Veterinarians: Tune up your emotional gears

Veterinarians: Tune up your emotional gears

Are you just painfully grinding through your days? It's time to put your clinical knowledge aside and start retooling your brain for a new kind of intelligence that can help—the emotional kind.
Jun 01, 2012

Imagine if you could vaccinate your practice against some of the most common and infectious small-business diseases: low morale, staff conflict, and dwindling profits. Would you do it? Of course you would!

Building a respectful, harmonious, and fun workplace is one of the best ways to generate greater employee satisfaction and, in turn, greater revenue. So how do you create that positive experience for clients and co-workers alike? The experts agree: Your success has less to do with your IQ and more to do with something called "EQ."


EQ, which stands for "emotional quotient," measures a person's ability to interact with others effectively and to handle challenges without being ruled by emotions.

Becoming an emotionally intelligent leader is more pressing than ever for two reasons. First, there's a trend in veterinary medicine toward consolidation and collaboration. This means fewer one-doctor practices on the horizon and more practices banding together to form minicorporations of 12 to 15 practices. And to be successful, veterinarians and team members will need to communicate and collaborate at a higher level with more people than ever before.

Second, as employee wages and client expenditures increase, you'll draw a different kind of employee and a different kind of client to your practice. And both of these groups will expect a higher level of communication.

If you're questioning whether you really need to transform into a high-EQ professional, consider your current comfort level: Are you burned out and sick of the conflict in your practice? Maybe the economy has taken a bite out of profits and you need to build a service-focused team to meet growing client demands. Do you wonder how to unify your team to take your business to the next level? If so, consider this path to building a safe and respectful practice environment.


Leaders who are unskilled in emotional intelligence can brew toxic environments. In these circumstances, employees are untrusting, feel off-balance, and find it hard to focus on their work. They become hijacked by others' dysfunctions and lose their focus on client and patient care. You might notice a you-vs.-me mentality instead of a collaborative problem-solving approach. A team living in this chaos can't function as a complex operating system because individuals aren't working together effectively.

Toxicity is draining on the mind and soul, and it saps the joy right out of your practice. Your work is supposed to be about protecting animals and wowing clients. But if the team's focus is diverted by hurt feelings and frustration, it's impossible to achieve your highest level of service.

Veterinarians with low EQs often respond to difficult situations in one of two ways. They may act out their emotions—such as anger—either subtly or loudly. This will cause the entire team to clamp up and emotionally shut down and send individuals into an emotional spiral. Or doctors may keep everything bottled up, get frustrated, and decide that if they want something done, they must do it themselves. These owners don't use team members to the fullest extent. In essence, many veterinarians are stymied when they interact with others, and then the practice's systems break down.

I often see what I call "bottleneck" at the top. Because the owner is unable to communicate with staff members, they never build real relationships at work. As a result, everything has to go through the owner to be approved, and the clinic winds up a dictatorship rather than a team effort.

Many owners are caught in a Catch-22 because they lack emotional intelligence. They trust staff members enough to share their concerns, but they don't trust them enough to share their weaknesses and to work toward self-improvement. It doesn't help that many team members have their own flaws and emotional baggage.

Click here to determine your practice's emotional intelligence climate.


As part of my doctoral degree research, I'm working to uncover why some people in veterinary practices suffer from low self-esteem. So far I've interviewed more than 100 team members who have been in the profession longer than five years, and many have histories that include traumatic events, including abuse and abandonment by their employers and co-workers.

To back this up, national statistics show that about two out of every 10 people are aware that they come from abusive backgrounds. And if you look at women exclusively, the number climbs to four in 10.

Take the next step
This is important, because it reminds us that there may be hurt people working in our practices (click here to learn more). When you couple that with the dynamics of an insensitive, low-EQ doctor and a high-pressure, emotion-filled veterinary hospital, these team members are poised for anguish and conflict.

Do you notice any signs of a potentially toxic environment brewing in your practice? If so, it's time to take the next step.