Magazine article American Nurse Today

Practicing Emotional Intelligence May Help Reduce Lateral Violence

Magazine article American Nurse Today

Practicing Emotional Intelligence May Help Reduce Lateral Violence

Article excerpt

It's been a stressful day at work--nothing new. Your patient fell, an I.V. line became occluded right when you were ready to hang a blood infusion, and a patient's family became angry with you. We all experience stressful days, but unfortunately, sometimes we take our stress out on each other. Too often, this ineffective way of identifying and managing stress leads nurses to engage in lateral violence.

Lateral violence is identified and described by the American Nursing Association as acts between colleagues that include covert or overt aggression. These acts of displaced stress can create a tense work environment, psychological anguish, and may even lead some nurses to quit their jobs or abandon their profession all together. The unnecessary outcomes of lateral violence require that we, as professional nurses, proactively seek out meaningful methods to identify and reduce its formation and occurrence. The first step in this endeavor is to examine and develop our emotional intelligence (EI).

What is EI?

EI is the ability to understand and control our own emotions while reading and adjusting to the emotions of others. The behaviors and traits of people who have strong EI levels are also the behaviors and traits of people who are less likely to engage in lateral violence. There are other benefits too. For example, a study conducted with ICU nurses demonstrated that EI education increased nurses' general health.

Improving EI skills

A study by Sharif and colleagues reported that EI can be taught, meaning we all have the potential to increase our self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy. Strengthening these aspects of EI can help us to not only understand ourselves, but also how our emotions impact our colleagues.

The first step is to educate ourselves about EI. Next, we must adapt our daily culture to incorporate EI into our practice. Nurses are, after all, nothing if not adaptable. We have gone from paper charting to electronic charting, from wet-to-dry dressings to better wound care options, and from provider-centered interventions to patient-centered, evidence-based practice.

This adaptation requires the use of three tools: purposeful reflection, improvisation, and empathy.

Purposeful reflection

Self-awareness occurs when we engage in purposeful reflection, viewing a situation from multiple angles with the intent to learn and improve decision making.

Take a moment to think about a recent situation when an interaction or conversation did not go well. What started it? What were you feeling at the time? Did you have a long day at work? Did you expect this person to say something you didn't want to hear? Did someone approach you and demand an immediate conversation?

Now remove yourself from that moment and think of yourself as another person looking in. If you removed the emotions, what was that conversation truly about? Was fear involved? Were you put in a situation that should have been handled at another time? Reflecting purposefully on the situation enables you to recognize the irrational responses.

Purposeful reflection also enables you to identify negative patterns, called triggers. Learning to recognize triggers may prevent unfavorable situations or reactions. Purposeful reflection, when done consistently will aid in reducing negative energy, cut short the conflict, and possibly prevent tense situations. Once you make purposeful reflection a habit, you can then use improvisation to process conflicts on the spot and provide thoughtful feedback. …

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