Shy and quiet-or toxic veterinary team member?


Dr. Michael Paul weighs in on how to handle a not-too-friendly team member.

I have an extremely gifted but not very personable veterinary assistant at my practice. What can I do to encourage her to be a little friendlier with co-workers and clients?

Some people are simply very introverted and that can be interpreted as being unfriendly, says Dr. Michael Paul, principal of Magpie Veterinary Consulting in the West Indies. Cultural and generational differences can also cause one to feel like they "don't fit."

"You don't say anything about how this person treats other staff members," Dr. Paul says. "Not interacting socially or sharing interests may lead to isolation. About all you can do in that case is to include her in activities, take her to lunch, get to know her. Don't misinterpret her quietness as being unfriendly."

On the other hand, how she talks to and interacts with others is much more important, Dr. Paul says. Being quiet and distant is one thing, but being rude, mean-spirited or passive-aggressive is something else. Such behavior is sometimes a defense to keep people at a distance. She may not even be aware she does it. However, behavior that adversely impacts others cannot be tolerated.

"If that's the case, I suggest having a talk with her and telling her the way people feel," Dr. Paul says. "If her behavior is destructive, tell her that if she doesn't work toward a better attitude, she'll have to leave."

She could be valuable as a work performer, but every staff member has value and she simply cannot be allowed to hurt them by diminishing their value. Shy and quiet, you accept and help her grow. Toxic? She needs to change—or go.

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