If you’re a fan of “The Office,” you’re undoubtedly familiar with Michael Scott’s cringe-inducing behavior. While his awkward, emotional outbursts make for great comedy, if you had to work with someone like Michael, you probably wouldn’t stick around very long. And if that person were a rehab therapist, his or her patients probably wouldn’t stick around very long, either. That’s because—as funny as Steve Carell's iconic character is—Michael is impetuous and emotional (and not in a good way). Furthermore, he often jumps to conclusions before having all the facts, a trait that leads to both personal and professional consequences. However, if Dunder Mifflin had made strong emotional intelligence a priority for those in leadership positions, many of Michael’s blunders could’ve been avoided.

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What is emotional intelligence?

EQ is a sense of self-awareness.

To help answer this question, I called in an expert: Brian Allery, WebPT’s Vice President of Employee Success and Administration, is a guru on all things emotional intelligence. According to him, emotional intelligence—sometimes referred to as “EQ”—is a gauge of an individual’s self-awareness and humility. As Allery puts it, “Individuals with exceptional EQ aren’t afraid to ask for help, because they’re not held back by pride and fear.” And that fosters a team environment in which members collaborate better and identify risks faster. After all, Allery explains, “If you don’t understand yourself, how can you contribute to a team?”

It requires a commitment to personal growth.

Another common attribute in people with a high level of emotional intelligence is their continuous dedication to self-improvement. You may hear them utter phrases like, “I appreciate your perspective,” or “in my experience.” That’s because those with excellent EQ are self-aware enough to acknowledge that they don’t always have all the answers. We, as humans, are experience-based. And that leads some people to resist change. In other words, if something works, we tend to stick with it. Those with high levels of emotional intelligence, on the other hand, recognize that change equals growth.

Leaders with strong EQ aren’t afraid of getting in the trenches.

Emotional intelligence is also crucial for individuals in leadership—a key lesson for the likes of Michael Scott. As employees climb up the managerial ladder, those with low EQ often fail to recognize the importance of getting their hands dirty. “Some people get too big to do things,” Allery explains. “But emotionally intelligent leaders accept what needs to be done.” They’re action- and group-oriented, and they build strong personal connections that inspire loyalty in staff and patients alike.

What happens when a team isn’t emotionally intelligent?

There’s a communication breakdown.

“Bad decisions compound when made in an emotional state,” says Allery. “And [then] things don’t get done.” Those with low EQ go on the attack instead of giving a fair assessment. If you want to see this in action, log in to Facebook and read the comments on any post with a remotely political angle. You’ll notice that some folks have a civil back-and-forth, but more often than not, these types of posts are breeding grounds for low-EQ behavior. Allery notes that individuals with low EQ are easy to spot because “when they disagree with someone, they immediately go on the attack, and they’re often attacking people for superficial things.” They don’t really care about resolving anything, he says. They’re coming from an emotional place, and they just want to wound their adversaries with words. When your team doesn’t practice emotional intelligence skills, you’ll start to see the same type of behavior in the workplace. Disagreements crop up and fail to get resolved until the issue is boiling hot. And by that point, there’s a good chance your patients have taken notice.

How does EQ foster patient loyalty?

As a rehab therapist, you lead your patients along the path of improved health and mobility, which means they’re looking to you for guidance. As Allery puts it, “Emotional intelligence helps you take your patients to the next level of care.”

It creates meaningful patient-provider interactions.

Some of your patients are likely in pain, and they’re almost certainly outside of their comfort zone. Additionally, they must contend with the psychological strain that often goes with injury and chronic illness. So, expecting them to approach therapy from a place of emotional intelligence can be a lot to ask. That’s why it’s crucial for you to approach every patient encounter with empathy. But, as Allery notes, there’s a difference between empathy and sympathy, and people often confuse the two. Sympathy, he says, leads to enabling—whereas empathy encourages a genuine, emotional connection that helps you speak to patients on their level without allowing them to fall off the wagon. To put it plainly, your patients achieve better outcomes when you communicate from a place of EQ.

Where can you start?

Know yourself.

Here at WebPT headquarters, we can certainly attest to the impact emotional intelligence has on a team, and that’s largely due to Allery’s efforts. “At WebPT, my hope is that we’re driving a culture of emotional awareness and empathy,” he says. Every person in leadership goes through extensive EQ training, and every employee completes a DiSC assessment and training.

Want to start cultivating emotional intelligence in your practice? Allery emphasizes the importance of understanding and embracing your own EQ level. Use a credible tool to assess your self-awareness (it doesn’t have to be DiSC, although we’re certainly fans). Once you understand where you’re at, you can start applying what you’ve learned to your own work.

Humans are emotional beings—that’s never going to change. And honestly, we probably wouldn’t want it to. But, understanding your emotions—and using them to build genuine connections with your patients—can benefit you, your staff, and your patients in a huge way. After all, when you guide patients through their care journeys with empathy and understanding, you create meaningful patient-provider interactions, which makes for improved patient experiences. And that, in turn, improves patients’ perceived value of therapy. To sum it all up, practicing emotional intelligence can make you the world’s best rehab therapist in your patients’ eyes—whether or not you have the coffee mug to prove it.

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