Veterinary medicine typically draws a particular personality type, usually those who possess a strong sense of compassion. While this is an asset to those animals in need, showing strong emotions is not always a benefit in a professional setting. When we allow our emotions to control our responses and behaviors, we inflict our feelings upon our co-workers causing a rippling chain reaction. Equally, when we suppress our feelings, we create a cold disconnect that manifests negatively in other forms. Neither extreme is beneficial to a functioning, successful practice with employees invested for the long haul. Penn Foster’s latest webinar discussed the importance of emotional intelligence in vet practices, and life in general, with industry leaders Shawn McVey and Dr. Annika VanNoy from Pathway Vet Alliance.
What is emotional intelligence?
There has long been divisive debate surrounding the concept of emotions and feelings in business. Some leaders believe feelings have no place in the workplace, while others find them an admirable trait, even an asset, particularly in fields like veterinary medicine. The ability to empathize with animals and individuals can often make pet owners feel more secure in the care being administered. Emotions are part of what makes us human and able to provide sensitive care to patients and their families, but they can also often lead to compassion fatigue. When these emotions are allowed to take control of our interactions, they take on a negative role in the workplace that can dominates the culture spanning multiple departments.
The balance between suppressing our emotions and permitting our emotions to control us is emotional intelligence, or EQ. As Pathway Vet Alliance’s Co-Founder and Chief Cultural Officer, Shawn McVey succinctly puts it, “EQ is the capacity to be aware of, in control of, and express your emotions. It hinges on the idea that we need to recognize, analyze, and acknowledge our feelings rather than reacting to them.” Being attuned to your own emotions can make us better team players, particularly in settings like the veterinary industry where cooperation is essential. McVey believes that possessing emotional intelligence “builds strong relationships by approaching them judiciously and with empathy.” These strong relationships create strong teams, which in turn forms the foundation for an organization that is well-equipped to provide the type of service and care people are looking for when it comes to the health and well-being of their animal family members. This is accomplished through streamlined practices, open and respectful communication, and collaboration.
How does emotional intelligence apply to the veterinary workplace?
Often, workplaces with a high turnover may also face a staff that struggles with emotional intelligence. According to the AVMA, 40 percent of technicians find that office dynamics and communication are the biggest obstacles they face while working, contributing to the high turnover rate in the field. This is something Dr. VanNoy experienced firsthand in her career. As an intellectually capable employee, she moved up the ranks quickly and was promoted to hospital administrator in only two years. Dr. VanNoy’s attitude, though, was contributing to an already dysfunctional work atmosphere. Specifically, her directness didn’t sit well with co-workers. “Sean finally told me that directness without empathy is just being mean.”
In the veterinary field, this disharmony among employees can impact clients and their pets. A client’s impression and trust in your practice can be damaged if they witness unprofessional behavior. Similarly, animals are behaviorally perceptive and are likely to experience anxiety or distress when in stressful environments. For Dr. VanNoy, once she analyzed and changed her behavior, harmony was achieved at the hospital and her own opportunities grew. She now oversees the Learning and Change Department at Pathway Vet Alliance and facilitates national workshops to train over 3,000 veterinary professionals in emotional intelligence.
How do we build emotional intelligence?
Emotions serve as a roadmap indicating where we are in any given time or circumstance, offering us guidance. The goal, according to McVey, should be to move on from dumping those feelings and emotions to discussing and expressing them. When hiring or developing your veterinary workforce, there are specific characteristics that indicate a high EQ. The four elements, McVey says, that make up EQ are:
- Self-Awareness. Self-awareness is knowing how and why you feel a particular way, so you can accurately identify specific feelings in real-time and respond to them appropriately.
- Self-Management. Self-management is all about impulse control, adaptability, optimism, and transparency.
- Social Awareness. As important as it is to be aware of yourself, it’s equally as important to be aware of others’ feelings, reading their emotional currents and responding accordingly. This is empathy. Observe your regular interactions with specific individuals. Learn how they express themselves and what their tendencies and emotions are during these encounters.
- Relationship Management. Once you’ve developed social awareness, you will have the tools to manage relationships in their entirety. You’ll learn about others’ behaviors and motivations which will enable you to manage these relationships more constructively, leading to more positive outcomes.
Individuals with these skills can go on to create a culture of emotional intelligence at your practice. If these attributes are found in candidates prior to hiring, much conflict can be avoided, saving time and resources, allowing you and your practice to focus attention on other areas, thus improving performance across the board.
Gain more insight into developing and embracing emotional intelligence
Learn more about developing and embracing emotional intelligence at your veterinary practice with insight from our experts. Watch the discussion here.