Unlocking the benefits of emotional intelligence

Two sessions at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference delved into the benefits of compassion and authenticity

Updated February 20, 2024

Veterinary professionals attuned to their emotions are better equipped to handle stressful situations and relate to clients and colleagues, says Turpin Mott, chief community officer at Ethos Veterinary Health. In fact, developing an emotionally intelligent veterinary team can improve team engagement and the care provided to pets and their families.

Mott presented at one of two sessions during the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference (VLC), held January 4-6 in Chicago, that focused on the benefits of emotional intelligence. During Mott’s presentation, “Building Emotional Intelligence: From Surviving to Thriving,” he emphasized that veterinary medicine is a team effort.

Mott said everyone can be present and develop reflective listening and empathy skills. When these skills are integrated into veterinary practice, they add to personal fulfillment.

A veterinarian working with a nurse in an examination room
“Be self-aware and curious, practice empathy, and make sure you do it with an open heart and open mind,” says Turpin Mott, chief community officer at Ethos Veterinary Health.

Benefits of EQ

Mott introduced the four components of emotional intelligence (EQ): Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

“Self-management is about managing the emotions within ourselves to choose the behavior that has the highest impact for the collective good,” Mott said. And self-awareness is key to that. “If we’re not aware of what we’re feeling, we have little choice about the behavior that shows up.”

Emotional intelligence benefits the individual and the team by enabling enhanced communication, better decision making, improved teamwork and morale, effective conflict resolution, increased empathy, resilience, and stress management.

With these attributes manifested, “... the learning and level of medicine is at its best. People are fully engaged and continuing to learn,” Mott said.

Meanwhile, emotions such as happiness, fear, or sadness should not be simply repressed or ignored. Otherwise, colleagues won’t trust it is a safe space to authentically share their own sentiments. Mott explained that when people can bring all of themselves to the workplace, it creates empathy.

He suggested exploring the beliefs and triggers around emotions that we find ourselves connecting with, then deciding how—or if—to react or respond to them.

“Emotion is information. It’s not a good or bad thing. The behavior around the emotion is what’s good or bad,” Mott said. “If we’re in this place of struggle and we’re disconnected, we’re not providing the best care that we can.

“I’m a huge believer that if you don’t take care of yourself, there comes a point in time when you can’t take care of the pets, not at the level that you want to. Our emotions are like anal glands: Sometimes the best thing to do is express them.”

Digital EQ

Applying EQ skills when utilizing digital modes of communication with clients is just as critical as applying them in person, said Rhonda Bell, owner and founder of Dog Days Consulting. In her January 4 presentation, “The Future is Emotional: The Importance of Digital Emotional Intelligence in Veterinary Medicine,” she explained the positive impacts of establishing productive digital relationships.

The presentation covered the definition and components of digital emotional intelligence, the benefits of its implementation, and how to build a digital emotional intelligence strategy.  

Digital emotional intelligence plays a critical role in improving patient care and practice success, she said, allowing a veterinary professional to connect more deeply with clients, resolve conflicts and manage stress, and collaborate better with fellow team members.

“The root of every problem and the root of every success is communication,” Bell said.

Being an effective communicator involves conveying complex information simply, adapting your style to your audience, and providing feedback compassionately, Bell said. This applies whether you’re in person – or developing language for your website, posting on social media, or simply communicating over the phone.

Digital EQ means active listening with patience, acknowledging concerns without judgement, following up thoughtfully after stressful news, and being transparent and humanizing oneself. 

When it comes to social media specifically, it’s important to be professional, always check your ethics, and make sure your online presence aligns with your brand, she said. “If you have an agenda, and they can see it from a mile away, that relationship isn’t going to serve anyone,” Bell said. “You’re not going to get anywhere if people can’t trust you.”

Virtual communication can bring many challenges, such as a lack of nonverbal cues, delayed responses, and difficulty building rapport. Bell suggested using a warm and friendly tone, conveying empathy, encouraging dialogue, and being consistent in communication so clients know they can rely on you.

Positive client experiences—both in person and online—are crucial for practice success, she said. A thoughtful level of service – including effective communication - fosters loyalty and referrals.

“Loyalty depends on meaningful connections and trust,” Bell said.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that Dr. Mott worked for National Veterinary Associates.


Turpin Mott, chief community officer at Ethos Veterinary Health, defines emotion in the context of veterinary medicine during the presentation “Building Emotional Intelligence: From Surviving to Thriving” on January 4 at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference (VLC) in Chicago. (Video by Matt Zingale)


Rhonda Bell, owner and founder of Dog Days Consulting, explains the dynamics of a productive relationship in her presentation “The Future is Emotional: The Importance of Digital Emotional Intelligence in Veterinary Medicine.” (Video by Matt Zingale)