The walking wounded
Sometimes veterinary team members' emotional responses have more to do with their own self-esteem than with what you've said.
You won't always know whether co-workers bear emotional scars. But when you do know, you can begin to separate their behaviors from what they feel—or what they say they feel. And if their emotional responses (crying or emotional outbursts) start to overwhelm the work environment and affect your team's performance, it's time to talk.
Getty Images/Beverly Logan
These tips can help:
• Let team members know you're sorry for what they've experienced, but continue to hold them accountable for their behavior. That means focusing on performance. If the team member isn't capable of completing his or her tasks to practice standards, your empathetic response might be, "I'm sorry this is a struggle for you. But if you're not able to manage your emotional responses, I'm not sure you're capable of doing the job I need you to do."
• Be aware that when you confront team members with low self-esteem, they may respond internally with "shame attacks." When you say, "Gosh, it would have been great to have you here on time today," team members may hear, "You're worthless." Your goal is to help them get your true message: "You were late, and I need you to be on time."
• Keep in mind that team members might not know how to ask for help, so listen for phrases like, "I know I have this problem, but I don't know how to fix it," or "I'm just that way. I don't know what to do." As an emotionally intelligent leader, your response will be, "There is something you can do about it. Let's talk about a personal development plan together to address these issues." Then you or an experienced emotional intelligence coach—who might be your human resources director in larger practices—can work with the team member to start on a personal journey toward change and healing.
• Consider that you may need emotional intelligence coaching to get to the place where you can lead effective conversations with wounded team members about their performance.
Ultimately, your goal is to bring the conversation back to behavior and make team members aware of how their emotional baggage interferes with their ability to work. This leaves team members with two options: to ask for help to begin transforming their behavior or to leave the job. And when they ask for help, you'll be ready.