Venting: More hurtful than helpful in veterinary practice

November 14, 2020
Kelsey Gustafson, Associate Editor
Kelsey Gustafson, Associate Editor

Blowing off steam may feel good, but it’s a momentary relief that can carry negative results. Understanding why we vent can help us find healthy alternatives.

Blowing off steam with our coworkers feels good in the moment but, according to Bash Halow, CVPM, LVT, owner of Halow Consulting and dvm360® Editorial Advisory Board member, it’s counterproductive, habit-forming, and unprofessional.

“Venting is just a downsized version of losing it. Venting can mitigate some tension and anxiety, but most will agree it’s only helpful in the moment, not long-term.” During his lecture at the Fetch dvm360® virtual conference, Halow shared some things to consider the next time you want to let off some steam at your clinic.

You’re venting to feel valued

Often, we misconstrue those who gripe as being egocentric, powerful, and in control, when in reality what they really are is afraid, Halow said. “The urge to vent is a cry for love, reassurance, and praise,” he said, adding that if you’re going to vent to someone, make sure it’s someone who makes you not only feel heard, but valued and understood as well. This type of confidentiality is paramount when your rant is over. “Venting should be viewed as a pathway to a solution, not just a chance to smolder,” he said.

Fiction or reality?

What works us up into a lather is usually all in our heads, Halow said. If the printer goes down, a coworker is MIA, 3 clients are waiting to check out, and the phone is ringing off the hook all at the same time, you may feel the need to vent not because you have failed but because you fear failing.

Much of the time, he said, venting is a sign of our own personal demons or battles coming to light. For instance, the inability to understand something the first time can lead you to feel down on yourself, increasing your anxiety and stress levels. What we need to recognize, he said, is that the art of failing and the inability to understand something right off the bat is the normal process of learning. “We stress about things and manifest these thoughts of failure before they even, if ever, happen,” he said.

More harm than good

Venting is a momentary release that can have long-lasting effects. Often, you ultimately feel more alienated than when you began ranting. “The next time you pull a team member aside and vent, ask yourself 30 to 40 minutes later whether you indeed feel better, because I can guarantee you that you won’t,” he said.

Keep in mind that venting can amplify your colleagues’ anxieties and fears as well, making it a toxic environment for more than just you. Everyone has their own issues, demons, and personal battles, and unleashing your negativity onto a coworker is not only unprofessional, it can trigger their own feelings—and then it becomes a loop of anxieties, stresses, and fears, Halow said.

Underlying issues

You are thinking, acting, feeling, and responding based on all kinds of subconscious urges and neuroses, said Halow, adding that what you’re really upset about most likely stems from outside the practice and has been festering for quite some time. Don’t shy away from professional help, he advised. Explore various therapies and solutions, and take ownership of your own happiness.

So, the next time you feel the urge to vent at work, consider the root of what you’re feeling and whether it extends beyond the practice. If it does, that may be a warning sign that you need to address your overall mental well-being. “If we’re going to cry, let’s make them tears of happiness,” Halow said.

The trickle-down effect

“Often the practice leaders are partially responsible for stoking the anxiety that’s leading up to venting to begin with,” said Halow. And this behavior has a trickle-down effect. Think of the practice owner who consistently points out team members’ flaws and mistakes. “You gain nothing by watching your team members fail,” he said. “Helping them up and dusting them off and moving along together can benefit your entire team while getting the job done through cohesive effort.”

Working as a team can allow you to experience obstacles not as something bad, but as something that can be overcome together, Halow said. Practice leaders should recognize that 1 reason why employees may be experiencing the urge to blow is because the way they are being asked them to work also, well, blows.He noted that in the veterinary practice, teams can be placed into 2 silos: those who are client and patient care focused, and those who focus on how to care for clients and patients. “Protocols, paperwork, chart audits, and sign-offs are important, but when they supersede patient care, we risk disengagement, cheat team members of work that’s more fulfilling, and prime them for the need to vent.”

Halow concluded by stressing the need for a stronger, inclusive, and more supportive management style in veterinary practices. “There is empirical evidence that team members who are allowed to care directly for clients and patients are happier, turn over less, are more successful at their jobs, earn their employers more money, have better health and have higher job security,” he said.