Improving your emotional intelligence

When it comes to sprucing up your EI, lean into active listening and let go of behaviours that might be holding you back

Intelligence and personality may be established at a young age. However, since emotional intelligence (EI) is about recognizing your own emotions and those of people around you, it is in your hands to develop over your lifetime.

Emotional intelligence (also referred to as self-awareness) can be moulded, morphed, measured, and designed to improve and mature. Identify new behaviours to embrace, old traits to let go, and discover how increasing your EI will enhance your career. Then share this with your team to begin a conversation around growing self-awareness.

A few words about intelligence and personality

At an early age, an individual’s intelligence and personality are already defined.

In a report written by Christopher Nave, PhD,1 (while a doctoral candidate), he stated, “We remain recognizably the same person (as we are at age seven). This speaks to the importance of understanding personality because it does follow us wherever we go across time and contexts.”

While researching intelligence being set at an early age through genetics, we found there is a bit more controversy around the subject. The idea of nature versus nurture seems to be at the heart of the discussion.

Reading through papers on these topics, we discovered a report2 stating, “These findings point to a neural network that shares a common genetic origin with human intelligence. Thus, it seems the individual variation in morphology of areas involved in attention, language, visual, and emotional processing, as well as in sensorimotor processing, are strongly genetically influenced. MRI studies in twins indicate that, given the basic additive genetic model, overall brain volume in adulthood is highly heritable.”

There is an overwhelming amount of information available on the topics of personality and intelligence, but for now, we will focus on the idea of growing your emotional intelligence.

What is EI?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions. Then, once you get a handle on that, it is the ability to identify emotions in others and choose how to react in social engagements.

As an example, a veterinarian (or team member) may have a high intelligence quotient (IQ) and perform extremely well on tests, but have a lousy ‘bedside manner.’ Can you envision this person on your team? Is it you?

However, a person with a higher EI may interpret another person’s signals (i.e. emotions) and respond appropriately to the circumstance, choosing to react in a way that supports both people.

Behaviours to embrace

When you imagine the individual with a great bedside manner, what do you see? Often these individuals understand their strengths and weaknesses, admit to mistakes, take accountability for their actions, and find humour in the strangest of places. These folks can label what they are feeling with conviction (e.g. sad, frustrated, engaged, disconnected, somber, complacent, angry).

A veterinarian may have a high intelligence quotient (IQ) and perform extremely well on tests, but have a lousy ‘bedside manner.’  Can you envision this person on your team? Is it you?
A veterinarian may have a high intelligence quotient (IQ) and perform extremely well on tests, but have a lousy ‘bedside manner.’ Can you envision this person on your team? Is it you?

As you step consciously into improving your EI, consider embracing the following:

  • Identify how you feel. Stop for a moment and be present in your state of mind and your feelings. It is good to identify them. This is a major step in self-awareness. Celebrate the moment. Celebrate the awareness.
  • Embrace the vision of the future. When you understand there is a ‘bigger picture,’ you’ll realize success is a process. While it is still good to take care of short-term goals, people who are unable to grasp the big picture are often hurt by their unchecked emotions.
  • Practice active listening. We spend years learning to read and write. Yet, when was the last time you considered listening a learned skill? Communication is often described as talking. But great communicators also are great listeners. When you really focus on what the other person is saying, you will better understand issues, tasks, or emotional dynamics. Try it. The next time you ask someone a question, shut up and truly listen to his or her reply, and perhaps you’ll discover your EI is elevated.
  • Understand strengths and weaknesses. When you consider your personal strengths and weaknesses, you’ll likely find it easier to list the latter. While it’s healthy to recognize areas requiring improvement, try focusing on your strengths.
  • Seek feedback. While it may be difficult to receive feedback from others, it is vital for increasing EI. Feedback is simply information. It is helpful if you can seek others who can empathize with your situation and your desire for personal and professional development.

Let go of bad traits

As you increase in your self-awareness, you may have to mentally be aware of, and fight to overcome, certain behaviours that have become normal for you (and are holding you back).

These may include:

  • not allowing yourself to identify your true feelings;
  • being shortsighted;
  • being a ‘Chatty Cathy’ and not allowing others to offer their insight;
  • an inability to admit mistakes; and/or
  • not allowing critiquing by others.

You have complete control over identifying and managing your emotions. Because of this, you can take steps to increase your knowledge and improve your emotional intelligence. Once this is achieved, you can begin to look at others and how their passions affect you and your reactions to them.

The benefits of self-awareness

By improving self-awareness, you may begin to see benefits in your career through improved engagement with others. This can be achieved by:

1) An increased awareness of your thoughts and feelings and simply not being on ‘auto-pilot.’ This can lead to improved interactions by reacting to the situation, rather than the emotion.

2) Being mindful of your actions and reactions so that others recognize consistency in your engagements.

3) Listening to others to elevate relationships.

4) Seeing the big picture and achieving goals leading to greater success in the future.

5) Being truthful about your strengths and weaknesses, and building trustworthiness.

There are many reference materials—both written and in video format3—to assist you with this journey.

Start by taking inventory of your current awareness (as objectively as you can). Be aware and even name every emotion you experience.4 Once that’s done, you can take action to improve your EI.

There are self-awareness quizzes on the internet that can help get you started. In addition, personality assessment tests can also help you see what type of profile you normally possess. There are many available, such as DISC, Myers-Briggs, Colors, and Predictive Index. It’s helpful to take as many as you can to identify your personality trends.

In addition, you’ll learn about other personality types. Some traits are easier to relate to than others. By identifying other people’s profiles, you’ll more easily recognize how your two personalities will interact.

Begin slowly and go easy on yourself. Evaluate your state of being once a day. Then increase to three times a day and gradually add on until you are evaluating yourself throughout the day. When you see places for improvement, just do it without ridiculing yourself. With patience and practice, you will see a marked improvement in your EI. You’ve got this.

Rebecca Rose, CVT, director of possibilities at CATALYST Veterinary Professional Coaches, has a diverse background in the veterinary community, working in and managing clinics, collaborating with industry partners, and facilitating engaging team workshops. Denise Mikita, MS, CVT, CATALYST’s manager of possibilities, brings extensive knowledge in practical clinic experience, organizational management, and team dynamics. Combined, the authors have more than 50 years’ experience in elevating veterinary teams. In addition, they have sat on veterinary councils, led state and national professional organizations, and have volunteered for animal welfare groups. Rose and Mikita can be reached via getCATALYST@CATALYSTVetPC.com.

Resources

1 Personality Set for Life by 1st Grade, Study Suggests, Live Science, 2010: bit.ly/2INeVv8

2 Intelligence: More Nature than Nurture? Science Daily, 2007, bit.ly/2IUVNcm

3 Video: Leadership: The Importance of Being Self-Aware from Get Your Mind On by Lori Stohs, Human Capital Consultant, yhoo.it/2RFeLbV

4 Feelings Buried Alive Never Die, Karol Truman, 1991

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