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Midwives’ social and emotional competence key to quality maternity care

Midwives social and emotional skills matter – they matter to women and families, and they matter when working in a maternity care team.  Social and emotional competence starts with self-awareness, identifying one’s own reactions to situations and people, then developing the ability to widen the gap between our reaction and our response. Managing and self-regulating the emotional response when communicating with others is key to sustaining positive relationships – including when conflict arises. But empathy, self-regulation and conflict resolution skills may not come naturally and are rarely taught in undergraduate midwifery programs (Hastie & Barclay, 2021).

Interactions within the healthcare team

Positive workplace culture and effective teams are built by staff who demonstrate social and emotional competence (Hughes & Albino, 2017; Black et al., 2019). When teamwork is compromised, often through negative workplace culture, it harms mothers and babies (Rönnerhag et al., 2019), and leads to staff burnout and high turnover (Catling et al., 2017). An Australian national survey of midwifery workplace culture largely described poor communication, lack of leadership and support, and bullying (Catling et al., 2020). Teamwork function is undermined by poor communication between team members, an absence of shared goals, or lack of social and emotional skills (Best & Kim, 2019).

Skills required for teamwork can be taught

PhD candidate Carolyn Hastie recently examined whether teaching and assessing teamwork skills prepares undergraduate midwifery students to be effective team members when they graduate (Hastie & Barclay, 2021 – see article here). The researchers analysed interviews with 19 early career midwives who had learnt, practised, and assessed each other on teamwork skills developed through group assignments in their Bachelor of Midwifery program.

Teamwork central to practice

The research found that in their first year, midwifery students did not appreciate how central teamwork was to their future practice as a midwife (Hastie & Barclay, 2021). Participants described that group assignments were hard and tiresome, and some wrote off social and emotional skills as less important and “fluffy”. However, as new graduates they reflected that teamwork at university had prepared them for teamwork in the hospital setting.

Conflict inevitable but manageable

The participants acknowledged that conflict was an inevitable part of midwifery work (Hastie & Barclay, 2021). Participants found they had learnt how not to take rude or challenging behaviour personally. They reflected that they were more likely to see the situation from the other person’s viewpoint. This stance helped them to regulate their emotional reactions and to respond in a more considered and constructive way.

Advocating for self and others

These midwives used strategies they had learnt to have courageous conversations and address issues early, with one stating “rather than letting it fester, nip it in the bud”. When interacting with colleagues, that could mean asking direct questions (e.g., what was your rationale?) – or providing an alternative viewpoint (i.e., politely disagreeing, and explaining why). These skills are particularly important in terms of speaking up for safety and advocating for women.

Recommendations for practice

Midwives can strengthen their social and emotional competence by increasing their self-awareness. This might include reflecting on difficult interactions in practice through journaling or debriefing with a trusted colleague, participating in clinical supervision, or learning and practising mindfulness. Maternity services should consider the social and emotional competencies managers and midwives need to contribute to an effective team and positive workplace culture – and which steps would increase staff capability. Social and emotional competence matters to safe, quality maternity care.

References 

Best, J. A., & Kim, S. (2019). The FIRST curriculum: Cultivating speaking up behaviors in the clinical learning environment. Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 50 (8) (2019), pp. 355-361. https://doi.org.10.3928/00220124-20190717-06

Black, J., Kim, K., Rhee, S., Wang, K., & Sakchutchawan, S. (2019). Self-efficacy and emotional intelligence. Team Performance Management: An International Journal, 25(1/2), 100-119. https://doi.org/10.1108/tpm-01-2018-0005

Catling, C. J., Reid, F., & Hunter, B. (2017).  Australian midwives’ experiences of their workplace culture. Women and Birth, 30(2) (2017), pp. 137-145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2016.10.001

Catling, C., & Rossiter, C. (2020). Midwifery workplace culture in Australia: A national survey of midwives. Women Birth, 33(5), 464-472. doi:10.1016/j.wombi.2019.09.008

Hastie, C. R., & Barclay, L. (2021). Early career midwives’ perception of their teamwork skills following a specifically designed, whole-of-degree educational strategy utilising groupwork assessments. Midwifery, 102997. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2021.102997

Hughes, M., & Albino, J. (2017). Assessing emotional and social intelligence for building effective hospital teams. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 20(4), 208-221. https://doi.org/10.1037/mgr0000058

Rönnerhag, M., Severinsson, E., Haruna, M., & Berggren, I. (2019). A qualitative evaluation of healthcare professionals’ perceptions of adverse events focusing on communication and teamwork in maternity care. Journal of Advanced Nursing75(3), 585–593. https://doi.org/10.1111/jan.13864