Emotional Intelligence in the Dental Workplace Part Two: Validating Emotions in Others

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Are you an overall asset or liability to the dental practice where you work? Do colleagues want to work with you? Do you collaborate well with others, even when you don’t necessarily agree with them? Do you sense emotions as they rise and use that information to choose appropriate behaviors? Do you sense anger in yourself or sadness in others? What kind of experience do you bring to the dental team? Is it more functional, technical skills, or do you have the capacity for empathy?

Today’s dental job market is changing, much like the rest of the world. More often, it is becoming apparent that emotional intelligence (EQ) is a sought-after trait that may even surpass the importance of intelligence quotient (IQ). Could this possibly be true? Perhaps this is worth consideration.

EQ multiplies the value you create with whatever technical and functional skills you already possess. According to psychologist and author Dr. Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence is about 90% of what sets us apart from the mediocre.1 Two employees with equivalent clinical skills in a dental practice will not hold the same value over time if one employee exceeds the other with emotional intelligence.

The Four Branches of Emotional Intelligence

In part one of the EQ series, we learned about EQ and how self-reflection can help build upon EQ. Now, we will examine the four common branches of EQ, reviewing examples of each.

Researchers are very intrigued by the multifaceted approaches to studying emotional intelligence, and many categories and sub-categories exist. For the purpose of this discussion, however, we will summarize the four branches of EQ that are most agreed upon by the experts.

The four EQ branches are:

  1. Perceiving Emotions

Perceiving emotions is considered the first step in understanding emotions. Recognizing nonverbal signals, body language, and facial expressions will often give us insight into how a person is feeling. According to Dr. Peter Salovey and Dr. Jack Mayer, misreading situations and reacting in ways that are inappropriate can be a sign of lower EQ, even when a high cognitive intelligence, or IQ, exists.2

Does anyone here remember the 2009-2011 television series, “Lie to Me,” featuring actor Tim Roth, who sleuthed by, studying facial expressions and involuntary body language? I loved the show and wished it had not ended so quickly.

The universally accepted facial micro-expressions (involuntary expressions that happen very quickly, often without thought) fall into seven sub-types: sadness, anger, fear, happiness, surprise, contempt, and disgust. Some people seem to be pretty natural at perceiving emotions. You can’t pull the wool over their eyes! This is rare and usually comes from a lot of study of the subject and experience with a variety of situations.

The next three branches will be followed up with examples taken from the scenarios in part one of the EQ series.

  1. Using Emotions

The next step involves reasoning and promoting cognitive thinking. Emotions help prioritize what merits our attention.

For example, Erik, the newest team member at Dr. Casselman’s office, is a force to be reckoned with. Though a new dental hygiene graduate and only six months at his new job, he has found a beautiful stride, and his co-workers absolutely adore him.

Dr. Casselman searched high and wide for Erik and didn’t settle for second best. She knew that she would strike gold if she found another employee who recognized her office philosophy for treating staff and patients alike. She did. Erik was open to learning new things, taking constructive criticism to grow and develop as a practitioner, and treating everyone with respect and dignity.

Dr. Casselman wanted this because she knew that a new graduate could learn the clinical skills needed for the job in time if people mattered most, and her new staff member was open to learning. Erik used his reasoning skills during his interview with Dr. Casselman and understood what his new boss was looking for in a candidate by asking her what her needs were, promising to meet those needs upon being hired.

Erik perceived Dr. Casselman’s needs by asking her what she needed from him. He then followed up by using his reasoning skills to determine that his new boss held her patients close to her heart. He emphasized to her that he would do whatever it took to meet her emotional needs as well as clinical. Good job, Erik!

  1. Understanding Emotions

The emotions that we perceive can carry a wide variety of meanings. If someone is expressing angry emotions, the observer must interpret the cause of the person’s anger and what it could mean.

For example, remember Mindi, who considered learning more about EQ and developing the skill for future interactions with others? Mindi was mortified when she didn’t know how to respond to Shelley, the lead hygienist who was obviously going through something traumatizing. To refresh your memory, Shelley was being unusually snippy at a staff meeting, and it was very out of character for her, which Mindi noticed. Her whole demeanor seemed to be changing recently. Well, Mindi knew Shelley wasn’t normally such a crass person, but her energy was depleting her patients and fellow staff members. Her patient treatment was lacking its usual passion.

This was becoming increasingly obvious, and Mindi felt in her heart that she should attempt to help Shelley. Mindi decided to learn more about EQ, assessing her current knowledge so that she could use that information to build and learn. Mindi learned the importance of understanding someone’s emotions and then approached Shelley in a compassionate way, giving grace and a listening ear. Turns out Shelley was, indeed, having a life crisis and really needed someone to reach out to. This was one of Mindi’s best approaches, helping her grow as a person, practitioner, and co-worker.

  1. Managing Emotions

The ability to manage emotions effectively is the highest level of EQ and is a crucial part of emotional intelligence. Regulating emotions and responding appropriately, as well as responding to the emotions of others, are all important aspects of emotional management.

For example, Remember Molly from part one of the series? Molly had a very emotional outburst when hygienist Danielle asked her to update her medical history. It turned out that Molly’s husband was suffering from cancer, and the turmoil she was going through as a spouse and caretaker was too much to bear. She appreciated Danielle, who gave Molly the time she needed to collect her thoughts, discuss what was on her mind, and not rush her. Molly has a health history of anxiety and needed the extra empathy that Danielle gave her that day.

Molly became a regular patient, visiting Danielle every three months for hygiene treatment. She was grateful for Danielle’s empathy and never felt rushed or like “just a number.”

Danielle’s EQ skills are highly developed. She was able to manage a very emotional patient and gain her trust within minutes of her outburst. Danielle’s empathy and ability to manage emotions is the primary reason she has the highest rate of requests by patients who are willing to wait for an appointment with her, especially dental-phobic patients. What a wonderful asset to the office she is.

Validating Emotions

We are now a little more familiar with what emotional intelligence is about. You may ask yourself, “Well, how do I validate emotions in others?”

Good question! Here are some great communication tips that will help you to validate someone so that they feel heard and understood. Remember, validation does not mean solving a problem or offering a solution. It means acknowledging we have heard someone and what they are conveying. People want to be heard.

When someone is talking, you can:

  • Ask questions
  • Listen to the vocal tone (sound of the voice) as well as the words spoken
  • Empathize
  • Validate
  • Try to understand the meaning behind the words

When you are listening, you can show positive body language to give a visual cue to your speaker, which also contributes widely to emotional intelligence:

  • Sit or stand quietly with arms and legs uncrossed (be open-minded)
  • Lean in slightly
  • Maintain eye contact, though not extended if a person seems uncomfortable
  • Stay relaxed
  • Maintain open posture

Some extra tips include:

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Ask the person for their perception of the problem
  • Defer judgment, focusing on the talker and saying less
  • Let the person finish speaking without interrupting with a solution
  • Understand the nonverbal cues
  • Empathize, don’t just sympathize
  • You do not need to agree – just understand why a person feels the way they do

People want to be heard and listened to. Validated. Validating one’s feelings in a situation doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with what they think or how they respond, but it does let them know that you care enough to listen and want to know how they feel. It is truly engaging with another person and is more likely to bring forward a true, open conversation that will often lead to excellent communication, team building, and relationships.

As Mark Twain once said, “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would have rather talked.”

Stay tuned, my colleagues, as we will discuss EQ-building techniques for the finale of this series about emotional intelligence in the dental workplace.

Some bonus material to consider include:

  • The Myers-Briggs assessment remains the most widely used and highly validated social and emotional functioning test. For those who may want to investigate this further for personal or professional reasons, click here.
  • The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) is the first published EQ ability-based test. It uses the Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scale (MEIS) to evaluate the four branches of emotional For anyone wishing to explore this test further, click here.

To read part one of the EQ series, click here. To read part three, click here.

Before you leave, check out the Today’s RDH self-study CE courses. All courses are peer-reviewed and non-sponsored to focus solely on pure education. Click here now.

Listen to the Today’s RDH Dental Hygiene Podcast Below:


  1. Goleman, D. (2000). Working with Emotional Intelligence. Bantam.
  2. Mayer, J.D., Brackett, M.A., Salvoey, P. (2004). Emotional Intelligence: Key Readings on the Mayer and Salovey Model. Dude Publishing.
Previous articleEmotional Intelligence In the Dental Workplace Part One: Self-Reflection
Next articleEmotional Intelligence in the Dental Workplace Part Three: Building EQ
Corina Hartley, RDH
Corina Hartley, RDH, is a Canadian Durham College graduate from the province of Ontario. Practicing dental hygiene since 2006, she has experienced the challenges of commuting to big cities, working in remote areas, and temping at various offices with differing ethnic backgrounds. While her family will always be her first love, the dental world is certainly the field she is passionate about, and writing about it brings her immense joy. Corina has a unique ability to relax the most phobic patient and calm an irate one with a smile, an understanding attitude, and a special sense of humor. She enjoys really getting to the heart of the matter with everything she does in life, and this is demonstrated by her witty writing abilities. Corina’s biggest desire is to share life with as many people as possible through close-up experiences, storytelling, and simply just being present.