Dear Bash: I have a doctor everyone hates

December 11, 2018
Bash Halow, LVT, CVPM

Bash Halow is a practice consultant and owner of Halow Consulting as well as a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager, a Licensed Veterinary Technician and (best of all for us) a regular Fetch dvm360 speaker.

Bash Halow, LVT, CVPM, founder of Halow Consulting, says practices should have zero tolerance for a--hole staff members and doctors.

How to deal with a doctor no one wants to work with. (jonnysek/stock.adobe.com)

Q: Dear Bash,

I have a doctor everybody hates and no one wants to work with. I've changed her shift, even moved her to one of our other locations. Nothing works. Receptionists and techs tell me that she drives them nuts. I've heard that a few are thinking about quitting; that's how bad it is.

We've had meetings about her behavior one-on-one, as a whole group and with smaller groups of people who have been specifically involved. It helps for a little bit, but then the trouble starts again soon after.

What's the best way to make her realize what she's doing and how it  impacts her coworkers?

Signed,

At Wits' End in Wisconsin

“People aren't intolerable because they like being rude. They're intolerable because they're sitting on a mound of anxiety, depression, feelings of failure, insecurity and unresolved gunk.”

A: Dear Wits' End,

After too many years of tippy-toeing around a--hole staff members and doctors (and being one myself), I can confidently say that practices should have zero tolerance for incivility in the workplace. Doctors may be hard to find, but the  peace and mental health of your team and practice culture are more important.

People aren't intolerable because they like being rude. They're intolerable because they're sitting on a mound of anxiety, depression, feelings of failure, insecurity and unresolved gunk.

Try another sit-down. Without shame, blame or threats, make your stance on the matter clear while emphasizing these points:

Incivility from people in power (like doctors) is like Popeye after a can of spinach. Their bad attitude goes extra far, extra long and hits extra hard. Help the veterinarian see the extent of the damage she's doing. Remind her that her behavior may be making lifelong impressions on the people she interacts with, especially your younger, more vulnerable staff members. Does she really want to live the next 60 years of her life knowing that people still think of her as "that jerk I used to work with"?

Ask her to check in with herself when she lashes out. Outbursts and cruelty are misguided ways of blowing off steam. At first, the sensation of blowing a gasket is cathartic, but shortly thereafter it's replaced by remorse, regret, recrimination, blame, depression and anger. Challenge her to pause and ask herself what triggered those negative actions.  

Ask her what she believes her actions accomplish. It's likely that she's a living example of "misery loves company." She's walking around feeling lousy and is eager to be understood, but instead of sharing her feelings responsibly, she reverts to sharing her pain by inflicting it on others. She's the equivalent of, “My leg really hurts and to show you just how much pain I'm in, I'm going to kick you in the shin.” It's an imaginative approach she may not even realize she's using.

Remind her that there are progressive labor laws in place on federal, state and local levels. If something she did or said in the workplace angers an employee enough to call an attorney, she is risking  personal liability for her actions that could result in thousands of dollars in legal fees and risk to her license, her reputation and her chances of further employment. In a case of legal fallout, she has farther to fall.

Ask her if you can partner with her in becoming better team members together. Ask if the two of you can lean on one another for support: to sort through frustrating moments and to respectfully challenge one another's actions.

Wits' End, I don't want to mislead you. Few people quickly turn this kind of negative behavior around ... if ever. Still, everyone may be much more forgiving of her behavior if they know she's genuinely trying to improve. Your initiatives toward adjusting her attitude may create an environment where people share more honestly, understand one another more fully, and express their emotions better on the workplace.