What's your emotional intelligence?

Jul 01, 2007

The laugh test
Have you ever worked in a practice where doctors or team members got so upset they threw things? When I ask this question at lectures, more than 50 percent of audience members raise their hand. In any other profession, this is called assault. In veterinary medicine, we call this a bad day.

But there's hope, and it's a tool called emotional intelligence. It's the key to understanding yourself, your doctors, and your team members. It helps you make the leap from surviving the workday to thriving and reaching new goals.

What is emotional intelligence? It's the ability to say the right thing at the right time in the right situation without coaching. It means you're able to express what you're thinking and feeling appropriately at all times.

First, understand others

Check yourself
When I first started working in the veterinary industry, I felt frustrated by how often people cried. When I approached team members to offer coaching or resolve a conflict, their responses were sometimes emotionally charged. I was shocked.

I reminded myself there were times in my own life where I wasn't able to have real, or what I call fierce, conversations. So I started thinking about what would attract people to a job where you work with sick animals, you clean up poo and pee, and people often don't communicate well. Who does that? Me, you say!

Here's the part that stinks: People with low self-esteem are sometimes attracted to these difficult environments. (Remember, I only talk about what I know, and I know a lot about this. I lived through, and I am living through, this.) So when I confronted team members with low self-esteem, they would experience what I call shame attacks. When I'd say, "Gosh, it would have been great if you could have been on time today," I'd get a little boy or little girl response. They didn't hear, "You were late, and I need you to be on time." They heard, "You're worthless."

Take the test
I've been conducting research for my doctoral degree to uncover why some people in veterinary practices suffer from low self-esteem. I'm interviewing team members who've been in the profession longer than five years. So far, I've interviewed more than 100 team members, and many have shared histories that included traumatic events, including abuse and abandonment.

My point: You work with many people in your practice with different backgrounds. When team members react negatively, consider the idea that sometimes their behavior has more to do with how they feel about themselves than what you've said. Now I'm not saying you should look around your practice and assume anyone who doesn't respond appropriately has low self-esteem. I'm just asking you to consider the people you're talking to may respond based on other events in their lives, and these reasons may include abuse, divorce, the loss of a child, a broken relationship, or many other causes. It's not your job to confront these people, but it may help you understand your co-workers' behavior a little better.