Managers: Why assume the worst of your veterinary team?

October 14, 2019
Oriana D. Scislowicz, LVT, PHR
Oriana D. Scislowicz, LVT, PHR

Oriana Scislowicz, LVT, PHR, was a veterinary practice manager for many years before becoming senior HR specialist at Pharmaceutical Product Development.

Making up good stories about how a veterinary colleague didnt mean to hurt you with the negative comment or bad interaction is key to improving a veterinary hospitals work culture. And it starts with managers modeling that behavior.


kozorog/stock.adobe.comWhen you tell others to assume the best in people when they're complaining, you're likely to get some eye rolls.

But the truth is, there's a lot of power in decreasing your own stress levels by seeking out positive intent in others. When we aren't getting upset about that nasty email or how a coworker started their day today, we're in better control of our own emotions and wellbeing. This approach encourages us to try to step inside another person's shoes and not judge based off actions alone, but instead seek to understand better and not assume the worst. It helps foster a culture of trust in employees when they're actively assuming the best of each other every day.

How to imagine the best, not assume the worst

When you run into negative behavior-or what you assume is an unreasonable, unfair, angry or snippy comment or action-you should first walk away and take a breath, if you can. Before you return to the situation, use our imagination and reasoning to come up with at least two versions of the story that explain why the person said what they said or acted as they did. At this point, you can more calmly approach the conversation in problem-solving mode instead of blaming. You may even be able to spin a problem in a way that creates good out of a tense situation. At the very least, in situations where you assume positive intent and it turns out you're wrong, this will likely cause the other individual to rethink their actions in the future and not react in such a volatile way.

For managers, this practice is especially helpful when dealing with interpersonal issues with employees. When two employees are butting heads on an issue, you tend to hear an elaborate, one-sided version from each individual. I found early on as a manager that I would easily get sucked into the first story I heard, feel empathy and come at the problem from that perspective from the start. That often meant assuming negative intent from the other party. Then, after I investigated a little more, I usually heard a completely different story from the second party.

While it's important to express empathy when an employee expresses stress and hurt feelings, it's also important to separate yourself from their assumption of the other person's intent. In fact, when you demonstrate an ability to assume positive intentions in others, you help coach your team members to see the other side of someone's actions and view things through a new lens. Start by asking the employee exactly which actions of the other person made them feel attacked or hurt or stressed, and then ask if they thought about things from the other person's perspective. We usually fixate on the one action that upset us versus seeing the whole picture.

Pumped by positivity?

Leadership, emotional intelligence and more positive management techniques are taught by Ori Scislowicz and others at Fetch conferences nationwide. Learn more about the next one near you.

When we're disconnected

Assuming negative intent often occurs when someone lacks enough interaction with, or understanding of, another person. The more we get caught up in our own day-to-day tasks-or correspond over email instead of face to face-we run the risk of becoming disconnected. As individuals, in these moments, we judge actions isolated from the person.

Think of it this way: When your best friend or spouse sends a text that you might misconstrue as negative or hurtful, you're much quicker to assume positive intent and move on from the problem than if the potential slight is from a distant coworker. When we don't truly know each other that well-when we're not familiar with another person's redeeming qualities-we have a harder time assuming the best in seemingly negative situations.

As a manager, it can be helpful to have regular team meetings and daily huddles to increase interaction. This also opens the door for individuals to talk more openly if they're having a rough day or want to share any external factors that are clouding the picture. That helps coworkers to be more understanding if they see that person stressed and not on their best behavior later in the day. That doesn't excuse bad behavior, but it means you can see a bad day as a bad day and cut people more slack. Social events during and outside of the workday can not only increase employee engagement, but also help build those relationships with coworkers to make positivity a natural approach.

It starts with you

It's very important for managers to practice this behavior themselves first. Don't come into the office complaining about other people. When you give off this negativity and assume the worst in others, it gives the go-ahead for subordinates to do the same. Culture is often created from the top down, and if negativity is the norm at the top, you better believe employees will replicate that-or worse, they'll find out that their attempts at positivity aren't a good cultural fit and leave your hospital.

As team members assume positive intent more and more, they'll find their work becoming less stressful. They'll be open to more opportunities for collaboration and idea-sharing. They'll be more trusting and supportive of their coworkers. The key to building a positive culture is enacting a policy of trust, and to do that, we need to assume the best in one another.

Oriana Scislowicz, BS, LVT, aPHR, was a veterinary practice manager for many years before becoming senior HR specialist at Pharmaceutical Product Development.