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Replacing judgment with curiosity


One simple change can improve your health, increase your happiness, and help your hospital succeed

ST.art / stock.adobe.com

ST.art / stock.adobe.com

Content submitted by IndeVets, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner

"Be curious, not judgmental.” It doesn’t matter that the origin of that dictum is unknown; if it is put into practice, it can be life-changing. Judgment closes the door to progress; curiosity opens it.

The past couple of years have been difficult as the veterinary industry has faced numerous challenges: volatile owners, overwhelmed hospitals, and high veterinarian burnout and staff turnover. Rushing to judgment is a protective mechanism, but it solves nothing.

Embracing curiosity is the key to health, happiness, and success—for you, your hospital, and the industry as a whole.

Practicing curiosity for mental and physical well-being

The first dog I spayed as a vet was a deep-chested German shepherd. I had performed one such surgery in veterinary school, but this one was different: It was so much harder to visualize things! Eventually, I tied off the first pedicle and moved on to the second. My relief, however, turned to horror when I found a suture knot nowhere near where it should have been. Thankfully, another vet was available to help, but the experience left me feeling ashamed and inadequate, like a complete fraud.

This incident happened primarily because it is more difficult to see tissue and organs in deep-chested dogs. That fact led me to discover the Dowling Spay Retractor and with it to perfect the Miller knot. I realized just how much tension you can—and should—use to cut through fat. Instead of letting self-judgment paralyze me, I used my curiosity to move forward and become a better surgeon. I never made the same mistake again.

Although imposter syndrome stuck with me for a long time, curiosity eventually helped me overcome it. When I looked at the facts, I realized that there was more proof that I belonged than that I didn’t.

Practicing curiosity in the workplace

Choosing curiosity is key to solving problems, boosting morale, and making your practice more successful. Recently, a hospital owner told me that the best thing a practice can do to improve general well-being is to fire its most negative employee. That may seem like the simple solution, but letting a “toxic” employee go without asking any questions eliminates the possibility for clarity and growth. The negative person may be the canary in the coal mine, the one who is saying what everyone else is thinking. Ask yourself:

  • How is morale at the hospital?
  • Are there valid complaints I can address?
  • How can I have a productive, nonjudgmental discussion with staff members?

In some cases, firing a negative employee may be the answer, but until you get to the root of the negativity you won’t know whether you’re missing an opportunity to grow.

These days, walk-ins are commonplace. Often, however, there is a disconnect between what the manager thinks can be accomplished and what the rest of the team thinks. The fear of judgment—of not seeing enough cases, not being good enough, not helping a patient in need—and the urge to please frequently lead people to say yes when they desperately want to say no. This can result in inferior care, longer waits, and a defeated team. How can boundaries be established that support the well-being of everyone?

When we understand the reasons behind workplace disagreements, we can discuss how to go about taking the well-being of all parties into consideration while still delivering excellent care.

Practicing curiosity with clients

It can be hard to resist making assumptions about people. I once had a visit from a woman whose dog was overdue for everything. She seemed abrasive and declined all but the bare necessities—no preventatives. It is easy to adopt a judgmental attitude in such cases: “Clearly, she doesn’t care.”

During the examination, however, I started a conversation and found out that the client’s husband had just passed away. The dog was his, and he always took care of everything. The woman had no idea what preventives the animal had received and was overwhelmed emotionally and financially. If I had decided she was uncaring, I would have done her and her pet a disservice. She needed guidance, and together, we came up with a plan that worked for her and her dog.

There’s nothing more disruptive than clients who call at the last minute, demand to be seen immediately, and are rude to everyone. If judgments start flying, no one will be satisfied, regardless of the outcome. Stay curious and ask questions:

  • Is this person worried about her pet or dealing with other stressors?
  • Can I help them understand why they can’t be seen right away?
  • How can I help the staff deal with these clients without feeling personally attacked?

When clients complain about prices, get curious:

  • Are they comparing our prices to what they pay for their own insured health care?
  • Do they know about pet insurance?
  • How can I help them understand the value of our services?
  • Are they worried about money or their pets?

Embracing curiosity leads to more honest and constructive conversations and makes for a healthier workplace, improved patient care, and better educated, more satisfied clients. Try it in your personal life: Driving home and getting cut off? Let go of the anger and ponder what’s going on with the other driver. Isn’t that less unpleasant?

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