Why is emotional intelligence important to my career?

As a caregiver or social worker, your career requires you to be as professional as in any other career, yet you’re constantly dealing with emotive and sensitive issues and situations.

Your emotions play a major part in your daily work life, in the sense that it’s important to both use and contain them in order to achieve the best outcomes. To put it another way, in this profession it’s particularly crucial to balance emotion with reason. This is where emotional intelligence comes in. It is your emotional intelligence that enables you to identify, acknowledge and deal with your emotions appropriately and professionally.

Here are some tips for building up and using your emotional intelligence to manage individual cases and your career as a whole.

Accept there will be times when you feel emotional

In order to be prepared to manage your emotions, you must first acknowledge that you have emotions. Be aware that certain cases and outcomes will trigger emotions such as anxiety, trauma and even grief. Once you admit you’re capable of feeling these emotions in a work context, you’re already in a better position to deal with them.

Celebrate “positive” emotion

Just as you will experience some of the “negative” emotions mentioned above, there will also be times when your work with service users leads to more “positive” emotions for both you and the service user—emotions such as relief, satisfaction and even joy. Allow yourself to feel and enjoy these emotions and even to share the moment with your client, just not to the extent that you compromise your professionalism or position of trust.

Know that compassion is not a bad thing

Not all responses have to be “practical”, in the traditional sense of the word, to be productive. Compassion for a service user supplements your professional desire and duty to do your best for them. You can be compassionate without getting too emotionally involved. It’s all about being aware of what you’re saying and doing in relation to what you’re feeling.

Be sensitive to others’ emotions

Emotional intelligence is about being in tune with others’ emotions as well as your own. Whether it’s a client or colleague, learn how to read an individual’s emotions and give them support or space as appropriate. For instance, if you sense a sudden change in someone’s usual body language, keep a subtle eye on them to work out what’s different about the body language and whether that difference is positive or negative and then respond accordingly.

Separate work life from home life

Any actor will tell you that it’s hard for them to leave a particularly harrowing role behind on the set when they head home. For a social care professional this is so much more the case, considering you’re dealing with real life and not fiction. If you do fall into the trap of taking your work home with you in your mind, it will gradually wear you down and you’ll eventually lose control of the emotions you’ve tried so hard to channel positively.

Set a clear division between work and home by not taking any case files or work-related documents home with you—you probably shouldn’t be doing this anyway, for confidentiality and data protection reasons. Also, plan to do something completely different to work each evening and weekend. Go out with your friends, read an engrossing novel, call up your parents or a sibling, play tennis, go to the gym, watch a film, have a long bath—just do anything that will help you switch off from the office.

By Nisa Chitakasem, Founder of Position Ignition, a careers consultancy dedicated to helping you with your career choices and challenges. We’re passionate about helping you to find the right career path for you – whether it involves finding a more rewarding career, making a career change, figuring out the right career plan or being creative about career direction.

For free advice, guidance and information on careers visit the Position Ignition Career Blog or find us on Twitter @PosIgnition or Facebook