Emotional Intelligence: What It Is, and How You Can Get It

respiratory therapist displays emotional intelligence by pleasantly speaking to patients

Respiratory therapists bring a wealth of clinical knowledge and skills with them to their jobs, but as any RT manager will tell you, knowledge can be learned and skills can be taught.

What many of them are really looking for in future leaders is an innate ability to work on a collaborative basis with coworkers, patients, and families, even in the most stressful of situations. That’s often referred to as emotional intelligence and if you already have it, great. If you don’t, can you get it?

Kevin McQueen, MHA, RRT, RRT-ACCS, CPPS, CM, believes you can.

Practice makes perfect

“As a leader, I would define emotional intelligence as an individual’s ability to not only recognize their own emotional responses, but also those of others,” said McQueen, who serves as director of respiratory therapy and several other departments at UCHealth Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, CO. “Having the ability to quickly recognize how you personally respond to emotional situations or crucial conversations is essential if you want to be a good leader.”

So even if you aren’t among the lucky few who are just born with the ability to control how they respond to stressful situations and are good at reading emotions in others, you can learn to improve your own emotional intelligence over time.

“RTs that may lack emotional intelligence may display large swings in emotional responses, such as becoming angry and yelling during an interaction with an upset patient or family member,” he said. “With practice they can improve their own interactions under pressure and also their ability to read how others are responding emotionally.”

Look to your mentors for help

McQueen mentors all of his newer supervisors and managers on their ability to handle situations that call for good emotional intelligence, telling them that no matter the situation, their job is to remain calm and respectful and avoid adding any fuel to the fire by raising their own voice.

He advises newer leaders on tactics they can use to recognize the emotional responses of others as well.

“For example, you are counseling an employee and you can see that they are ramping up emotionally from the conversation,” McQueen said. “Knowing how to come across as supportive, empathetic, fair, non-antagonistic, and yet still achieve your goal of accountability can build a more trusting relationship with the employee.”

McQueen cites a mentor he had early in his own career – Terry Howell, EdD — to drive home the point: “It is not the issue that is the issue . . . It is how you handle the issue that becomes the issue.”

And that leads to his last bit of wisdom on the topic:

“Throughout my 17 years in leadership I have tried to emulate the finer qualities of leaders I observed with highly developed emotional intelligence. Examining how they react during stressful situations has helped to shape me as a leader.”