Emotional Intelligence in the Lab

December 14, 2016

What’s Your “EQ?”

How Emotional Intelligence factors into your success as a Lab Leader

We’re always told to never let ‘em see you sweat, but sometimes, it’s ok to get emotional at work. This is not to say you should break down and cry at meetings, or that you need to hug each employee on their way out the door every night. As a Lab Leader, just letting your staff know you do have a vulnerable side can make your team stronger in the long run.

With laboratories (and the healthcare industry in general) currently amid a huge paradigm shift from volume to value-based measuring sticks, improving your “EQ” is a smart thing to do.

But what exactly is “emotional intelligence,” and how can you learn to use it effectively in the lab setting? Simply defined, emotional intelligence (a.k.a. emotional quotient or EQ) describes the ability to use emotions in such a way to guide behaviors, build a strong work culture and drive productivity to achieve results.

EQ isn’t a new concept. In his book “Emotional Intelligence — Why It Can Matter More Than IQ” published in 1995, author Daniel Goleman defines a five-pronged model that takes into account self-awareness, self-regulation, social skill, empathy and motivation, all of which are necessary components of successful leadership.

“Today, more so than any other, we need emotional intelligence because we’re actively reaching out to other departments and trying to make changes,” says Dr. Joe El-Khoury, Clinical Chemistry Laboratory co-director at Yale-New Haven Health. “We need to be emotionally aware of how we’re coming off to our peers and institutions to make those changes.”

Article highlights:

  • Emotional intelligence, or “EQ,” is the ability to use emotions in such a way to guide behaviors and drive productivity to achieve results.

  • EQ entails a five-pronged model that focuses on self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy and motivation.

  • As a Lab Leader, improving your EQ can generate positive, lasting effects in your work environment and in your relationships with employees and colleagues.

Contributing Lab Leaders

Richard Gentleman

Josephine Foranoce

Laboratory Director of Operations

Florida Hospital Altamonte

Joel Shu, M.D., MBA


Calvin Guyer

Executive coach, speaker, workshop facilitator


Joel Shu, M.D., MBA

Christina Nickel

Laboratory Quality Manager

Bryan Health, Lincoln NE

Les Duncan

Patty Eschliman

Laboratory Manager

Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital, Lincoln NE

Joel Shu, M.D., MBA

Joe El-Khoury

Co-Director, Clinical Chemistry Laboratory

Yale-New Haven Health



It was Socrates who first urged us to “know thyself,” sound advice that still holds true for modern-day lab leaders. Knowing what you’re good at and being honest about where your weaknesses lie can help you establish a sense of credibility among your peers, your colleagues and your staff, which in turn creates a culture of trust. And, it makes leading by example that much easier.

“You can’t manage yourself if you don’t know yourself,” says Josephine Foranoce, Laboratory Director of Operations at Florida Hospital Altamonte. “If you manage yourself well, your employees trust you. You’re the same person across multiple types of situations, and they know they can trust that. And if you’re trying to develop leadership qualities in others, you need to have this competency.”

Play to your strengths, but also acknowledge areas where you could benefit from a little extra growth. Pretending to know it all when you really don’t is a surefire way to immediately undermine the trust you’re striving to build with others. Solicit regular feedback from the people you work with, and take it to heart — both the praise and the constructive criticism.


This EQ tenet goes hand-in-hand with self-awareness. How do you react when the going gets tough? If you know yourself well, you’re already aware of what your triggers are, and you know how to keep a handle on your emotions when someone pushes those hot buttons.

“It’s how you respond that matters,” says Christina Nickel, Laboratory Quality Manager at Bryan Health in Lincoln Neb. “You learn your physical responses. You learn what the thought process is. When something goes wrong, the automatic thoughts just roll so fast. Learning how to stop that and really look at it objectively rather than panicking is critical.”

When an error does happen, opening a dialogue with the staff members involved instead of immediately blaming and shaming is a great technique for diffusing potentially volatile situations.

Maybe they’ve just been yelled at; maybe they had a patient die,” Nickel discusses. “There are all kinds of things that can happen. How are you going to respond? That interaction can make a huge difference. Imagine a ripple in a pond. If you help calm the waters, things are going to be ok. If you don’t, it's just going to create bigger waves.”

Social skills

Laboratorians aren’t traditionally considered the most socially adept of professional groups. In fact, they can often be quite shy, reserved and introverted. Yet, managers who find a way to break out of this shell and develop some solid social skills can find themselves in a much better position to lead from a more innate place. In other words, you learn to trust your feelings and let your gut guide you along.

“We want to believe that we make logical decisions based on data, but we don't; we make decisions based on feeling,” says executive coach, speaker and workshop facilitator Calvin Guyer. “It's a gut instinct. We rationalize the use of data, and then we make a decision based on some other feeling or measure.”

Learning to accurately “read” situations by picking up on social cues can also help you nip minor issues in the bud before they develop into major problems, and help you respond more appropriately when and if the situation does escalate.

“There’s that piece of being able to walk into your lab, just look around and know, ‘Ooh, we've got a problem. What's happening?’” Foranoce says. “Just being able to feel that intuitively is a skill. You can learn it, but not without self-awareness and self-regulation.”

Cultivating a good social-skill set may also include require becoming more social media-savvy, especially when you’re likely to be interacting with several different generations within the same workplace. For instance, the Millennials on your staff may prefer to text or electronic message you rather than speak by phone or face to face, something you may or may not be comfortable with. This might require you as a manager to be open to learning about new methods of communication.


In times of trouble and strife, the ability to see things from another person’s point of view can really go a long way in helping you gain EQ credibility. Empathizing is easier than you might think. Often, all you have to do is sit down, shut up and just listen.

“Sometimes it's not about sitting at the table and having a voice,” Guyer says. “Sometimes it's about just being in the room and understanding the dynamics of what everybody else is feeling.”

Taking time to really think about where employees or colleagues are coming from when they’re stressed out, mirroring their statements back to them, and showing support helps them feel understood. Which in the end, all comes back around to creating trust.

“People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” Foranoce adds. “We're human beings. Whether you work in the lab or not, this is what drives us.”


The best leaders excel at creating a sense of urgency that drives their teams forward, yet figuring out how to motivate your staff is often the most elusive element of emotional intelligence. Giving your employees plenty of positive support, delivering criticism in a constructive way, and providing plentiful opportunities for them to learn and grow are all good places to start.

“Your institution, your laboratory, has to invest in employee engagement,” Foranoce says. “You have to be creative and innovative in your own department to do that — get out of the lab and onto cross-departmental committees, and do lean processes with different departments. You should be emotionally intelligent enough to create those opportunities so employees don't want to leave.”

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