Refocusing attitudes in veterinary practice

Refocusing attitudes in veterinary practice

Q: I manage a team of good workers who have a bad habit of focusing on the negative. How can I push them to put a positive spin on their bad attitudes?
Apr 01, 2013
By staff

Q. I manage a team of good workers who have a bad habit of focusing on the negative. How can I push them to put a positive spin on their bad attitudes?

The first step is to figure out where the negativity is coming from, as it rarely exists in a vacuum, says Kyle Palmer, CVT, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton, Ore.

"While there are some bad eggs out there, it sounds like that isn't the case with your team members," Palmer says. "I've found two things can create an environment for negativity: a failure to clearly and successfully model a positive attitude, or a practice leader who—knowingly or unknowingly—provides validation to those with negative thoughts."

Smother the fire before it spreads

Negativity in like a wildfire, Palmer says, because it starts out as something small and can usually only grow with fuel. That fuel is often others who share or compare their thoughts about something they may not understand or something they may feel slighted by.

"Several little embers quickly combine to become a major fire. And if a doctor or manager quietly contributes to the conversations, it's just like mixing in gasoline," Palmer says. "Once an employee's attitude has been validated, it becomes a serious problem."

On the other hand, he says, you can respond to this fire­—and prevent future ones—by creating a culture of positive energy and modeling a practice philosophy that leaves no room for negativity. If the negativity focuses on clients, make sure employees understand the relationship between clients—even difficult ones—and their paycheck. Remind team members that veterinary medicine is a competitive industry, and it's easy for clients to drive on to the next veterinarian for services.

Offer positive opportunities

If the negativity is internal, Palmer recommends starting with an interview. How does the employee feel about the practice, about his or her job and the future there?

"People tend to feel one of two ways: overburdened or underutilized," Palmer says. "Find out which is the case and plan for the future."

For example, he says, if negativity has become a culture in your practice, select some key players and try to extract them from the culture one at a time by instilling responsibility and opportunity. Palmer says if team members feel like outsiders you can remedy this situation quickly by re-engaging them in your team.

"When team members are unhappy, it's usually something that you can fix as a manager," Palmer says. "For those few that really are just bad eggs, make that determination, and send them packing as soon as possible. They represent the single greatest threat to your practice's success."

Editor's note: Firstline Hotline is a new column that answers your questions when you need answers fast. Do you have a communication 911? A career emergency? Send us your question today.