Building emotional intelligence to improve workplace professionalism


A practice management session at Fetch Nashville offers insight on how to navigate conflict and emotions, and reduce occupational fatigue.

Emotional intelligence

Photo: Vasyl/Adobe Stock

How can veterinary professionals navigate the emotions and conflict that may arise in the day-to-day basis of a workday? Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, and chief cultural officer at Veterinary Growth Partners, offers a solution: developing emotional intelligence (EQ).

In his lecture at the 2024 Fetch dvm360 conference in Nashville, Tennessee, McVey emphasized the importance of being able to recognize and label the emotions veterinary professionals experience as they are happening, before the emotion takes over and affects professionalism. “My job as an emotionally intelligent person is [to] know when I'm irritated, even at level one, and [to] have a conversation about that, because something magical happens when you take your feelings, give words to them, express them, and let them out of your body: …the energy [connected to] that feeling goes away. That's the magic — expressing your feelings is more cathartic and better for you than dumping and displaying your feelings,” McVey explained.1

According to McVey, the mean score on emotional intelligence testing for nonanimal health professionals is 77, whereas for people in veterinary medicine the score 51.1 “[Veterinary professionals] are quantifiably stumped when it comes to emotional development,” McVey said.

Improving emotional intelligence

In his Fetch session, McVey encouraged attendees to work on and develop each pillar of psychologist, author, and science journalist Daniel Goleman’s notion of emotional intelligence1:

  • Self-awareness: presently recognizing and labeling emotions
  • Self-management: utilizing emotional awareness to actively choose what to say and do
  • Social awareness: comprehending and aptly responding to others’ emotions
  • Relationship management: building rapport with team members.

McVey explained how people, such as coworkers, are constantly providing feedback during everyday interactions. “You [need to] reflect on that feedback,” McVey said, “and…say, does what they’re experiencing with me line up with my own value system, line up with the values of my hospital, line up on my own morality? And if the answer is ‘no,’ you want to change that….” McVey also discussed the need for addressing the root cause of “overreaction[s] or expulsion[s] of feelings” that may occur in moments of stress or conflict, stating how personal change will not occur until the fundamental cause is addressed.

During the lecture, McVey also discussed the outcome of effective self-awareness practices, highlighting the significance of discussion and expression. “Discussing and expressing what I feel is often not laden with emotions at all. It's a statement of fact. It's for clarity. It promotes discussion and helps understanding,” he explained.1

Team management

As leaders or managers in veterinary clinics, veterinarians often experience what McVey calls simply “fatigue.”1 According to McVey, this fatigue comes from helping people [exercise] teamwork and managing conflict, or “putting out emotional fires,” when there are upsets in the practice. To reduce this fatigue, McVey recommends having a self-managing team that can not only give and receive feedback but can practice the 4 pillars of emotional intelligence. Even if individuals are unfamiliar with EQ, McVey stated during his session, “EQ can grow.”


McVey S. Emotional intelligence at work. Presented at: Fetch dvm360 conference; Nashville, TN. May 17-18, 2024.

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