Communicate positive attitude to staff

Communicate positive attitude to staff

May 01, 2002

Ask any number of our colleagues to tell us the most challenging part of their practices.

Not too many would express concerns about their clinical skills.

Only a few veterinarians would admit that their business systems are a source of clinical gastric distress.

However, the overwhelming majority would raise their hands whenever the issue of communicating with staff came up. That most veterinarians either feel (or are) inadequate at communicating with their staff is not surprising. After all, who of us chose to become psychologists and human resource managers?

How rather than what

Communication is more about how you think than what you say.

The attitude you maintain with your staff influences - more than your actual words - your behavior, and ipso facto, the outcome. No amount of communication training can overcome a bad attitude.

A positive attitude makes for a positive environment and a more successful outcome; a negative one does the opposite. A mistrusting attitude will bring out the worst in others and confirm your every expectation. If you believe everyone is out to get you, you are probably right. Paradoxically, those who believe that others are basically good - and behave that way, tend to experience the best in others.

Evil vs. asset

You can predict the difference between what you would see in the practice of a colleague who considers his or her staff a necessary evil vs. one who sees them as an asset. The former might resent the efforts to hire, train, pay, and deal with employees and thus would be more likely to have less skilled, less satisfied, and less loyal staff members. The latter, on the other hand, finds investing time and energy in staff pays dividends that make the practice more successful.

Your staff wants to do the right thing and make you happy. No staff member wants to do a lousy job, make mistakes, or annoy you. They all work to earn a living, but we all prefer a job from which we can derive a sense of accomplishment. We also want to know that we have performed well in the eyes of those who are important to us. The performance standards you set and the feedback you deliver is the key to your staff's ability to do their jobs well.

Of course, the question is whether staff members are receiving the complete report. Many complain that they don't know what their veterinarian expects. They regularly hear what is wrong but rarely get reports about what they are doing right. Again, your attitude is the key.

Once they're convinced they cannot make you happy, many will leave a position rather than endure failure and its repercussions.

No mind-readers

Your staff must know what is on your mind. Veterinarians tend to be internal thinkers. Employees are not mind-readers, although they may try to figure out what they are missing by piecing together clues. While you may have a broad set of concepts and principles in your mind, your staff may only be witness to a single application and thus miss the big picture.

Clearly convey your goals. Give them solid guidelines for their performance. Your staff will want to know when they can use their own judgment and when you want to be consulted. Unless you clearly define your expectations, staff just fills in the gaps as they see fit. If you want to avoid incorrect assumptions, it's your job to tell your staff what you need.

Different agenda

Your staff's agenda and priorities are different from yours. Even the most dedicated and long-term employees will have a different perspective on the practice. Our largely female labor force works outside the home mostly by necessity.

Recent studies suggest that young mothers would prefer to devote more time to their children; they work primarily to supplement the family's income and/or provide a respite from home responsibilities. In fact, almost every female employee with young children will report feeling pulled between the obligations of child rearing, home keeping, and extended family. Veterinarians, especially males, seldom encounter this dilemma. This is why female staff may resist running over at the end of the day, attending continuing education on weekends, or participating in evening meetings. It is particularly unfair to use after hours events as a litmus test for loyalty and dedication to the practice.

Understanding, respect

Your staff wants to be understood and respected. People simply function better when they believe they are respected by fellow employees and supervisors.

Respect is vitally important when you wish to have an impact on others. Your staff will be more open to your influence when they believe you have taken into account their perspective and hold it in esteem.

Consider how understanding and respect impacts you. How likely are you to follow the guidance of someone you believe does not understand your circumstances and/or does not respect your situation? You will probably reject this person's opinion and look elsewhere for support. Your team is no different, and it's in your best interest to invest time and energy in learning more about them.