Emotional Intelligence: Five Ways to Have Better Interactions and Improve Your Work Life


These simple tools can help you respond effectively when you feel emotionally hijacked by difficult people or circumstances.

Fam Pract Manag. 2020 Sep-Oct;27(5):9-13.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.

It's 5:15 p.m. on a Friday as you enter the exam room to see your last patient of a very long and busy day. The appointment was scheduled for 4:45, but your office has been running behind because of an EHR problem and an employee who called in sick. Your child's soccer game starts at 6:00, so you're hoping this last visit will be quick. You skipped lunch to try to catch up, and you plan to finish your charting later tonight, if you have any energy left.

When you enter the exam room, you find Ms. Carter, a generally healthy, established patient in her 30s, sitting with her arms and ankles crossed. She won't look you in the eye. You take a deep breath and begin to apologize for running behind, even though it's not your fault. But she cuts you off: “I'm going to be late for a dinner date, so I just need you to write me a prescription,” she says.

You're taken aback, but try to reply calmly, “Well, let's see what the problem is, and I'm sure we can get you out of here in no time.”

You begin to ask about her symptoms, which suggest a urinary tract infection, but Ms. Carter is terse with her replies and insists again that she just needs a prescription. So, after several attempts to engage her, you give up.

“Fine,” you say, as you open the EHR and order the prescription, typing furiously. “You're all set.”

She quickly gathers her things and exits the room. Although she didn't thank you for helping her, you call out, “You're welcome! Have a great weekend.”


  • When we feel “emotionally hijacked” by difficult people or situations, we tend to have less perspective and poorer judgment, while making more errors.

  • To improve your responses and interactions, start building your emotional intelligence skills.

  • Several simple tools can help, including pausing to process your feelings before you respond and getting curious about what's really causing the other person's behavior.


Most everyone has had an interaction at work that they regret, but for physicians the stakes and professional expectations are higher. Accepting partial responsibility for the health of another human being is a tremendous undertaking. As a physician, you see people at their emotional worst and most vulnerable, and you share space with people who have demanding jobs that do not always offer immediate results or rewards. You are often asked to do more work in less time and with fewer staff, and the work is becoming more demanding as the severity and prevalence of chronic disease continues to increase. It is challenging enough to do good work when you feel you are at your best. It is even more challenging when you are not in control of your emotions.

So how can physicians navigate tense and even hostile situations,


Dr. Eull is the director of well-being for the Academic Affairs department of Advocate Aurora Health in Milwaukee. She speaks and writes about physician wellness and is the author of Well to Do: A Guide to Take Charge, Set Goals, and Improve Your Health.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.


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