Questions that help you uncover constipated communication


Ask yourself these questions to gain insight into what's causing problems at your veterinary practice.

1. How do I (and others) shut people down or keep them from saying what's on their mind? Look for verbal as well as nonverbal ways. Take a week or more to observe how communication gets stifled in your practice. You may observe that you or someone else:

> Is too busy to hear what someone has to say.

> Interrupts or finishes other people's sentences.

> Displays impatient body language.

> Invalidates others' feelings.

2. What is the commitment behind the complaints in my practice? People complain when they're committed to something. Otherwise, why would they care? So begin to listen for the commitment behind the complaint. It will completely alter what you hear. You'll realize that you have a committed staff. And you may be surprised to find that they're committed to the same things you are—for example, quality of service to clients. Listen this way for a couple of weeks, and you'll never hear a complaint the same way again.

3. What would people say if they were free to express themselves fully? Keep this question in front you for a week or two and it will give you the opportunity to notice how people act when they aren't free to express themselves. You'll notice how shut down and withheld most people are. After observing, open up with the people around you. If your practice is as constipated as mine was, you may need to extend this exercise beyond a couple of weeks because people won't trust you at first. If you stick with it, though, others will begin to open up as well.

4. What works to help people open up and be more communicative? How do you encourage people to open up? You can make progress by giving your staff members a safe space in which to communicate; see question one.

It starts by not shutting them down and then listening for the commitment behind their complaint; see question two. Then share with them what's on your mind; see question three.

Dr. Brad Swift is founder of the Life on Purpose Institute and helps professionals through writing, speaking, and coaching. Send comments to or visit

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