Assertiveness has been defined as “a social skill which relies heavily on effective communication while always taking into account the thoughts and feelings of others”. While I don’t disagree with this statement at all, I do have a concern – “always taking into account the thoughts and feelings of others” neglects the essential elements of self-care and self-compassion we need to survive.
Often, we are promoted to a management position simply through longevity at the practice or because we are, indeed, effective communicators and excellent clinicians.
Having most of the attributes of emotional intelligence (the basis of which include self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills) is frequently what gets us noticed, valued and promoted by higher management. But if we lack that essential skill of motivation at full throttle, it’s easy to see why being “responsibly selfish” gets pushed down the list of necessary skills and put on the back burner.
If we lack that essential skill of motivation at full throttle, it’s easy to see why being ‘responsibly selfish’ gets pushed down the list of necessary skills and put on the back burner
So, what does “responsibly selfish” mean? What does it look like? If “selfishness” is socially unacceptable, how can putting the word “responsibly” in front of it make it OK? Furthermore, how can being “responsibly selfish” help you or others in a management position have a better life in and out of work?
Five competencies of emotional intelligence
Firstly, here’s a quick recap on the five competencies of emotional intelligence:
- Self-awareness (in a nutshell) means “I am aware of how I am feeling now, how I’ve felt in the past and how I am likely to feel in a given situation”. It also involves awareness of your strengths and limitations
- Self-regulation is the ability to stop and pause and choose your reaction to a given situation or emotion both internally and externally
- Motivation is deciding what you want out of a given situation and figuring out how you can achieve that. It’s worthwhile noting that what you want from a given situation might be joy and happiness for someone else
- Empathy is broadly divided into cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and empathic concern. Cognitive empathy involves understanding what others are saying and communicating without words, and the ability to communicate with others in a way which will relate to them. Emotional empathy means understanding what others are feeling and sympathising with their distress and joy – that you can see things from the perspective of others. Empathic concern means, “I feel your pain and I have an overwhelming need to help you out”
- Social skills, as previously described, include eye contact, body language, active listening, etc
Becoming responsibly selfish
Motivation, the third component of emotional intelligence, means understanding “what do I want out of a situation and how can I achieve it?” It’s OK to want something. (We have talked about judgement and self-judgement in earlier articles.)
The self-judgement that arises from within us when we are being responsibly selfish habitually hammers down the thought of self-care and puts it back to where we believe it belongs – in a box with the lid shut. After all, selfish is “bad”, and selfless is “good”, right?
But it is crucial to pause, breathe and take a good look at these emotions before slamming that lid shut.
An exercise in self-loathing
So, here’s the thing – feeling some self-loathing because you’re reacting to looking at yourself in the mirror for being “selfish” is a worthwhile exercise.
Feel the negativity you are directing at yourself because you are trying to get something out of a situation. Notice the self-flagellation resulting from wanting to survive and enjoy your job. Listen to you berating yourself for moaning.
Now, imagine your friend is the person who wants to enjoy their job. Picture them running on empty because they are treated like an encyclopedia in scrubs. Watch others fire clinical questions and holiday requests at them until they break. What would you say to that friend?
Would it be “power on through”, “turn that frown upside down” or “always take into account the thoughts and feelings of others”? I’m guessing not.
Then, would you say, “they’re all the worst – leave this job”? I don’t think so, either. It’s unlikely to be helpful and ignores the fundamental problem, which is a lack of true self-compassion and responsible selfishness.
Returning to empathy
If we choose to really engage with cognitive empathy, we are probably already pretty good at communicating ideas to others. However, now you’re asking for something for yourself. So, ask yourself this: “Am I communicating my distress to those around me, or am I just hoping they’ll suss it out?”
If we pride ourselves on emotional empathy, are we really walking a mile in someone else’s shoes? Have we really made the effort to see where they are coming from with the barrage of emails, questions, texts and requests? Perhaps, but my challenge to deflated leaders is to ask yourself, “Is my lack of communication that ‘I’m human too’ part of the cause?”
My challenge to deflated leaders is to ask yourself, ‘Is my lack of communication that ‘I’m human too’ part of the cause?’
Is their behaviour coming from a place of unkindness or a place of unthinking? My guess is it’s the latter – they may simply be unthinking, not unkind, colleagues. So, our colleagues just have no clue about how they are making us feel.
Our leaders are invincible, right? They have no needs, no ups and downs. They don’t have a life outside of work. They are always available for us to message, grab for a moment, problem solve.
Isn’t this also how pet owners view us as veterinary professionals? The pressure we feel because pet owners haven’t thought about us being humans, wives, husbands, parents and pet owners ourselves is often raised as a concern. I understand why pet owners forget these things, and it doesn’t come from a place of unkindness – they just forget.
So, if clients forget that vets and nurses are human, it stands that vets and nurses forget that head nurses, head vets and line managers are human too. The chain continues up to the very top.
Do you ever forget that your line manager is treated this way?
Do you reckon the line managers treat their line managers in a similar way too?
Consider what you want from a situation and how you can achieve it. Not surprisingly, many vet and nurse managers have low assertiveness and low self-esteem. We don’t rock the boat, cause drama or make a fuss. We power through.
I propose a healthier way of working.
By pointing out how the team can better support each other, we can pave the way for real change in our professions
By pointing out how the team can better support each other, we can pave the way for real change in our professions. The current 42 percent of vets and nurses seriously thinking about leaving the profession is unsustainable and more than disappointing.
So, to the leaders who are used, treated like androids and never asked how their day is going, if you communicate with good cognitive empathy and social skills and let those around you know you are human too and need some empathy back, you are being truly kind to yourself and others. You are being kind to those who will learn these vital skills from you and who will pass these skills on to the next lot of new graduates.
If one of us states the obvious – that “I am human, please treat me with compassion and empathy and like I’m more than just a manager, vet or nurse” – then that is an act of kindness. An act of kindness that could have some long-lasting and phenomenally beneficial effects on our practice and our lives.