Emotional Intelligence in Veterinary Medicine, Part 3: Understanding and Managing Relationships with Others

Thank you for joining us for Part 3 of our Emotional Intelligence Series!

“You can only control what you do, you cannot control what other people do or say.” These words leave my mouth on a daily basis. As we discussed in part two of this series, we can do a lot to be aware of ourselves and manage our emotions, but that is only half the battle. Understanding others and managing our relationships with them is at the heart of what veterinary practices are calling “culture.” When emotional intelligence improves, so does relationship satisfaction, and people tend to be more positive when interacting with others.

According to a 2016 study by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), 50% of technicians stated that their greatest challenges at work are office dynamics and team communication. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few strategies to help you navigate tricky team dynamics and communications:

#1: Be more empathetic than sympathetic

Sympathy is all about you and how you feel, while empathy shifts the focus to the other person. Empathy is about showing someone you understand what they are feeling. It’s the foundation for building relationships. Rarely do we want people to feel sorry for us, but it is comforting to know someone can truly understand how we feel.

Here are some ways to offer empathy rather than sympathy in a highly emotional situation:

  • State that you recognize the other person is in an emotional situation. 
  • Show understanding of how the person might be feeling.
  • If possible, relate to the situation and convey that you’ve felt similar feelings.
  • Ask how the person wants to move forward and if you can help in any way.
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#2: Seek understanding

When a difficult situation occurs, it’s hard not to play the blame game. But when someone places blame, it triggers the other person to go into defense mode. Instead of passing the blame, get curious. Seek understanding by asking open-ended questions:

  • What was your perspective on this situation?
  • Why was that upsetting to you?
  • What was your goal in this situation?

#3: Use active listening techniques when talking with others

Have you ever realized that someone had been talking, but you had no idea what was said? When I teach communication tactics I play a listening game. I read three sentences out loud, starting with the shortest and simplest and moving to the longer and more challenging sentences. After hearing the sentences, you would try to write exactly what I had said. People always get a great laugh out of what they write down. Some people even think I cheat them because they knew they heard me say something different. The truth is we can be terrible listeners!

To actively listen is to listen and then summarize what was said without blame or judgment. This shows someone that you have truly heard them and is a way of building trust and respect.

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#4: Use the communication formula

Communication is a difficult skill that few have mastered. There are so many dynamics that come into healthy communication. Wrangling in emotions so you can communicate effectively is a lot like herding cats. But, if you can take the first step by managing your emotions, you are one step closer to your goal.

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The healthy communication formula:

Step 1: Address someone’s feelings using the active listening technique.

Step 2: Address your feelings using “I” statements.

Step 3: Take responsibility for your end of the miscommunication.

Step 4: Offer a solution or ask for feedback on how to move forward.

Rules:  You cannot use blame, judgment, or opinions during communication.

This tool is harder to use than it seems. Before taking on this style of communication will seem like a good idea, you must process your emotion. Do so by writing down everything you want to say without any filter. Then, review what you wrote and pick out only the facts relevant to the situation. It takes practice to automatically communicate in this way, so if you need to bring notes with you, do it! It will only help you stay on track and remember the steps.

Using these tools will increase your emotional intelligence and will help improve your company’s culture. In the beginning, the process will be hard and slow, but, with practice, you might just become the best cat wrangler of all time.

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Kristina is an Account Manager with VSS, a leadership coach, and a Certified Veterinary Technician. She and her goofy giraffe/dog named Wesson love to take long bike rides together. Kristina also enjoys drawing veterinary cartoons, photography, yoga, and traveling the world. Professionally, Kristina is passionate about the subject of leadership and well-being.