How not to lose it: Self-management for dummies

January 26, 2019
Brendan Howard, Business Channel Director

Brendan Howard oversees veterinary business, practice management and life-balance content for dvm360.com, dvm360 magazine, Firstline and Vetted, and plans the Practice Management track at all three Fetch dvm360 conferences.Brendan has proudly served under the Veterinary Economics and dvm360 banners for more than 10 years. Before that, he worked as a journalist, writer and editor at Entrepreneur magazine and a top filmed entertainment magazine in Southern California. Brendan received a Masters in English Literature from University of California, Riverside, in 1999.

Know what youre feeling, pause before reacting, and help yourself and your team. Betsy Charles, DVM, MA, executive director of the Veterinary Leadership Initiative, worked with Fetch dvm360 in San Diego attendees to think about how.

You are on my LAST NERVE. (Willee Cole/stock.adobe.com)“Being responsible for my time, action and words.”

“My ability to understand how my communication impacts others.”

“My ability to get things done with my God-given skills and strengths.”

That's how attendees at “Self-management for dummies” at Fetch dvm360 San Diego answered the call from Betsy Charles, DVM, MA, executive director of the Veterinary Leadership Institute, to define “self-management.” Then Charles asked veterinarians, managers and team members in attendance to think of examples of how a lack of self-management can derail a veterinary team.

It can come in personal frustration bubbling over into back-room client-bashing, said one attendee: “I'm in ER, and a dog can come in at 2 a.m. that's been itchy for a month, and the veterinarian yells, ‘Why is this dog here?'” Then the veterinarian's frustration behind the scenes with a client who ignored a problem for weeks only to run into the E.R. one night when they can't sleep because the dog's scratching now spills over into everyone. “We're saying that to each other [back there], and then the pet owner can feel it, our nonverbals, the tension in our voice.” The attendee said the lashing out and venting will come back to bite them in the rear down the road: “When the dog blows out a knee, they won't come back to us, because [they'll remember the] veterinarian didn't want to see them.”

Dr. Charles celebrated the example in the session and said one of the most common ways self-management fails in veterinary practice is when doctors and team members act out when they're “pissed at people because they're not taking care of the animals the way we think they should.”

“Look, they don't know what they don't know,” said Dr. Charles, reminding a room full of mostly doctors of veterinary medicine that most pet owners didn't go to school for years to learn about animals and animal medicine.

You are totally triggering me

People get wound up by different things. We feel wounded or frustrated or fearful about different things. Dr. Charles ask attendees to share their triggers, and a few did:

> “When somebody asks me to do a task that they would never do themselves”

> “When someone won't own a problem and fix it or ask for help”

> “Disorganization”

> “I have trouble managing myself and get mad at people who can't self-manage themselves.”

Why not ask yourself right now: What's your big trigger? Why does it bother you so much? And what could you do to manage yourself when you become aware that trigger's bothering you?

Another attendee said the snarkiness is sometimes internally directed, especially when a team member asks a veterinarian what the doctor thinks is a dumb question. “The veterinarian is snarky,” the attendee explained, and then that team member doesn't want to ask a question again and ignorance and resentment grow.

Self-management in action? One practice manager knows how bad a day can be if she comes in in a bad mood: “When you're feeling bogged down and don't want to make eye contact with anyone, people notice it. So, a few times I've had to regroup with myself [before walking in the door in the morning], give myself a pep talk and set a [better] tone for the day.”

That was a perfect example, said Dr. Charles, of the space between stimulus and response. Sometimes you just need a second or two to be aware of how you're feeling before you react. You can make a better choice, explained Dr. Charles.

Manage yourself and you can manage to be a success

It's not easy to explore your triggers, be mindful in moments of intense emotion, and make a healthy and kind choice in your communication and action. Betsy Charles, DVM, MA, executive director the Veterinary Leadership Initiative, has spent years herself and years with others learning self-awareness, self-management and the communication and essential skills that get human beings past their Pavlovian response to stress and to a better way.

Want to start your own journey with Dr. Charles and her team? Visit vli.org to learn about their face-to-face, experiential events during the year.

How do you find that space?

> Tactical breathing. Stop for a moment, even if you're around others, and breathe. Four beats in, four beats hold, four beats out, four beats hold. Military personnel use this in chaotic, stressful combat situations, and it can work just as well for you if you can feel frustration, anger, confusion or fear welling up and you need a beat (or four) to figure out what to do.

> Meditation. There are a ton of smartphone apps out there for mindfulness and meditation that can help you in the moment with a few minutes of breathing room and help train you to slow down and be aware of what you're feeling. (Dr. Charles called out the popular app Headspace.)

> Self-deprecating humor and vulnerability. Can you be brave enough to be vulnerable? Can you tell people at work, “I'm sorry I'm really stressed today,” or “I had terrible traffic on the way here.” Are you secure enough to make fun of the fact that you're having a bad day, a bad week or just a bad five minutes? When you own up to the feeling, Dr. Charles said, your stress may start to decrease.

Dr. Charles shared her favorite way to steal a moment to self-manage in tough situations: the veterinary technician she used to work with. When the veterinary technician saw that Dr. Charles' was getting angry or overwhelmed or frustrated with a client, she'd ask Dr. Charles to the back for something so she could get a breath, talk it out and get back to work. Self-management is a solitary responsibility, it seems, but maybe it can be a team effort too.