'We need to talk'


Behavior, performance, and discipline problems just don't come across in email and text messages. Remind your manager (or yourself) that difficult conversations need to be face to face.

When I came to my most recent practice, the newly promoted hospital director and I met to evaluate how the practice ran. One particular section of the hospital was a mess due to poor management and even worse communication. We had to turn things around quickly and looked at everything as part of a plan for change.

After the new hospital director was comfortable, I set her free. But after about a month, things were not going well. Staff morale was suffering, even though they'd told us they supported our changes. So I set out to learn what had gone wrong. I discovered it wasn't the plan or the changes causing the problem—it was my new hospital director's communication style.

Facing fears

This hospital director had never managed employees before, so she had never needed to be on the other side of difficult conversations. Her favorite way to let people know about changes or address work problems? Email or text messages. But the problem was that in an email or text, there are no facial expressions and no tone of voice to truly understand what's being said—and how it's being said.

She eventually confided in me that she was afraid of, and often felt intimidated by, the team members. But she felt "brave" behind the keyboard, a feeling she didn't have in face-to-face meetings.

Forum for feedback

I explained to the hospital director that her memos, emails, and text messages were overwhelming the staff. Even worse, some staff felt that they sent another message—that feedback wasn't welcome, which definitely wasn't true.

I explained that team members would sometimes need to be corrected or educated, but they also needed to be heard. I asked her to speak with them face to face whenever possible and always when it involved behavior or discipline.

The next time I checked back, the staff was happier. For the first time since the new hospital director was hired, there was a forum for feedback. And the hospital director was feeling more confident, too.

There are times when you can't avoid difficult conversations. But it's time to put away the technology when it comes to dealing with your staff.

Donna Recupido, CVPM, is hospital administrator at Veterinary Specialty Care in the Charleston, S.C., area. She blogs as donnaraeb on the dvm360 Community.

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