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Get a jump on office bullies


Whether you're dodging their bark or their bite, there are many ways to beat a bully in veterinary practice. Consider these facts and advice from experts to handle conflicts with bosses and co-workers.

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If you’ve been working in a veterinary practice for a while, there’s a nearly 50 percent chance that you’ve witnessed an employer visibly lose his or her temper. About 46 percent of team members responding to the 2012 Firstline Veterinary Team Trends Study said their boss sometimes responds angrily when things go wrong. The data also reveals that team members are more likely to identify bosses as bullies than team members.

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How-to tip: Fight the fireworks

Think social media is just for fun? Think again. Clients who chat you up on social fear, says Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member Bash Halow, CVPM, LVT, owner of Halow Consulting in New York City and Wyalusing, Pa. These are men and women doing high-stakes work that can affect patient well-being, personal liability, and the financial future of the practice. “Honestly acknowledging and validating the person’s concern will go a long way to putting out the fire, if not entirely snuffing out the embers,” Halow says.

“Remember that people who behave explosively in work situations likely have a whole history of interactions gone wrong. The fact that they’re placed in a similar setting sets them on edge, creates anxiety, and sets the stage for an explosive outburst. You’re not the problem—you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

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How-to tip: Set the stage for change

Use these tips from Firstline board member Debbie Allaben Gair, CVPM, owner of Bridging the Gap in Sparta, Mich., to talk to your bully and create a more peaceful, effective work environment.

Wait for a calm moment to discuss conflict. Depending on the structure of the practice, you may be able to turn to the practice manager to explain that the doctor’s angry reactions—whether it’s yelling or throwing things—disrupt your ability to work effectively for the practice. Reinforce your desire to resolve the issue so you can focus on offering high-quality care for pets and topnotch service for clients.

Set the stage for an effective discussion. Use a calm tone and plan what you want to say in advance so your conversation is orderly, well thought out, and professional. Don’t start a conversation when you’re angry, and make sure your goal is to address the problem. It’s important to depersonalize the discussion. It’s not about the person, it’s about the offensive behavior.

Talk to the person directly. Avoid speaking to other team members about your issue. It’s more effective to speak to the person you’re experiencing the conflict with or an appropriate supervisor, depending on your practice structure and the identity of the bully. For example, if the boss lashes out, you might feel more comfortable approaching the practice manager first. Then, if you’re the manager, it’s important to plan a time to speak to the owner and say something like, “Our staff has trouble meeting our expectations of excellent service when they’re in an angry environment or they feel fearful.”

Be specific. Provide indisputable examples. For example, “Last Wednesday you were angry and yelled at the receptionists. I need to know as your practice manager what we can do when our environment is like that. The team can’t offer the service we expect when this happens. May I block off a few appointments in the schedule during these times so we can discuss your concerns?”

Know when to walk away. Finally, as a last option, if the bullying becomes too much and you’ve made respectable attempts to resolve the conflict, Gair says you may need to move to a new practice to remove yourself from a boss’s unacceptable behavior.

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