Are you serious?


How you deliver information may be overriding your message-and preventing colleagues and clients from taking you seriously. Learn how to improve your presentation and earn their respect.

You work in a veterinary hospital, so you expect to see animals every day. But it's the kind you don't treat that cause the most problems. With characteristics like hurried, unreliable, and timid, these animals commonly found on veterinary teams don't command the respect and attention they may deserve.

Illustration by Greg Paprocki

So read each character description to discover which animal you most closely resemble in practice. Then use the advice to improve your communication skills and performance.


A careless cat does her job, but it's riddled with errors, so colleagues and clients don't trust what she says or does.

How to get serious: "To me, professional means doing the mundane and simple well every time," says Dennis Cloud, DVM, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member who owns several practices in the St. Louis area. "Writing a lab request and setting the fluid machine correctly are simple tasks. But if done incorrectly, they can cause huge errors."

Illustration by Greg Paprocki

If you're a careless cat, don't hurry through tasks and projects just to check them off your list. Slow down and check that you've followed processes exactly. Look up facts before spouting off to clients. And correct any errors you do make. When you demonstrate care and attention, you build a relationship of trust with team members and pet owners that boosts your credibility.


A bold bull charges through life, rushing through the process to realize the result and bowling over those in her way.

How to get serious: Listen up when others offer feedback. Often bulls think they don't need others' help and can accomplish more faster by themselves, says Debbie Allaben Gair, CVPM, a board member and president of Bridging the Gap, a business geared to helping people work together more effectively, in Sparta, Mich. But team members can't function independently. Involving others creates a network to help you execute ideas sooner.

Illustration by Greg Paprocki

For example, say a team leader who shows bullish tendencies manages a group of more experienced team members. She gets consumed by her brilliant ideas and her team members' wisdom and experience fly right off her radar. So when senior team members respond to her ideas with reasons why they won't work, she pooh-poohs their opinions as cynicism.

This bold bull isn't taking advantage of a valuable resource at her disposal: her team. Experienced team members can point out potential pitfalls in their leader's ideas and help her analyze her plans and make them stronger. So before introducing her ideas to the rest of the practice, this bold bull should ask her team what's missing, then focus on improving those parts of her plan, Gair says. This way, she'll create stronger ideas to present to the whole team.


A big-dreaming butterfly flits around all day—pausing only briefly to espouse a new idea—then flutters off, chasing another dream.

How to get serious: Butterflies bring great ideas, and they're essential to making change in practice. But to effectively inspire and create change, Dr. Cloud recommends butterflies—like bulls—think through their ideas before presenting them.

Illustration by Greg Paprocki

Making your ideas into SMART—simple and specific, measurable, attainable, result-oriented, and time-oriented—goals sets the stage for change in practice, Dr. Cloud says. "Use available training materials, and don't depend on your boss to make things happen," he says. "Practice the skills that will make your ideas a reality. Relieve work from the veterinarian, instead of piling more ideas and tasks on him or her. Detail your ideas and how you'd implement them first. These extra steps launch you from star to superstar."


A meek mouse is bashful and slow to present her ideas. She squeaks around the office dropping comments, but dashes and hides at the first sign of opposition.

How to get serious: "Be your own advocate," says Paige Phillips, RVT, a board member and the assistant hospital administrator at Veterinary Specialty Hospital of the Carolinas in Cary, N.C. "You need to sell yourself on what you can offer. Not everyone knows your experience or ideas, so you must generate enough confidence to tell others. If you don't tell them, who will?"

Illustration by Greg Paprocki

Meek mice often fly just under the radar, Phillips says. These team members have lots of potential, but they often don't speak up and share their opinions—and no one asks them to.

The worst thing you can do is squeak around, throwing out ideas without speaking to the right person—your direct supervisor. And if you've seen a similar idea that flopped, you may hesitate to try again, Phillips says. Like bulls and butterflies, your best bet is presenting a thoughtful, ready-to-execute idea.


A sneaky squirrel gathers nuts of information and hoards them from others.

How to get serious: Experience will help you evolve into a team player and strong leader who can teach others, Phillips says. Sharing the workload and assisting in day-to-day practice operations can earn you respect from your colleagues and give you credibility that can help you make a difference.

Illustration by Greg Paprocki

Phillips says she regularly sees squirrel behavior in others, and she wants team members to understand that sharing knowledge benefits everyone. "I feel strongly about people working as a team," she says. "We need to share relevant information using specific examples, such as how a procedure went and how it should go next time. Teamwork is teaching others and helping them improve their skills for the good of the practice, patients, and clients."

Sometimes team members even unintentionally hoard information from clients, Phillips says. "During every visit, you should show clients you want them to succeed with their pets," she says. "Ensure they understand your explanations of illnesses, procedures, and treatment plans. And use words they understand, avoiding technical terms."

Fig. 2

In all cases, remember how you present yourself helps clients judge the value of the services you offer—and decide whether they'll visit again. "Focus on the fact that each client took the time to visit your practice," Gair says. "I know the impulse is to shuffle clients through and move on to the next appointment, but people care a lot about their pets. When you put clients first, they're more likely to see you as a knowledgeable, caring team member."

Sarah A. Moser is a freelance writer and editor in Olathe, Kan. Please send questions or comments to

Related Videos
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.