Is your workplace toxic?

September 27, 2019

Heres what we see as the most toxic team member behaviors in veterinary practice today and some tips for managers and peers to navigate these situations.

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If you own, manage or work in a veterinary clinic today and some of these scenarios look familiar, it might be time to try to detoxify your workplace culture.

Potentially toxic behaviors-and possible solutions

> Gossiping. One day you join Maria in the break room, and she asks, “Did you have a good weekend? I heard there was a bachelor party for Frank at a strip club. I'll bet Susie was there. I think she likes to hang out at places like that.”

If you are uncomfortable with Maria talking about your teammates, it would be appropriate to let her know. Instead of attacking her in a negative way with, “You're such a gossip!” or with a threatening statement like, “Watch out what you say about Frank and Susie,” you can quietly and privately tell her, “I'm really uncomfortable when you talk about our teammates. I'd rather not hear about what others are doing on their personal time.”

> Creating cliques. Although you appreciate your well-stocked vending machine and refrigerator in the break room, it's upsetting that some of your teammates never ask you to join them for lunch. One day they ask you, “Why do you always speak in such a loud voice?”

If you feel outside the clique and you are asked, “Why do you always speak in such a loud voice?” your first instinct might be to give a defensive response. Instead, try to understand where your teammates are coming from. Try the scouting strategy, which encourages learning instead of confrontation. Try to find out what concerns others. An honest query like, “Is my voice disturbing you?” might spark a conversation that could lead to new learning.

> Dealing in divisiveness. Sally approaches you and says, “I've noticed you've been spending time with Tom. Be careful. I'm just telling you for your own good. He's likely to come on to you, if you know what I mean.”

> Being bossy. Dr. Nelson greets you on your first day of work in the clinic and says, “We start at 8 a.m. sharp every day. That means you need to be here on time, ready to work. Are you listening?”

Scouting for more information, as with the clique, might be useful when dealing with someone like Dr. Nelson. It might help to say, “I share your concern about being punctual.”

Similarly, responding to potentially divisive Sally with a degree of empathy might enable you to understand her concerns: “I'm sensing you're uncomfortable with Tom.” If Sally wants to say more, this would be a good opportunity for her to do so.

Your workplace is sick!

We covered toxic veterinary workplaces from every angle in the dvm360 Leadership Challenge at

> Signaling social status. Imagine you're the new receptionist at a clinic. Martin, a veterinary technician for 20 years, acts like he owns the place. He seems to enjoy criticizing and admonishing you. “Hey, where's your name tag?” he asks.

This might call for an “I statement.” Speaking up, whether directly or indirectly, to your supervisor can have consequences. So try this: Talk about how you feel and how you're impacted by the situation or the other person's behavior. Avoid talking about the other person-no name-calling, no accusing, no blaming.

If you tell Martin, for example, “I feel put down when you make comments about my computer work,” you haven't attacked Martin. Your I statement might, however, lead to a more solution-oriented dialogue.

> Complaining. Kelly is known for finding fault with everything. “They always expect me to take the weekend shifts just because I have no children,” she says. Maybe she has a point and maybe she doesn't, but her negative attitude is a drag to you and her other teammates.

Why not try active listening? This involves involves grasping the facts and feelings conveyed instead of passively absorbing words. For example, you might say to Kelly, “It sounds like you're pretty sore about being asked to work on the weekend.” Kelly is likely to say, “I am!” To let her know you understand her concerns, you might respond with, “You'd like a free weekend, too, right?” Kelly might say, “My mother is coming to visit this weekend and I really want to be with her, but I'm afraid to ask for the weekend off.” Now you can respond, “You hate to appear uncooperative, is that it?” Active listening could lead to an improved working relationship.

To free the workplace of toxic behavior, all team members need to communicate freely and honestly and demonstrate respect for everyone on the team.

Dr. Shadle earned her PhD in interpersonal and organizational communication from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Dr. Meyer earned his PhD in communication studies and speech arts from the University of Minnesota. They write and have trained veterinary professionals at numerous national and international conferences through Interpersonal Communication Services.