6 statements that burst your bubble


Some remarks from clients and colleagues can deflate your enthusiasm. Here's how to respond the next time their words make you ready to pop.

Sick of the hot air flying around your practice? You may hear the same bluster from clients and co-workers every day, but the repetition doesn't make these statements any easier to hear—or handle. Wish you were more like Emily Post so you could handle these situations with ease? Use this advice to help you respond politely, productively, and professionally the next time you face one of these irritating remarks.

"Receptionists are the bottom of the totem pole."

It's a typical day at the front desk. You're practically splitting yourself in four to answer the phone, start a new patient file, print a receipt, and present vaccination information to a client. Exhausted, you see Terrence and Theresa chatting in the hall in a rare break between appointments. Theresa catches your eye and, noticing your frenzied workload, says to Terrence, "Lucky thing we're not the low men on the totem pole like the receptionists."

What you'd like to say: "At least I'm earning my paycheck."

Say this instead: "We may fill different roles, but we're all essential to providing clients and patients the best care and service." Or, you might decide to say nothing at all, says Karen Felsted, CPA, MS, DVM, CVPM, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member. Ask yourself whether challenging this statement will change this person's attitude before you give into the temptation to offer an angry retort. "You can't stop people from acting ignorant or cruel, but you can be proud that you handled the situation calmly and professionally," Dr. Felsted says.

"It's just a dog."

Miss Doubtful complains about Rocky the rottweiler's rancid breath. During an oral exam, the veterinarian discovers plaque buildup and recommends a dental cleaning and daily brushing. You're about to explain how to encourage Rocky to accept the tooth brushing when Miss Doubtful shoots you an incredulous look and says, "It's just a dog."

What you'd like to say: "I'm shocked your dog is still alive with an owner like you."

Say this instead: "I know, and this care will help prevent Rocky from suffering from dental disease." Explain how the treatment benefits the pet and owner, including the problems and pain it can help them avoid, says Christine Merle, DVM, MBA, CVPM, a consultant with Brakke Consulting in Dallas. And be sure to highlight the treatment for Rocky's horrible breath, since Miss Doubtful specifically mentioned she's bothered by it, Dr. Merle says.

But if Miss Doubtful doesn't follow your recommendations, don't criticize. The choice is ultimately hers, and when you belittle her care, you can damage her bond with your practice. If clients only follow a portion of the recommendation, praise what they're willing to do and continue educating them.

"We don't have time for your great idea."

You've got a stellar plan for an electronic filing system that will track client and patient information and enhance communication between the front and back areas, reducing reception backups and improving client service. You finally muster the courage to take your idea to your boss, and she says, "We don't have time to try your idea."

What you'd like to say: "I don't have time for the billion tasks you give me, but I make time."

Say this instead: "I know you're busy, and I'm prepared to take responsibility for pursuing and implementing this idea." Your boss likely receives tons of ideas to improve the practice, but they seldom come with a plan for implementation or an offer to assume the workload. This won't guarantee you'll get the go-ahead, but demonstrating your willingness to go the extra mile will increase the chance your boss will at least agree to a trial run.

"That's not my job."

You're in the kennel and completely consumed by picky Mr. Persnicket and his particular Persian. But you promised to clean up the mountainous pile of poop in the reception area 15 minutes ago. Desperate, you grab Veronica as she passes by and ask her to clean up the mess so you can deal with the anxiety duo. "That's not my job," she says and walks way.

What you'd like to say: "It is now" as you shove the pooper-scooper at her.

Say this instead: "Well I'd really appreciate the help. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed right now."

Remember, when you answer, don't get angry. This team member might be swamped herself. And if she's not busy, sniping won't inspire cooperation.

"When team members won't pitch in, they've likely forgotten their job is serving patients and clients," Dr. Merle says. A gentle request may encourage a little cooperation. And if you're the busy person asked to lend a hand? Your co-workers will appreciate a polite, "I'm happy to help you when I've finished this task."

"How much does that cost?"

The doctor just told Mr. Frugal his bulldog Frankie tore a cruciate ligament and needs surgery. As Mr. Frugal furrows his brow, you assume he's worried. You prepare to reassure Mr. Frugal that Frankie will receive the best care, but instead Mr. Frugal asks, "What's the cost?"

What you'd like to say: "How about I put a price on your mobility?"

Say this instead: "Here's the treatment plan and an estimate for the surgery. Let's talk through each step and why it's important to Frankie's health."

It's completely legitimate for pet owners to consider the cost before agreeing to treatment, Dr. Felsted says. "Who takes their car to a mechanic and agrees to service without an estimate?" she asks. Just remember, if Mr. Frugal refuses to spend the money for the surgery, don't imply he's a bad pet owner. This won't inspire compliance and puts him at odds with your practice.

"Can I buy that prescription cheaper somewhere else?"

The doctor recommends an antibiotic for Peter's ear infection that Mrs. Rabbit can purchase at your practice. You tell her the cost and start giving dosage instructions, but Mrs. Rabbit interrupts to ask, "Can I buy that prescription cheaper somewhere else?"

What you'd like to say: "How should I know?"

Say this instead: "I don't know what other pharmacies charge. If you find the medicine cheaper somewhere else, the doctor is happy to write you the prescription." You shouldn't be required to know your competition's inventory or what they charge for the products, Dr. Felsted says. But you should be nice and professional and provide the prescription when they ask for it. If you refuse to assist clients' bargain hunting, it may seem like you're trying to gouge clients by keeping the prescription in-house, Dr. Felsted says.

Dr. Merle agrees. "If clients can purchase the medication at a discount pharmacy for $4, they'll wonder why you're charging $25," she says.

Felicia Daniels is a freelance writer in Chicago. Please send questions or comments to firstline@advanstar.com

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