Why you need emotional intelligence

This vital soft skill is one every veterinarian should master

By Phil Zeltzman, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, CVJ

Preamble: In case you can never keep it straight in your head (pun intended), left-brain people are more logical and analytical. In contrast, right-brain people are more intuitive and thoughtful. So, it’s natural for left-brain readers to brush off such “soft skills” as emotional intelligence or emotional quotient (EI or EQ) as useless fluff. Sadly, they would miss out on some key insights in what makes the (veterinary) world go round.

Emotional intelligence is a skillset that anyone in any life stage and in any position can improve. Increasing your EQ helps not only professionally but also personally. Why on earth would you want to increase your EQ? Here are three reasons based on various studies:

  • 90 percent of top performers have a high EQ
  • 58 percent of your job performance relies on EQ
  • People with higher EQ earn significantly more

The book “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” defines EQ as “the ability to identify, consider and control emotions in oneself and to recognize them in others, brought on by a combination of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.”

This can be explained easier as the ability to guide your reactions and interactions by recognizing not only your own emotional responses and behaviors, but also those of the people around you. People often allow their reasoning ability to be hijacked by their emotions. Responding to your emotions is unavoidable and natural.

EQ gives you the ability to reroute your thinking, deviate from the initial emotional response and provide you with an action based on reason. Fret not. Unlike their IQ, anybody can improve their EQ. It’s not an overnight process, but it is a worthy one. Let’s review the four major parts of EQ as explained in the definition from “Emotional Intelligence 2.0.”

Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to understand your emotions in real time, including where your emotions stem from and how you behave because of them.

To improve self-awareness, you have to stop thinking of emotions as right or wrong and good or bad. They just are. Acknowledge how you react to different emotions and how it affects those around you. Embrace the uncomfortable. It’s natural to shy away from negative feelings, but to increase your EQ, you must understand all feelings—even the not-so-pleasant ones.

Pay attention to your physical cues. Strong emotions can increase your heart rate or cause sweating. Moods, good or bad, are only temporary; either one can lead to poor decisions. Removing your current mood from the equation can keep you from making an irrational decision. Check yourself often. Hold yourself accountable.

Want a reason to get some “me” time? Keep a journal, describing specific situations and the emotions they cause. Relate to emotions in books, shows or movies. It’s easier to understand your emotions if you have a relatable example.

Leaders who excel at self-awareness are able to speak candidly about their emotions and what guides them. They find criticism constructive. Increasing your EQ will allow you to take a breath, reevaluate emotions that may fuel your reaction and control them in order to make a calm and collected decision.

Self-Management

Once you’ve identified your emotions, you must learn how to manage them. Self-management entails managing your emotions in order to control your reactions. It can be beneficial to obtain opinions from those not involved or emotionally invested.

Every interaction is a learning opportunity, even those blood-boiling ones. View them as such. Journal entries should compare your emotions and your reasons. Take care of yourself. Your brain cannot respond when you are not taken care of. Get rest, exercise and breathe. Oxygen is your friend in delicate situations.

Make your goals public. This will help with accountability and enable you to ask for assistance. Great self-managers are not only able to control their emotions and impulses, but are also transparent. Being open about your beliefs and what fuels them can earn you the respect of those you guide. Keeping emotions in check can also help you adapt to different scenarios, including being asked five questions by five people about five different things.

Before making an important decision, take a step back, count to 10, walk away or sleep on it. Set time aside to work on it. Visualize your success. The best managers never stop trying to improve, and this is a great way to get better at making decisions based on reason rather than emotions.

Social Awareness

Now comes the challenging part: social awareness. Shockingly, it’s not all about you. Shift your focus to others, and start to analyze their emotions. Watch their body language. Identify the appropriate time and place to discuss sensitive topics.

During meetings, take fewer notes. Note taking will lead you to miss many valuable emotional cues or reactions. Create a safe space for people to discuss topics without your intervention. When possible, take yourself out of the interaction and just observe for a few minutes to better help you understand the environment.

Relationship Management

Developing these skills culminates in relationship management improvement. After working on the other three components, you can build and maintain positive relationships. Make sure you show appreciation and compliment others when warranted. If you make an executive decision, explain your reasons. Feedback is important. You can agree to disagree. This is not about you or the other person being right. The idea is to move forward in a healthy way to complete a common goal.

Even after you’ve developed a proper working relationship, you may still face difficult conversations. Avoiding uncomfortable situations will only worsen the situation. Make sure the person you are dealing with knows that you understand their opinion. Start from a place of agreement. Ask the other person for clarification of the issue. If you are unable to agree, at least agree to reach an outcome that both parties can accept. Follow up and revisit as needed.

A Practical Example

Let’s apply these concepts to a real life situation. When a team member calls off work, it undoubtedly affects everyone in a veterinary hospital, regardless of their position. Of course, some situations are unavoidable, but regardless, they can be infinitely frustrating.

Think of the coworker who is constantly coming in late and/or leaving early for personal, nonemergency reasons. This behavior puts a strain on the entire staff.

In our scenario, you are the manager, and you are at home. An employee would like to leave early for a nail appointment. Another team member calls you at home to discuss the situation. Allowing the manicure will leave the staff short-handed and will require overtime by another employee.

Your initial reaction may be one of frustration. You may have grown tired of the (recurrent) behavior and you haven’t had a day off in a while. However, your emotions should have no bearing on how the situation is handled. Take a moment to calm down and regroup.

Calmly decide how to cover the schedule for this one time, whether it be allowing overtime or advising the employee she is not allowed to leave early. While doing so, show understanding of the other person’s reasons. Maybe she is planning an event and running out of time.

Later on, set up a time to discuss the behavior. If it is a habit that does not fit the needs of the practice, then it should be addressed. Don’t avoid having this conversation—it will only worsen the issue. When addressing this employee, don’t make it personal. Let the person know what is and what is not acceptable, and why. Also keep the other employees’ concerns in mind. Find middle ground if possible. Then, follow up regularly to make sure the mutually agreed-upon resolution continues long-term.


Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur. His traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. Visit his website at DrPhilZeltzman.com and follow him at facebook.com/DrZeltzman

AJ Debiasse, a technician in Stroudsburg, Pa., contributed to this article. 

Originally published in the May 2017 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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