Emotional Intelligence: How a Dental Hygienist Can Acquire Higher EQ

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Emotional intelligence is more than just a buzzword of the 21st century; it actually is something very important in the workforce when dealing with dental co-workers. Just as IQ refers to your intellectual intelligence, EQ refers to your emotional intelligence or how smart you are when it comes to emotions. Emotional intelligence is a valuable skill that may help communication, problem-solving, and relationships in your dental workplace.3

What exactly is emotional intelligence, and why do you need it? Those with a high EQ are known to stay calm under pressure, resolve conflict effectively, and respond to co-workers and patients with empathy, care, and compassion. Regis College, which offers programs in health care fields, including dental hygiene, also finds EQ highly valuable. They teach it in their degree programs and have found that it can help in situations such as delivering difficult news to patients.4  In addition, 75% of hiring managers value EQ over IQ.5 A high EQ can make you a very valuable employee and colleague.

The Core Competencies of Emotional Intelligence

The four core competencies of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. These four domains were created by Daniel Goleman in 2022.1 When you, as an individual, can recognize and understand your own feelings and emotions, you are more apt to be able to recognize, understand, and positively interact with others around you.

Self-awareness: Are you self-aware? Are you able to recognize your own emotions and their effect on others in your office? Self-awareness researcher and expert Dr. Tasha Eurich has completed extensive research on the self-awareness of many people, and she has found that 95% think they are self-aware, yet only 10-15% are self-aware.2

When you are self-aware, you have the ability to manage core feelings such as anger, sadness, or fear. You accept those feelings, and you are comfortable when they come your way. It does not mean that you have to like those negative or unhappy thoughts but what it does mean is that you do not act out to others when they occur.

For example, a dental office is short staffed, and you do not have assistance with turning over your rooms. You have a very busy schedule today. This makes you upset or angry. An individual with lower EQ may act out toward their co-workers. They may answer questions in a short, curt tone or ignore people who are passing by the operatory during the day. In contrast, an individual with a high EQ will recognize that the situation is frustrating, but they will find a way to roll with it, smiling or wiping the forehead in a funny manner while running back and forth.

Self-management: When you are able to manage your own emotions, especially in stressful situations, you have a great degree of self-management. This may present like maintaining a positive outlook, even when getting negative or bad news. Self-management allows you to have self-control and clarify what is important and how you will react.

Those who lack self-management have a more challenging time keeping their emotions in check. For example, the doctor may have completely disagreed with your periodontal treatment recommendations in front of the patient. While this may have embarrassed or angered you, as an individual with high EQ and the ability to manage your emotions, you will not act out. You will remain calm and professional and exercise a great degree of self-control. The alternative is an individual with low EQ who snaps back at the doctor with an unprofessional tone or statement.

Social awareness: You have a high social awareness if you are able to recognize and notice the emotions of others. This occurs while sensing that someone is feeling sad or hurt. You are able to have empathy towards an individual like this; it’s like being able to put yourself in their shoes and understand what they are going through.

Those with low social awareness can enter a room and have no idea what the climate is. For example, you may be in a very private conversation with your manager in the breakroom. Your voices are quiet, your arms are crossed, and you are listening intently. A co-worker with low EQ also enters the room and immediately tries to join in the conversation by sharing a funny story of what their dog did last night. The low EQ individual was unable to read the room ‒ the low voices and the body language.

Relationship management: This is an equally important competency and refers to your ability to resolve conflict and influence others. Unaddressed conflict can create stress, potentially make you feel like not coming to work, and can waste dental practice time in the form of gossip or other unproductive activities.

When you are able to effectively manage your relationships, you can influence others to make good decisions, and you can sense conflict forming and take steps to stop it or redirect it.

A common saying is, “10% of conflict is due to differences of opinion, and 90% is due to tone of voice and delivery.” The statement is widely referenced when it comes to dealing with conflict, emotional intelligence, and effective workplaces.

Do any of the above competencies resonate with you? Did you think, “I’m like that.” Or, “Uh-oh, I’m not like that.” The great thing about emotional intelligence is that you can learn it. By being cognizant of a few specific areas, you have the ability to gain a greater understanding of this topic.

Improving Emotional Intelligence

Building a higher EQ means learning how to manage your own emotions, manage stress, and stay in self-control.

  • Pay attention to others. Look at their body language, and pick up on the tone of their voices and the words they choose. In others, can you recognize stress, sadness, happiness, fear, etc.? If your co-worker’s arms are crossed, and they are answering in short responses, something may be going on. Would you pick up on this and know what to do next? In some cases, you may offer a sympathetic ear by saying, “Hey Joan, are you OK? I’m here for you if you need anything.” Or, “Joan, you seem upset. Wanna talk?”
  • Have patience with others. It may be easy to get frustrated over a particular situation but learn to take a step back, breathe, and have patience. This is a sign of higher emotional intelligence.
  • Practice calmness. Finding a solution to a problem calmly vs. getting upset and storming out of the office is a way to handle stressful situations and prove that you have a great deal of self-management.
  • Take responsibility for your actions. Identify your emotional triggers and practice how to remain calm. When a situation pops up that causes you stress, anger, fear, etc., you’ll know how to respond better.
  • Build better relationships. Once a month, have lunch with a co-worker that you don’t know very well. Begin to share stories, experiences, and information about yourselves.
  • Be more approachable. Show a willingness to be more approachable. Ask for feedback from your office manager, doctor, or co-workers.

These topics are not signs of a highly emotionally intelligent individual:

  • Attention seeker
  • Closed-minded
  • Gets angry in stressful situations
  • Interrupts others
  • Changes the conversation to talking only about themselves or their issues

Everyone has emotions. We are all human, after all! Emotional intelligence can be learned, and almost anyone can do it. Challenge yourself weekly to pick out a few of the topics above that will help improve your emotional intelligence. Diligently work on it. Yes, it will take some time and practice, but the greater communication and teamwork that will follow will be well worth it.

Below are a few additional resources that I’ve found helpful for adding more emotional intelligence, positivity, and calmness into your days.



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  1. Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R. & McKee, A. (2002). Primal Leadership: Realizing the Importance of Emotional Intelligence, Harvard Business School Press: Boston.
  2. Tasha Eurich, TEDx, 2018. https://tashaeurich.com/
  3. Cherry, K. (2020, June 3). What is Emotional Intelligence? Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-emotional-intelligence-2795423
  4. The Importance of Emotional Intelligence. (n.d). Regis College. https://online.regiscollege.edu/blog/importance-emotional-intelligence/
  5. Cherry, K. (2020, May 25). Utilizing Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/utilizing-emotional-intelligence-in-the-workplace-4164713