Mad at work?

Mad at work?

Use these tips to tame tempers and vanquish veterinary team tantrums.
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Jan 20, 2016

Most of us spend more time with our coworkers than our family, which often creates a unique second family. Unfortunately, like our genetic family, this can lead to arguments and anger. And then there's the emotional turmoil that comes with this field: upset clients, euthanasia and sick animals to name a few. It can create the perfect storm that leads to a furious coworker. Check out these tips—and some fun animations—to extinguish those flames of anger.

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Allow time to decompress. It’s rarely a good idea to jump into solution mode when team members are at the height of their frustration. Give them some space (and yourself some breathing room) and let them calm down. Before you respond to that angry email in the heat of the moment, give it a solid 24 hours.

 

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Determine the best setting. When you're ready to tackle a coworker’s frustrations and anger, be sure to plan carefully. Decide who needs to be involved and find neutral ground. For more complicated issues, the hospital environment may not be best. Rent space if needed, but discuss the heavier issues in a neutral place. Before the discussion, consider why the team member felt the way she did, and get other teammates’ perspectives as well. When talking, have everyone sit so no one feels threatened, and don't encroach on team members’ personal space.

Focus on the underlying issue. Heated discussions are rarely about what the two individuals appear to be discussing. The upset team member likely isn’t just angry that she's working every Saturday this month. Perhaps she's reacting because she isn't being treated the same as her coworkers, who work every other weekend. Try to figure out the real problem creating this whirlwind of emotion—does the team member feel disrespected? Excluded? Ignored?

 

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Compromise. There's a trade-off. The angry coworker gets something she wants, and the team is also happy. No one gets their way 100 percent, but you're defusing a tense situation. For example, the angry team member wants to never need to stay late on Wednesdays. Another team member really wants to get off on time on Mondays to make it to her son’s soccer matches. See if the two team members can swap their late days. And although they still will have to stay late at least one day during the week, the compromise may work much better for both of their schedules.

Acknowledge the anger. Even if you don't completely understand it, try to get into your coworker’s shoes and understand why she was so upset. Factor in the person's personality and perhaps even life circumstances that may have made her feel this way. Express empathy and let her know you understand where she's coming from.

Apologize. If you truly feel you've erred, apologize to your coworker and let him know how you will avoid this scenario again. Let him know you've given thought to your actions and won't repeat this behavior now that you see how it has upset him. 

However, if you're not in the wrong, don't always apologize. This allows your coworker to never analyze his anger and actions. This will also encourage him to continue to conclude heated discussions by waiting for his teammates to give in.

 

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Stand up for yourself. I remember in my early days as a veterinary assistant, working with a doctor who would call names and even throw his stethoscope in the trash when he was angry, expecting someone to come by and swoop it up for him. I quickly learned not to give into these toddler-like tantrums and stood my ground. Don't engage these types of coworkers—they enjoy a fight. Be as even-keeled as possible, make eye contact and firmly let him know this behavior is unacceptable and needs to come to an end. (Oh, and side note: Don’t pick up the stethoscope. When the trash collectors came by that week and the stethoscope was gone, he quickly learned his lesson!)

Create reward systems. Encourage positive behavior and discourage angry outbursts. Create a complaint jar so when coworkers have intense feelings of anger, they can put them into the jar. This will encourage coworkers to stop and think if their feelings are truly warranted and also if they're worth bringing up to the team. At the end of every week, the supervisor can go through the complaints and discuss them with the team (or individually, if more appropriate). And reward positivity! Whoever has the least amount of complaints in the jar every month gets a small gift card to their favorite store.

With patience and determination, your team can squash negativity and angry outbursts in the workplace and create a place of tranquility and respect. We can all get wrapped up in frustration and respond with anger, but revamping our response is a team effort. Get everyone on board to make the workplace more positive, and your sense of morale and productivity will surely benefit.

Oriana Scislowicz, BS, LVT, is a FirstlineEditorial Advisory Board member and a technician in Richmond, Virginia.