Editor’s note: “Power Skills” is a 12-part series with one article posted monthly exploring the nontechnical tools today’s health care facilities professionals need to succeed and excel in their career goals. See more articles from the series here

Pascal’s law tells us that force applied at one point on a liquid will spread equally to all other points of that liquid. This is a foundational rule in hydraulic engineering, and those dynamics have large and small examples all over health care, whether it is operating the shovels in the giant earthmovers constructing a new hospital wing or pressing down on the plunger of that tiny syringe administering medicine to a patient. 

Teams are also a force, and a powerful but sometimes fragile tool when seeking to accomplish an outcome. A team’s power is generated by bottling individual talents and capacities together into a productivity machine that collectively achieves more through the sum of its parts than any one individual team member can produce. A team’s fragility, on the other hand, is born from the fact that teams are made up of individual people, and people bring all their “people-ness” into their work experiences. 

Unlike our soon-to-be robot overlords, people are social and emotional creatures. We’ve all seen how certain human aspects of ourselves impact the functioning of the teams we are on. Think about what happens to team effectiveness when the always jovial team member comes in with a bad case of the “Monday blues.” Or when the team’s proverbial Oscar the Grouch wins $10,000 on a scratch-off and walks in smiling like Big Bird. Those pressures, positive or negative, follow Pascal’s law just like the liquid in a hydraulic pump and apply their pressure equally throughout the team. 

Being able to understand how the emotions and social interactions of team members, and yourself, impact others is called social and emotional intelligence. Working to improve your social and emotional intelligence is an essential “power skill” to effective teamwork in whatever role you play.

Social and emotional intelligence gained notice and popularity with the work of author, psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman, who literally wrote the book on “Emotional Intelligence.” Dr. Goleman breaks down social and emotional intelligence into four components, with a number of subcomponents for each.

It starts with self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to understand your strengths and weaknesses. The subcomponent in this area is emotional self-awareness, which is the ability to recognize your emotions and understand their impact on others. A Harvard Business Review article on social/emotional intelligence highlights that organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich found that 95% of people think they’re self-aware, but the reality is that only 10% to 15% of people actually are self-aware. So, 80% to 85% of the population  (me included) has some work to do on understanding how our actions and emotions impact those around us. How well do you recognize your own emotional state and its impact on those around you? Some tools that can help improve self-awareness include utilizing 360-feedback techniques, journaling and meditation.  

The second component is self-management. Self-management is that ability to manage your emotions regardless of positive or negative stimuli. Self-management’s subcomponents include emotional self-control, adaptability, achievement orientation and positive outlook. Everyone has emotions, and you can’t control the physiological reaction that emotions represent. What this component is asking you to do is to manage your response to those emotions. How do you react when something goes wrong?   How do you adapt to the emerging circumstance? Do you continue to orient yourself toward the goal you hope to achieve? Can you maintain a positive outlook on your activities in spite of negative stimuli?  There are lots of tools that can help with self-management, including taking a deep breath at the first sign of anger or anxiety, or giving yourself a pep talk when the going gets tough (and the tough get going, as the esteemed Mr. Ocean reminded us those many years ago).   

The next component in social and emotional intelligence is social awareness. Social awareness is the ability to recognize other people’s emotions and the dynamics those emotions have on others. The subcomponents are empathy and organizational awareness. Can you internalize an understanding of the emotions those on your team are feeling at a given moment? Can you synthesize that empathy across the team and understand how the team’s collective emotional state will impact team performance? 

There are lots of ways to improve your social awareness. Some are internal actions, like paying attention to a person’s tone of voice when speaking and the nonverbal signals they are communicating. Others are more external but still personal, like asking questions and being an active listener, or acknowledging and empathizing with your team members. Others are group actions, like paying attention to the overall team mood and working to ensure a productive and positive work environment. Many of us have personally experienced the power of a team pizza party or a shared tray of sweets in the midst of a stressful week.

The final component of social and emotional intelligence is relationship management. While the other components have been internally focused, this component lies deep within the bonds that make or break teams. 

Relationship management focuses on how you interact with those around you. Its subcomponents include influence, coaching/mentoring, conflict management, teamwork and inspirational leadership. How does your choice of words and deeds influence the thoughts and actions of others? How do you mentor those on your team through the lens of your own areas of expertise? How willing are you to accept and learn from the mentorship of others? How do you manage the inevitable conflicts that come from working on teams, where you may share similar goals but diverging ideas on how to achieve them? How do you work within a team setting in general? And how do you inspire those around you to want to continue to work together on the team to achieve your shared goals? 

Tools to help improve relationship management include fostering a team culture of listening, praising others when they take positive and impactful actions, as well as setting clear expectations and ensuring understanding of those expectations across the team. 

Remember, earthmovers break down sometimes. Syringes break sometimes. We can’t repeal Pascal’s law, but we can remind ourselves that we are humans, and sometimes, even with the best of intentions, we succumb to that equal pressure of a situation and misread a nonverbal cue or fail to fully empathize with the person sitting next to us. 

If these techniques were easy to implement, 80% to 85% of us would have enough self-awareness to cut ourselves and others some slack in appreciating the fact that working in teams is crucial to our success and survival, but that sometimes teams struggle to work productively together. That’s OK. But making an effort to improve your social and emotional intelligence will go a long way toward improving your team’s ability to move earth and heal what ails.       

Adam Bazer, MPD, is director of education at the American Society for Health Care Engineering.