How to Reduce Stress for the Whole Veterinary Team Through Better Communication

If communication is the key to success, then surely miscommunication is the path to failure—and stress. This is certainly true in veterinary practice management. Creating strategic plans and goals can seem straightforward on paper but can become more complicated when executed.

If communication is the key to success, then surely miscommunication is the path to failure—and stress. This is certainly true in veterinary practice management. Creating strategic plans and goals can seem straightforward on paper but can become more complicated when executed.

There are many reasons why a message isn't received. Sometimes, it isn't clearly stated or explained. At times, the recipient thinks they understand, but they don't. It can then be passed on incorrectly to new employees or pet owners, like a bad game of telephone. As George Bernard Shaw said, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."

It's critical for veterinary teams to be clear on policies and protocols, from clerical tasks to preventive medicine. This will help avoid miscommunications and, importantly, minimize stressors among your team. Here are a few ways you can reduce work stress and improve communication across your practice.

Set Clear Expectations Consistently

For day-to-day operations to run smoothly, everyone needs to know the scheduling rules for meetings and appointments and best practices for efficient office workflow. Make sure these expectations are shared broadly and consistently, so there's no room for miscommunications.

Similarly, for a client to be educated on preventive care recommendations, each team member has to know and perform their role consistently. Each member of the team interacts with the client at a certain point in the client experience, from phone calls to invoicing. At every touchpoint, someone has a role to play in educating and offering preventive medicine. The conversation and approach may differ from receptionist to doctor, but to be successful, they should be thorough, consistent, and clearly understand their role with set expectations.

  Elevate patient care without overwhelming staff. Learn how.

Keep Everyone on the Same Page

Pre-pandemic, it seemed easier to keep everyone on the same page. Now, many practices are still experiencing the stressors of the past two years, such as hiring struggles, difficult clients, and an overload of new patients with an understaffed practice. Some protocols have been adjusted so many times in the past two years that they're hard to keep straight.

Time constraints might also affect the quality of training, leading to mistakes. Senior employees might miss something because they're handling multiple jobs at once. Miscommunication leads to increased stress, both from the practice and the client perspective, and team members and management get frustrated when protocols are carried out incorrectly, explained poorly, or forgotten entirely. Clients can feel that frustration, and it may rattle their confidence in the team's abilities.

  Elevate patient care without overwhelming staff. Learn how.

Brief, well-structured meetings can help get teams realigned and up-to-date. Protocol review, followed by open dialogue and questions, will help clear up any misunderstanding of who is saying or doing what and why.

You may also discover that the current workflow needs to be adjusted due to staffing. When given autonomy and the knowledge their opinion matters, employees can be incredibly helpful in making suggestions for improvement. They are also more likely to become invested in their work. A sense of unity and pride as a team is essential and can be brought about by carefully maintaining a positive atmosphere, even in a difficult situation. Discuss and try to solve the difficulties, but don't allow defeatist attitudes. When introducing problems to the team, you should already be prepared with possible solutions—and then ask for further input—to keep things moving forward.

Help Your Team Manage Stress

Improved communication resolves a lot of problems, but there will always be some stress. Helping your team manage stressors through self-care and resilience can make daily challenges easier to handle. Consider guided group meditation, or encourage members to share a recent good experience. Giving your employees an outlet to express themselves, focus on the positive, and relieve any built-up stressors will go a long way toward maintaining a happy, communicative team.

Finish all your team meetings on a good note to set the tone going forward. In the end, remember that the majority of problems come from failed communication. Set your teams up for success by keeping things clear and consistent at all times.


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Meg Oliver
CVPM

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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