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“Being confident you are right is not the same as being right.” ― Steven D. Levitt


Hospice is a people heavy business.  From coworkers to facility teams to patients and their families, working in hospice means constant interaction with others.

Many of these interactions are emotionally charged & powerful. A hospice liaison may be the first person a patient and family meet after the doctor discusses the diagnosis. Social workers and spiritual counselors navigate wide ranging and conflicting emotional and spiritual needs. Nurses & other clinicians physically interact with people often experiencing the worst moment in their life.

Managing differences in perspective can be a challenge, especially when you have a different point of view. However, navigating these differences, adjusting your perspective, even accepting challenges to your expertise as a professional are skills required to develop greater emotional intelligence.

4 Tips To Improve Your Emotional IQ

Tip #1. Visualize Empathy

Like stretching before a workout, your emotional intelligence needs warming up too. If you wait until you’re in the door and dealing with a combative patient or family to start thinking how to deal with the situation you may find yourself overly defensive or argumentative leading to a breakdown of communication and trust.

Plan ahead. Recognize that even the coolest, most level-headed of people may not be able to regulate their emotions in the trauma of living with a terminal illness.  That’s why it’s your job to have enough emotional empathy for everyone in the room. Visualize different combative scenarios before you enter the room.

For example, If you’re a liaison about to walk into a consent meeting: visualize how your loved ones and family might react to a consent meeting. Would they rush through a meeting just to sign and get on with it, or would they want to know every detail while multiple family members challenging everything from details of the services to the notion of or the philosophy of hospice.

Visualizing challenging scenarios and empathizing with the trauma behind the scenes will prepare you emotionally for whatever perspectives you face on the other side of that door.

Tip #2. Let Them Talk

A patient or their family members may be challenging you simply because you’re the one there and would be combative regardless of who had entered the room.  Their posture may be a result of feeling insecure or having lost any sense of control over their lives. Their feelings may be heightened as a reaction to financial worries or pain or medications.

Don’t get rattled. Being challenged can throw you off your game leading you to react & respond impulsively. Perhaps you’re a chaplain listening to someone angrily rail against or deny the existence of god. Or you’re a nurse hearing family member complain about treatments they feel are ineffective when you know that no other treatment would be more effective, and these are simply the trying circumstances they face.

The easiest way to maintain your composure in these situations is to simply not respond.

Don’t ignore what your patient or their family members are saying. Listen to them carefully and hear what they are saying. But don’t try to answer them in the moment. Let them get everything off their chest without interruption by your feelings of defensiveness. Stay silent and use the time to breathe, listen, observe their body language and dynamics.

Wait to respond until after they have finished speaking and even let a pause hang in the air when they’ve finished. Simply waiting without interruption will allow them to fully express themselves while you overcome any feelings of defensiveness and get to a place where you can direct the conversation to a constructive place.

Tip #3. Respond With Questions

It can be difficult separating questions or challenges from what the emotional turmoil beneath the surface. Answering a question or delivering an explanation immediately after they finish speaking may fall on deaf ears.

However, asking questions serves multiple purposes. It shows they are being heard and taken seriously. Asking questions can help re-frame their attitudes in the conversation. Asking questions will also give you the opportunity to hear and think about whether these are concerns deal with as part of your medical care or are emotional outbursts that must be managed.

Ask simple direct questions such as “Why?” or “What would that look like to you?’ or “Why do you feel that way?”

The answers may surprise both of you and create a new dynamic and new perspectives.

Tip #4. Acknowledge Their Truth

After you’ve heard them out, acknowledge what they’ve said. Agree with the rightness of their feelings and perspectives. You may be right on the facts. But that does not change or diminish their perspective. For example, they may want treatment to be more effective even though you know that this is the limit of medicine in this situation. You can both be right.

Instead of responding with hard and unwavering statement such as, “You have to understand that….”, or, “this is how we deal with….” Try presenting different options and scenarios such as, “I hear what you’re saying and that makes perfect sense. However, f we switch to this medication the effects are X and if we try this other medication, we risk Y.

This may also be dealt with by defusing the immediacy of the situation by saying, “Let me do some research on this issue. I’m not aware of a more effective treatment for this symptom but I will talk with the doctor and develop a Care Plan to see if we can find a way to improve the situation.”

Acknowledging someone’s perspective and being open to adjusting your own are powerful tools when dealing with someone who feels their perspective is right and must be heard.

Preparing yourself, listening, asking questions, and acknowledging other perspectives allows emotionally charged people the space to feel safe. Whereas getting defensive, dogmatic, or dismissive can drive people further into their perspective and heighten feelings of emotional frustration.  And while there may be no way to fully resolve differences, managing our own reactions and developing our emotional intelligence will create better results for patients, their families and generate positive returns for your hospice CAHPS scores.

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