Creating an Open Peer-to-Peer Culture Within Your Veterinary Practice

It takes a lot of work, commitment, and energy to build a culture of positivity and support in a work environment. And it's important your team is prepared to communicate in a healthy and productive way—when a tough moment arises.

Peer-to-peer communication should be a part of everyday practice. You can do a lot to make sure the majority of issues are handled swiftly, rationally, and professionally. If they aren't, or team members aren't trained or comfortable to do so, something small and trivial could unnecessarily escalate into something much bigger.

Choosing Empathy

Even the best employees make mistakes, have bad days, or sometimes simply come off the wrong way and their intent is misunderstood. As an example, perhaps a team member, Maria, is struggling with the loss of a parent. She is asked a question and responds briskly, but since her teammates are accustomed to her upbeat tone and positive personality, the change is noticeable.

The ability of your team members to be empathetic and put themselves in someone else's shoes could make all the difference here. In an unhealthy culture, someone might gossip about Maria being in a bad mood. In a culture where the team has been educated on the importance of practicing empathy, the response could be quite different, and would likely involve the understanding of a grieving co-worker and offering them support.

Explore the available options for teaching your team empathy—from online courses to guest speakers to books. And, as always, modeling is key. You must practice empathy yourself to set an example for the rest of your team. It's also important the team understands that having a bad day or dealing with a difficult time is not an excuse for poor behavior or choices.

Having Difficult Conversations

You've taught your team to have difficult conversations with pet owners, but are you teaching them to apply those same concepts to conversations with each other? People are often in their own heads, especially when preparing for a difficult conversation, and that can cause anxiety. A team member might think they know what the other person will say, and come prepared with a response. But, in reality, the conversation could be drastically different than what was expected, and the anxiety could have been for nothing. This isn't to say that planning and being prepared for a difficult conversation aren't worthwhile, but overdoing it leads to dreading conversations that are just a part of regular workplace life.

When it comes to difficult conversations, roleplaying can be a great tool. Give your team an example conflict, then let them talk through it in pairs. This helps them understand a good format for discussion, which they can later use in their own experiences. A few crucial points to pass on include:

  • Be calm and in a state to think clearly.
  • Keep emotions under control. Being too emotional won't get the point across to the peer. It's OK to feel upset, but team members need to be able to calmly explain how they're feeling.
  • Be prepared to hear what the other person will say. Don't just listen to them; try to understand where they're coming from.

Hearing vs. Listening

Another key skill for dealing with peer-to-peer conflict is learning how to really listen to what someone else is saying. This is something most of us need a refresher on. Encourage team members to avoid making assumptions and building their next reply in their head while the other person is talking. Team members should be actively listening, and taking what the other person is saying into consideration. Team members who are successful at this are often the same people on the team who are best at solving pet owner concerns and coming up with solutions.

Encourage team members to be open to hearing things about themselves. For example, a team member might not think they're at fault, but they made a mistake and need to resolve the issue. Can team members hear that without melting down? In this instance, it's important your practice culture supports team members even when mistakes are made, so team members feel comfortable admitting their mistakes and reaching a resolution. This allows team members to admit to and grow beyond their mistakes when they are brought to their attention.

Benefits of Peer-to-Peer Communication

When you prioritize an open peer-to-peer culture, you'll likely see employee growth, positivity, performance ownership, and autonomy. And you'll nip minor issues in the bud before they unnecessarily escalate.

It's important to note that there will certainly be times when you, as a practice leader, should be involved in resolving a workplace conflict. There is sometimes no replacement for an outside perspective. Additionally, sometimes a team member might approach management, and you can coach them on how to have that conversation with their peer. But, if you take the time to train your team and continually reinforce the culture and above skills, you'll find that many of the interoffice struggles disappear and are resolved more quickly between team members.

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Meg Oliver

Meg Oliver is a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager in New York with over 26 years experience in veterinary medicine. She manages a four doctor practice and writes for several veterinary publications. In her free time, she enjoys time with her husband, daughter and twin boys.

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