What is digital emotional intelligence?

Always remember to S.T.O.P. before you digitally speak

When clients send an email, text, or any form of communication, assume the best intentions. Photo ©BigStockPhoto.com
When clients send an email, text, or any form of communication, assume the best intentions.

“Fluffy is feeling better. I can’t believe it took so long to get her in. It’s a shame she wasn’t seen sooner!”

Have you ever read an email and as you are reading it you become angry while thinking, “Who do they think they are?” Only to go back and reread the email and it does not make you angry? You start to think maybe you were in a bad mood or not in the right state of mind when you first read it. Interesting, right?

Did you base your initial reaction on how you were feeling in the moment, or was your reaction warranted? Also, did your response just escalate or de-escalate the email communication?

If you were reactive, now the client feels attacked and goes on the defensive. And as a result, the back-and-forth emails continue in a tone getting progressively aggressive.

You have now lost a client of nine years due to miscommunication in the electronic era.

In reality, all the client was trying to say was she wished she had taken her dog in sooner had she known how much better Fluffy would have felt. The client was emphasizing this and nothing more. Did you read into the email it was your fault or the practice’s fault Fluffy didn’t come in sooner?

When we put our own biased spin on what we read, it can turn personal quickly. Remember to step back and not assume the intent of the email is inflammatory. Instead, reply in a professional, friendly manner, which cannot be misconstrued in a negative way.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is defined as the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions and recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others. The five characteristics often associated with emotional intelligence are: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

Digital emotional intelligence (DEQ) builds off EQ as the ability to digitally sense emotional response, either our own or someone else’s, and to use this to affectively guide our behavior, thinking, and the decisions we make in relation to digital input.

Why it matters

Most people would rather do business with a trusted person than with someone they don’t trust. It makes sense! Even if they can get the same service or product at a lower price. How is this for psychology 101!

Clients will continue coming to a practice whose veterinarians and staff they trust. If this trust is broken, the relationship is broken. They may go somewhere else or stop taking their pets for regular care altogether. The patient becomes the victim of a broken trust between the practice and the client.

Is this the only reason DEQ is important? Of course not! Higher DEQ leads to higher professional success. While hard skills and soft skills differ, if given a choice between two candidates with matching skillsets, experience, and all things being equal, most employers would choose the candidate who shows a higher level of emotional intelligence, which translates to higher digital emotional intelligence.

Client communication is one of the most complained about aspects of working in veterinary medicine. Hiring and training teams to develop their emotional and digital emotional intelligence will set practices apart, not only through their relationships with clients, but also with the culture built within the practice.

The good news is emotional intelligence, and, therefore, digital emotional intelligence, are skills we can teach, learn, or improve. This is good news, right? Adding DEQ training during regular staff meetings is a great way to introduce and teach it in smaller manageable pieces.

Learn how to listen and when not to respond

Not only is it important to have the ability to communicate with the appropriate tone, tact, and message without alienating the recipient, but it is also important to know when not to communicate online.

Sometimes things online are better left not being replied to, especially if the person, say, on social media, is trying to get a rise out of the practice by deliberately saying hateful, false accusations. The best response in this situation is no response. Don’t feed the troll; they get bigger and just need more food. The best way to get rid of a troll is to starve them! People will see the writer is only trying to cause issues, and the practice does not lower itself to that level because they know the writer is only trying to make waves.

Use the old expression, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” When using social media, remember client bashing is not okay and should never happen. Social media has a way of staying forever, and while you may have thought it was a private chat among your peers, it is never a private chat and can be used against you, tarnishing your name, reputation, and practice. It is best to keep it to yourself and not share any negativity about clients or a situation in the practice.

Remember to S.T.O.P. before you digitally speak! Slow down, take a deep breath. Think about your reaction before responding. Opportunity abounds. This is your time to show grace and understanding. Pleasant, professional replies convey and set the tone of your practice.


Introduce the S.T.O.P method to email communications at your next team meeting to give the entire staff some guidance.

SLOW—down and think before reacting to a situation. Step back, and ask yourself, “Am I reacting out of anger, spite, annoyance, etc. How do I feel right now and does it really align with what was said?” Step away and come back to it before replying. You might find after giving it time and distance your initial reaction seemed like an overreaction. (What if someone responded the way you were going to in a similar email you sent them?)

THINK—about how your reaction will be perceived and how it could affect you, your team, and your practice in the future. Did your reaction mirror the tone of other parties, did you escalate or de-escalate the tone? Think de-escalate! Do not mirror hate for hate or anger for anger. Be the voice of reason.

OPPORTUNITY—is this an opportunity to give or learn grace? Can you see where the message might be misconstrued? Rather than lashing back, take the time to assess and assume the sender meant well. With this in mind, you respond with kindness and understanding not with anger or angst. This is an opportunity to gain trust and cooperation. Remember, trust is essential when maintaining relationships.

PLEASANT—respond in a pleasant, professional manner, which cannot be misinterpreted or left open to interpretation. What would other people reading your reply think about what you said in your reply? Does it sound accommodating and nice, have you left the reader with an understanding your intentions are professional, pleasant, and with their best interest in mind? Pleasant does not mean consenting of bad behavior; it means you will consistently provide the best environment for your staff, patients, and clients.

Linda Miller, BS, CCFP, has more than 20 years of business experience. She has earned a bachelor of science degree in business management, as well as degrees in psychology, interdisciplinary studies, and business administration. As co-owner of Dog Days Consulting, Miller manages clients’ social media accounts. As a certified compassion fatigue professional and a certified master life coach, her passion lies in teaching skills and providing staff with the necessary tools to help them sustain a long enjoyable career in the veterinary industry.


Cherry, K. Utilizing Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace. 2020. Retrieved from verywellmind: https://www.verywellmind.com/utilizing-emotional-intelligence-in-the-workplace-4164713

Orzechowska, A. The Five Components of Emotional Intelligence & How to Implement Them In Your Digital Workplace. 2020. Retrieved April 2021, from Valo: https://www.valointranet.com/blog/emotional-intelligence-in-the-digital-workplace/

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2 thoughts on “What is digital emotional intelligence?

  1. Please either send this article out or mail to a place that can send this to vet offices ( digital emotional intelligence).
    This is exactly what I was trying to say to a vet office employee.I was trying to get information about what I just spent a lot of time and money doing,instructions,diagnosis.,medication information..so I did feel I was doing communication for both office and my pet.very hard on me I have health issues. I get neglected because many vet office actually expectations of customer are too high not the other way around( not to say it doesn’t exist ).I’m really a polite person just not an extrovert so it zaps everything I have to take my pet to the vet.I try to figure out ways to make my pets visit ok for both of us.that requires getting a little information.some places are taking other customers first because they are spending more. so appointments are not helpful or really matter.I’ve literally watched it happen and hear what the customer says.I physically can’t spend hours waiting if I made an appointment.

    I had to call because a vet employee mis read an email and then they still latched onto what they assumed and wouldn’t let me speak.then they said I couldn’t continue treatment find somewhere else.( because of my health problems I do recognize when I’m treated differently). It only bothers me when I can’t get what I paid for.or I’m falsely accused of something that isn’t true.
    I’ve been to other vets so this particular office was one of the worst but I’m starting to see a trend of the vet employees looking for high dollar customers. it leaves the rest of us having to go without, for lack of help with our pets.u just eventually have to manage on your own.then one vet actually put I only go when pet is sick lol.I wonder why I can’t get in with an appointment and I don’t know another way.

    Here is something I’m hearing from others as well,employees are telling customers things like their expectations are too high( because they need some information in writing) or can’t wait up to 4 hours while the office ignores appointments.
    Or excuses why you were treated differently then other customers.they also put incorrect things on documents then share with other vet offices. It seems like it’s “ vets employees against pets “ because these employees don’t respect the owners.

    Definitely use this article as training material.

  2. Great article for this digital world we live in.take advantage not mis- interpretation.someone please send this article to vet offices employees.
    Many customers need to read information or have it on file. Read first then take notes if you have to and get back to it like an email or text .many business leave a voicemail to clarify.don’t make your customers feel like they are a burden or the new term going around is “ your expectations are to high”.seriously I just paid and didn’t get everything.I hear many issues and customer complaints are easily prevented.is it really a big deal if a pet or customer has an allergy to just notate on account and not give it? Is it difficult to inform customers of policy or offer a water or snack because they take certain customers in front of you.( yes it looks like they are cutting line especially when the customer says their pet is better and they look fine.

    Most customers are just expecting you to be fair don’t overcharge and at least pretend you care about their fluffy or bald friends.lol they aren’t all cute puppies and kittens.I’ve worked in a vet office and the greed amongst employees costs the customers a great deal.the vets need employees that are trained to give fair customer service be ok with animals and coworkers.if you have 10 employees and 3 are standing around or chasing off customers like a guard dog …………….
    Please train your employees to handle customers but especially digital.


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