EQ: The soft skill that will harm your team if ignored

September 22, 2017
Mike Paul, DVM
Mike Paul, DVM

Dr. Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.

This skill can make your veterinary team work together better and you a better leader.


Recently while I was reorganizing my office and cleaning out my bookshelves, I came across an old favorite-a 1995 copy of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, the international bestseller by Daniel Goleman. Twenty years ago the philosophy of emotional intelligence (EQ) became a global movement. So where is it going today?

At one point or another, whether in veterinary practice or your personal life, you've probably found yourself asking, “How could someone so smart act so dumb?” You see, smart decisions require more than intellect as measured by traditional IQ. To have a high EQ, you must be aware of your own emotions and also make use of emotions to positively impact (but not control) other people.

Just what is emotional intelligence?

Today, psychologists define EQ as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. Emotional intelligence indicates the ability to read and understand others in social contexts.”1

In a more recent book by Goleman, Leading with Emotional Intelligence: Tools and Wisdom for a Sustainable World, Goleman states that EQ equates with our capacity for relationships in business, family and the world. He links emotional intelligence to the ability to make better decisions as leaders in these areas.

EQ is commonly said to consist of four attributes:

Self-awareness. You recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior. You know your strengths and weaknesses and have self-confidence.

Self-management. You're able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments and adapt to changing circumstances.

Social awareness. You can understand the emotions, needs and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.

Relationship management. You know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team and manage conflict.

Why is EQ important?

EQ is particularly relevant in these days of geopolitical tension and political rancor. It is increasingly recognized as a measure of effective leadership and a tool for developing leadership skills.2 Leaders with high EQ have teams that perform better. Their ability to understand and manage moods and emotions in themselves and others contributes to effective leadership in organizations and ultimately to better outcomes.

How do I know if I possess EQ?

Most of us veterinarians like to believe we're pretty smart. Anything that involves intelligence-well, we must be good at it! Unfortunately, EQ is not part of most veterinary school curricula, and if we are good at it, we're likely naturally gifted or have spent a lot of time developing our skills. To discover how emotionally intelligent we really are, we have to measure EQ objectively. There are a number of tests available online. I encourage you to take one or more of these evaluations. You might be surprised by your results.

How can I develop or enhance my EQ?  

What can we do to become more emotionally self-aware? According to the Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence Network, we can take several basic steps to improve our awareness and understanding of our own feelings, including the ability to accurately label our emotions. We can also identify our own patterns of thought, feeling and action. It starts with paying attention and wanting to make a change.

Emotional intelligence relies on the ability to monitor our own and others' emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide our thinking and actions. People who are good at connecting thoughts to feelings may better “hear” the emotional implications of their own thoughts, as well as understand the feelings of others from what they say.

Establishing EQ as a part of your practice culture

One of the reasons we don't see more EQ in the workplace is that we don't hire for it. We recruit and hire for work experience. According to the Harvard Business Review, “We look for where someone went to school, high grades and test scores, technical skills, and certifications, not whether they build great teams or get along with others. And how smart we think someone is matters a lot, so we hire for intellect.”

Sure we need people who are good at their jobs, but we also need people who can deal with change, understand and motivate others and deal with both positive and negative emotions in themselves and others to help everyone be at their best.

A LinkedIn study revealed that 58 percent of hiring managers believe there is a shortage of soft skills in the job market and it is negatively impacting their firms' productivity. According to a 2016 study by the Institute for Health and Human Potential, some of the most sought-after skills involve communication, a capacity for teamwork, creativity and adaptability to change. All of these are “soft” skills.

How do you identify and hire for EQ?

Adam Ochstein, founder and CEO of Chicago-based HR consultancy and software company Stratex, advocates hiring for EQ candidates who can look at a situation, analyze it and understand its objective and subjective angles.

People with high EQ are better at reading and responding to clients, for one thing. So learn to spot them in a lineup of potential hires. Prospective employees with high EQ will stand out from other interviewees, especially if you develop your own EQ and become more sensitive to the EQ of others. And never forget: Like any other set of skills, EQ can be continually worked on for greater growth-and a more fulfilling life.


1. Prati LM, Douglas C, Ferris GR, et al. Emotional intelligence, leadership effectiveness, and team outcomes. International Journal of Organizational Analysis 2003;11(1): 21-40.

2. Palmer B, Walls M, Burgess Z, et al. Emotional intelligence and effective leadership. Leadership & Organization Development Journal 2001;22(1):5-10.

Dr. Michael Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.