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The VHMA files: Take the ouch out of feedback in your veterinary clinic


Use these tips to deliver honest feedback to employees and coworkers.

In many offices, team members are feeling the pressure to do more with less—fewer team members, fewer resources and limited time. And the economic climate is placing even more stress on employees. As we perform our jobs in this highly charged environment, we will hit bumps along the way. We'll make mistakes, our coworkers will forget to do something, and our managers may even take us to task. It's inevitable.

We may not be able to control external events, but we can keep our composure and control how we respond to—and give—feedback. To ensure your practice stays an effective, cordial and productive environment, it's important for all employees to evaluate how they receive and provide feedback.

Stick to the facts

Good communication skills are, for the most part, learned. It takes practice and confidence to deliver your message effectively. First and foremost, make sure your feedback is timely. If a colleague is rude to a pet owner, don't stew about the incident. Instead, address the situation as soon as possible.

When you find an opportunity to speak with your coworker, be specific and quantify the behavior. Adopting this approach helps you successfully communicate the facts of the behavior, rather than infusing the message with emotional comments. For example, if you believe a colleague demonstrates brusque behavior with clients, approach the situation by identifying the behavior, not judging it. "You're very dismissive of our clients" will not be as well received as, "When Mrs. Smith asked very pointed questions about her cat's prognosis, and twice you seemed to brush off her concerns by telling her not to worry." When presented in this manner, your colleague can clearly understand the concerning behavior.

Ask yourself if you're willing to be open-minded and listen to the colleague's response. When you quantify and provide specific examples, you not only increase your colleague's self-awareness, but you also lay the foundation for understanding behavior and working toward a solution. Perhaps Mrs. Smith demonstrates obsessive concern over her cat's health. Through collaboration, you and your coworker can craft a solution that assuages Mrs. Smith's concerns and reins in her obsessive inquiries while maintaining a respectful and courteous relationship.

By approaching the issue in a nonthreatening, factual way, you increase the chance your coworker will respond in kind. The goal for this conversation is to share the information in an atmosphere of collaboration instead of a combat zone.

At work, you're the professional

There are many ways to relate to others, but whatever approach we choose is often based on firmly entrenched behavioral patterns. When receiving or giving feedback, step out of familiar roles. You aren't the younger sister, parent or child. You're a professional, and it's important to confront the situation as a professional rather than resorting to the role you're comfortable playing in your family. At times, it's second nature to conform to familiar roles we've played throughout our lives. Has the practice owner chided you for making mistakes in a manner reminiscent of an angry parent? Sharing your side of the story respectfully and factually will allow both of you to move on.

However, if you find yourself unconsciously confusing an employee or supervisor with a child/parent relationship, don't retreat silently after being admonished. It's important to confront a situation, which can be painful, rather than letting it fester and damage your professionalism. Be open-minded, be resilient and be professional. If, for example, your boss micromanages to the extent that your ability to make decisions is compromised, confront the issue. Start with the facts: "I have years of experience and a proven track record and I've demonstrated I possess the judgement and qualifications to make these decisions."

I hear you, you hear me

If you have a gripe with a coworker and you confront her about the situation, remember to yield the floor. You're both more likely to feel satisfied with the resolution if everyone has a chance to speak and be heard. If, for example, a receptionist failed to pass along a message from a pet owner, keep cool and don't overreact. Explain the importance of the message and your disappointment that you didn't receive it in a timely manner and allow the receptionist to explain what happened.

The process of delivering feedback and resolving conflict isn't a one-sided conversation. It requires good listening skills. Active listening means that the person speaking pauses and acknowledges the presence of others. It's important to see, hear and try to understand what's being said. Better listening is essential to establishing trust. When a coworker offers an explanation, it's time to move forward. This doesn't mean you forget. It means you choose a reasonable approach to deal with the situation. For example, if the receptionist explains she's distracted by stress at home, focus on brainstorming solutions to prevent stress from affecting her job performance.

Ignoring behavior that needs to be changed, becoming defensive when presented with feedback or refusing to listen to feedback will only heighten tensions and sour the practice environment. If you can readjust your reactions, you'll find feedback can be a positive force that can yield many benefits, such as a more productive workplace and positive team members.

For more tips on delivering feedback, visit dvm360.com/VHMA.

Christine Shupe is executive director of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. The association is dedicated to serving professionals in veterinary management through education, certification and networking.

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