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Address gripes with considerate dialogue

Article

This is an idea we use in our veterinary hospital whenever the chorus of complaints rise from staff and doctor. It is a good way to address complaints, such as, "The instruments need cleaning, and two people are standing around doing nothing."

This is an idea we use in our veterinary hospital whenever the chorus of complaints rise from staff and doctor. It is a good way to address complaints, such as, "The instruments need cleaning, and two people are standing around doing nothing."

"It really bothers me when we get behind on appointments."

"Why is the break area always a mess?" "Why doesn't anyone pickup after themselves?"

Chronic complaining is infectious and hard on staff morale. It is also difficult to remedy without employees becoming defensive. Hence, we developed the "consideration exercise." It is easy and works great in staff meetings. It helps fortify the team and encourages greater sensitivity and awareness without assigning blame.

Here is how to do the exercise:

Give five blank strips of paper to each staff member and have them write down "the five things that bug me the most at work."

Place the individual statements into a bag and mix well.

Draw out a statement and read it out loud.

Ask each staff member what that statement means to them. (Two or three members' comments are sufficient to initiate discussion. If you know who the complainer is, then avoid asking him or her for comments so they can hear what others think or feel about his or her issue.)

Elevate the discussion to what the complaint means, and ask how the staff can improve on this. Let everyone participate but only if they have a possible solution.

Write down the solutions and the actions expected from team members.

Once an issue is thoroughly discussed, pull out another strip of paper and repeat the exercise with another issue as time permits. Usually the issues start to repeat after the first few, and you will find that you only have a few things to address as you work through the strips.

When issues are discussed in this manner, team members become more sensitive, communicate better and resolve the problems. The changes also improve customer service because team members feel better about themselves and working together again.

The next time the staff needs a morale boost, we pull out our solutions and review them at staff meetings. Because the team developed the solutions, the positive effect is usually immediate. Try it! What do you have to lose besides festering negative attitudes and staff complaints?

Steve Dullard DVM, Dipl. ABVP, is owner of Ancare Veterinary Clinic, a companion animal practice in Mendota, Ill., which has 14 wonderful staff members. He is immediate past-president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners.

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