The veterinary hospital team loves the proposal. Not so fast: the office's Debbie Downer is about to speak up and put the
kibosh on the enthusiasm. Eye rolls, sighs, quiet groans—Debbie's negativity is infectious. But Debbie—or Donald—Downer isn't
in control. You are, and your skills can turn Debbie into a team player.
Chronic negativity in the office can stonewall progress and lead to low morale. Debbie's constant barrage of criticism and
gloom isn't conducive to a productive and supportive practice environment.
The savvy manager understands that Debbie often masks deep fear: fear about whether she's bringing value to the office, fear
about whether colleagues respect her, fear about the future.
Lift their spirits
Fearful people are vulnerable people. To change behavior, it is essential to acknowledge the Downer's point of view. Active
listening is how professionals in the helping profession describe this approach. Allow the Downer to speak about concerns,
yet put limits on the amount of time he or she has the floor.
As she shares her thoughts, it's essential for you to listen. Active listening involves hearing not only the words that are
expressed, but also tuning into expressions, emotions and other body language. To confirm that you comprehend the issues,
rephrase the Downer's sentiments in nonthreatening factual statements.
For example, when a Downer delivers an emotionally-charged diatribe about the practice's complicated recordkeeping, restate
what you believe to be the facts of her case: "You are frustrated with our recordkeeping because the system is confusing."
Keep in mind that buried in her complaints are legitimate issues that may require further attention.
After rephrasing, thank the speaker for sharing and acknowledge that she may have tapped into some of the concerns that have
influenced the proposal introduced in the team meeting. By offering your appreciation and highlighting the connection between
Debbie Downer's statements and the proposal she is critiquing, you show her respect, validate her comments and demonstrate
she may be more closely aligned with the team's approach than she realized.
As with any type of behavioral change, the key to long lasting success is to be aware of the behavior you're trying to change,
be consistent in your application of tactics and approach the employee with respect.
Christine Shupe, CAE, is the executive director of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. The association is dedicated
to serving professionals in veterinary management through education, certification and networking.