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During the COVID-19 Pandemic, MSLs with a High Level of Emotional Intelligence Will Bring Even More Value to their Customers.

On The Medical Science Liaison Society’s 13th MSL Insights Weekly Show, MSL Society CEO Samuel Dyer, Douglas Yau, National Director of Oncology Field Medical Affairs at Sanofi Genzyme, and Rob Consalvo, Director of Strategic Commercial Engagement at H1 discussed the importance and power of emotional intelligence for MSLs engaging with KOLs and internal stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The entire show can be heard here and the key takeaways from the show are summarized below.  

And if you appreciate my summary, do let me know. Enjoy!


What is Emotional Intelligence?  

In a recent survey conducted by The MSL Society, MSLs and MSL managers overwhelmingly agreed that having a high level of emotional intelligence is critical to the success of an MSL. 

Douglas Yau referred to Daniel Goleman’s definition of emotional intelligence, or EQ, as the combination of five pillars: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Rob Consalvo added as well as a sixth pillar, global awareness. 

Figure 1. Responses to a survey conducted by The Medical Science Liaison Society: Is a high level of emotional intelligence crucial to the success of an MSL. N = 321 MSLs + MSL Managers. 


The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Raised the Need for Emotional Intelligence 

  • MSLs, internal colleagues, and KOLs are all juggling new realities as they adjust to working remotely from home, telemedicine, zoom calls, and juggling multiple work and family responsibilities. Motivation and the ability to self-regulate help all of us adapt to changing circumstances. 
  • Being able to “read the situation” and to empathize is critical when engaging with another individual both internally in the organization and externally with KOLs and other customers. 
  • Social skills and awareness of what challenges another person is experiencing or feeling are always important. These skills matter even more in today’s environment, all the more so, as the majority of our interactions shift from face-to-face to virtual platforms. 
  • When engaging with international stakeholders, MSLs need to heighten their sense of global awareness to recognize that different countries are going to be in different stages of the pandemic and may handle the situation differently from the way we have handled it.  


Empathy Is at the Heart of Building Relationships with Internal and External Stakeholders  

  • It’s much easier to be empathetic when you understand who a person is. For that reason, MSLs should, as always, do their homework before entering a conversation with a KOL. Taking it a step further, MSLs can start the conversation by uncovering KOLs’ needs and concerns 
  • A KOL who sees that you care about them and their patients will be more willing to participate in the conversation. Asking the KOL what has changed for them during the pandemic is a good place to start. For example, has their practice decreased, are they safe if they are going into a clinic or hospital, how has the need to treat and manage their patients virtually affected patient care, and so on.
  • MSLs also need to look for verbal and visual cues. Is the KOL distracted, is someone else in the background? On a personal level, do they have children or loved ones at home, has their spouse lost their job, is anyone in their circle sick?  
  • Empathy builds trust. For this reason, MSLs who begin conversations by acknowledging and addressing the KOL’s reality first will build stronger, more robust relationships in the long-term. 
  • All of the above can, and should, be applied to internal colleagues and stakeholders as well. MSL managers who can understand their team members’ barriers and minimize them, create flexible deliverables, and show empathy for their team members’ situation will build stronger teams. 
  • On a practical note, virtual coffee breaks, where teams can talk about any topic except work, are great for developing relationships within the team in a virtual environment.  


Dealing with ZOOM Fatigue is Part of Our Shared Reality 

  • Our customers might be spending most of their days on virtual calls, telemedicine, etc., and, like the rest of us, are likely experiencing some degree of zoom fatigue. A few simple strategies can help ensure that you and your customers connect in a productive way. 
  • Be clear: set an agenda and be clear about your objectives. 
  • Be kind and flexible about their schedule; offer a different time to meet or a shorter call. 
  • Get creative: use their network and explore the possibility that you might be able to get the information you seek from another person on their team such as study nurse or a medical fellow.  
  • Tap into empathy: For those KOLs who struggle with virtual platforms, explore what the reasons are. If it is a training need, look for ways to facilitate that. If it is due to an unwilling ness to change, start by acknowledging that their feelings are reasonable, and work up from there, perhaps connecting them with their peers who have adopted the technology.  


Practical Points for Improving Your EQ 

  • Stay curious: Continue exploring what brought you to this webinar and/or summary. 
  • Stay open to change: maintain or develop a growth mindset. 
  • Validate your EQ with your peers or supervisors. 
  • Teach emotional intelligence to others. 



All information is summarized from the Medical Science Liaison Society’s MSL Insights Weekly Show on the topic of “The Importance of Emotional Intelligence for Effective MSL-KOL Engagements,” which aired on August 14, 2020.



Darina Frieder, B.Sc., Ph.D. – Founder and Writer at Science Nerd for Hire

Darina Frieder is an experienced Medical Affairs professional and is currently a Medical Science Liaison at UCB Pharma. She also runs her own medical writing business, Science Nerd for Hire. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband, 2 kids, and 1 temperamental cat. She is passionate about many things, a few of which are gardening, creating delicious meals for family and friends, and reading as many books as she can.