelings.

It is not uncommon for someone to refrain from sharing their true thoughts and feelings for fear of rejection or retaliation. For instance, if you ask a coworker to cover for you and he says he will, but his tone of voice sounds disappointed, or he avoids eye contact with you, this could suggest he agreed because he doesn't want to offend you. Assure your coworker that you understand his schedule may be busy, and you understand if this is not a good time for him to cover your shift. By responding this way, you show empathy for his feelings and create a trusting relationship, which is vital to a good work relationship and an excellent way to demonstrate emotional intelligence in nursing practice.

10. Learn to recognize changes in body language and respond appropriately.

Body language is the most powerful form of nonverbal communication. Your body language tells others how you feel, even if your words say something else. Little things like biting your lip, crossing your arms, or shuffling your feet when listening to someone else talk can give them a sense that you are disinterested. This behavior sends a negative message and should be avoided. Likewise, when you learn to recognize cues in someone else's body language, you can determine how they genuinely feel and take the time to respond appropriately.

11. Practice effective communication skills.

One of my favorite classes to teach nursing students has always been communication. Effective communication is at the foundation of all good nursing practices. One of the best ways to improve emotional intelligence in nursing is to learn to communicate with others effectively.

12. Learn how to compliment others.

Complimenting others is an excellent way to inspire loyalty among your team members and build caring relationships with patients and their loved ones. Learning to offer praise to others is an art that may take time, but it will be worth the effort when done correctly.

Useful Resources On Emotional Intelligence In Nursing

Implementing emotional intelligence in nursing practice impacts relationships between nurses, peers, and patients and positively impacts patient outcomes. The following are helpful resources, including TEDx Talks, YouTube videos, podcasts, and books, about the importance of emotional intelligence in nursing.

TEDx Talks

• 6 Steps to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence:

In this TEDx Talks video shared on YouTube, Ramona Hacker offers insight and six steps to help improve emotional intelligence.

• The People Currency-Practicing Emotional Intelligence:

In this inspiring video, Jaso Bridges shares his personal story of emotional growth after experiencing a traumatic brain injury.

• The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage:

Experience a talk about emotional agility and the power it brings to your life as you share Susan David's story of grief, loss, and acceptance in this awesome video.

YouTube Videos

• 4 Things Emotionally Intelligent People Don’t Do:

In this video, learn the art of emotional intelligence by learning to approach problems "backward."

• Emotional Intelligence- with Dan Goleman:

American psychologist, Dan Goleman, shares his view of how Emotional Intelligence can help people live happier lives, contributing to a better world for everyone. (Recorded at a November 2020 Action for Happiness event)

Strategies to Become More Emotionally Intelligent:

This video offers insight into improving emotional intelligence and creating better relationships by managing ourselves first.


Nurse Leader Network:

The Nurse Leader Network podcast is dedicated to helping nurse leaders grow their professional reach. Here is a terrific episode from their podcast: Unlock Your Emotional Intelligence with Teresa Lodato.

Emotions Mentor:

Join host Rebecca Hintze and other mental health professionals as they talk about issues related to emotional intelligence, such as managing emotions, improving mental health, and becoming more successful in life.

Spirit of EQ Podcast:

This podcast offers guidance about shaping the future for individuals, teams, leaders, and organizations who wish to realize their full potential through emotional intelligence.


Emotional Intelligence in Nursing: Essentials for Leadership and Practice Improvement:

This book on emotional intelligence is explicitly written for nurses. The book offers insight into how emotional intelligence can and should be applied in every practice setting in nursing. It provides insight into how evidence-based research and the core concepts of emotional intelligence impact patient safety, conflict management, quality and safety, and ethical decision-making.

The Emotionally Intelligent Nurse Leader:

In this book, author Mae Taylor Moss demonstrates how harnessing the power of emotional intelligence can transform the nursing profession and healthcare environment. This is a fantastic option for healthcare leaders and nurse managers as it offers a guide for identifying, using, and regulating their emotions while performing leadership roles.

Emotional Intelligence in Health and Social Care - A Guide for Improving Human Relationships:

This book is an excellent option for nurses to learn the importance of balancing emotional intelligence while caring for others and the need to care for and develop themselves.

My Final Thoughts

If you are a nurse, chances are you look for ways to improve your personal and professional life. Perhaps you asked yourself how to improve emotional intelligence in nursing? By taking the 12 tips to improve emotional intelligence in nursing featured in this article, you can learn to hone your skills of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills, which can impact you personally and professionally.


1. As A Nurse, Can I Have A High IQ But Low EQ?

It is possible to have a high IQ and a low EQ. Although it is possible for your IQ to be higher than your EQ, it is good nursing practice to try and implement measures to improve your emotional intelligence.

2. Will Lack of Emotional Intelligence Impact My Nursing Career?

Nurses, like everyone else, have different levels of emotional intelligence. While it is possible to perform as a nurse with low EQ, the lack of emotional intelligence altogether can impact your nursing career. Without some sense of emotional intelligence, it is difficult to effectively communicate or resolve conflicts which can strain nurse-patient and nurse-peer relationships.

3. Usually, How Long Does It Take For A Nurse To Improve The Skill Of Emotional Intelligence?

There is a significant difference between learning about emotional intelligence and applying the concepts to your life. Some concepts, such as communication (social skills), are easier to improve than others. Psychologists suggest improving emotional intelligence is a lifelong process. While you will develop skills, the more you learn and grow, the more attuned you will be with your emotions and the emotions of others.

4. Do All Types Of Nurses Require A High EQ?

Nursing is an emotionally charged job that requires practitioners to understand and care for individuals, families, peers, and themselves. In this profession, learning to master emotional intelligence is key to success. Emotional intelligence in nursing ensures the success of everyone on the healthcare team, from management to nursing staff, and helps improve patient outcomes.

5. Are Emotionally Intelligent Nurses Happier?

Research indicates emotionally intelligent individuals are typically happier than those who lack emotional intelligence. Nurses who are self-aware, control their emotions, and show empathy are more engaged, which is a sign of emotional intelligence in nursing. This behavior results in improved relationships and leads to happier nurses.

Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).