Episode 92 | Negativity in Vet Med (and how to change it)

In this episode I explore Negativity in Veterinary Medicine, and share three components required to eliminate it from our organizations and our personal experiences, once and for all. 



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Negativity in veterinary medicine and the responsibility you have to do something about it. That's what we're talking about in episode 92. I'm Dr. Cari Wise, and this is the Joyful DVM Podcast. Hello my friends. Welcome to episode 92. Today we're gonna talk about negativity. Now, you might be wondering why I chose that as a topic, and maybe you're not,

but I'll tell you anyway. The reason that we're gonna be talking about negativity is because the question has come up several times in the last several weeks in several different ways. Most recently, a question came through on social media, and I think the question is valid in one that absolutely needs to be addressed. So what is it that we do when the people that we work with are really negative?

How do we keep ourselves from being influenced by it? Such a great question and what I'm sure that we've all experienced as far as the scenario goes, it's really common in veterinary medicine to become negative, to become bitter, to become jaded, to feel resentful. And those emotions come up in relation to not only clients, but also our fellow coworkers, our bosses,

our organizations, and even the profession itself. Of course, we have to add on to that, the general public, the people who don't get what we do, who don't understand. And all along the way, as we build frustration and resentment, because of that lack of understanding, we just tend to dig the hole deeper and deeper and deeper for ourselves.

How do we cope? Well, what a lot of us do to cope with frustration in this profession is complain about it. Let's be honest. We like to stand around and commiserate. We love to talk about what should be different than it is. And it's not just this profession. This is a very normal human behavior. But the thing is, my friends,

it doesn't make anything better. As we identify the gap between what we want to experience in our lives and what we are experiencing, frustration is a very normal result. It's normal to feel frustrated with what you want to happen, to be different when, when what you want to happen is different than what is happening. And as part of our jobs where a lot of the time we're dealing with pretty intense situations and life and death decisions,

when things don't go the way that we want them to, then that opportunity for the gap to show up is very real. And sometimes we want to blame people for the gap. We wanna blame the clients for not following through with our recommendations because if they had, then their patient or their pet would've gotten better. Friends. We don't know that though,

do we? We wanna blame the organizations where we work because if they did a better job at managing, at hiring, at paying, at scheduling, then the people who work there would be happy. But friends, we don't know that either. And so when it comes to negativity in veterinary medicine, what do we do about it? Well, for one thing,

we just can't tolerate it. Now, I know that sounds like a very simple and flip answer, and I don't mean it to be, but there really are three components to managing veterinary negativity. And if each of those three components isn't addressed, then the negativity is just left to fester. So we're gonna take a look at all three of those components.

Now, component number one, this is for all of you owners out there. You know what they say, Shit rolls downhill. And so if within your organization, the place that you own, the hospital that you own, you notice that negativity is running rampant, it's up to you to put a stop to it. There's no easy way for me to say this,

but negativity in a workplace is simply an employee performance issue. If we don't outline very clearly what the employee behavior expectation is, then that behavior just goes whatever way it feels like going. And if we don't put a stop to it, then it continues. Many of us as owners are so busy that we have never even put policies and procedures in place,

and that's where we start. So even if you've never put together an employee handbook, today's the day, my friend, that you do that. And for those of you who have an employee handbook, but you just don't enforce it and maybe you haven't even looked at it in years, it's time to dig it out, read through it, update it,

and reintroduce it to the people who work for you. Trust me, when I tell you that your employees want to know what the expectations are, they want everybody to be on an equal playing field. And if we don't set the expectations as owners in our hospitals, then somebody else will and people will just follow what other people do. Don't let negativity grab hold within your organization without you at least making an effort to kick it out the door.

You're the only one who can do this. So it starts with you. And if you don't have time, if you believe you just can't get around to creating an employee manual, then you delegate that to somebody on your team to create it. And then you, you review it and then you need to introduce it. It needs to come from somebody in the highest level of authority.

When we outline exactly what the expected behavior is within an organization, whether or not it's veterinary medicine or any other type of organization that sets the ground rules for moving forward, it also creates that point to which you can per perform or complete performance evaluations. Now, that's another thing that we do a really crummy job of in veterinary medicine. We don't regularly provide performance evaluations to our staff members,

and we should because if we don't give them feedback, then they don't know how they're doing. And so they automatically start to compare themselves to everybody else. They're just like us, right? Humans with human brains always looking for some kind of external validation. And so if we're not giving any kind of feedback as to how they are doing in their job,

they're going to compare their performance to other people. And they're also gonna compare their behaviors to other people as well, that can start its own negative cycle of its own. As they start to judge each other for the way that they behave, for the way that they perform, that's where you start to see these fractures. So then culture, and so much of this can be eliminated if we just put together those employee manuals that include the expectations of professional behavior in the workplace,

and then follow through with the performance evaluations, right? In that you're gonna write out what is tolerable as far as negativity. What are you going to allow as far as complaining and blaming and commiserating at work? What are you going to allow as far as talking about people who are not present and bashing clients and that kind of stuff? Yes, you can put all of that right inside of your employee handbook,

and I definitely recommend that you do. Let's make it super clear what's okay to discuss and what's not okay to discuss at work. Now, I'm not saying that people don't need to have the opportunity to vent. I do think that being able to talk through what you experience has some power, but there is a right and a wrong way to do it within the workplace.

The right way to do that would be at a staff meeting where the doors are closed, the clients are not present, and where true concerns can be brought up in a group forum and discussed. The wrong way to do it is standing in clusters together, complaining about each other. That doesn't change anything. And then for every one of us, having somebody outside of the profession that you can release some of your experience to is really helpful.

And maybe that person isn't even a friend or a family member. Maybe it's a professional, maybe it's a coach, maybe it's a counselor. Being able to let off that steam is helpful. But what you don't want to do is get so caught up in that negative story that that becomes then the full sum of your reality. We get distracted in what we're doing with negativity.

And when negativity takes hold and becomes the main focus for any single employee or the employee group as a whole, then client service and patient care absolutely suffer. So component number one of knocking the negativity out of veterinary medicine starts with the owners of the practices themselves. You need to look at what you have in place in your employee manuals as far as expectations of professional behavior.

If you do not have outlined what you will and won't tolerate, you need to start there. And even if you do, but you just haven't been keeping up with it, you haven't been been kind of walking your talk, that's not a problem. You just simply bring everybody together, you reintroduce it, and you start today. Trust me when I say that your employees will thank you for this.

It's very difficult for anybody to meet an expectation that they don't understand that has not been clearly defined. They are eager to knock the negativity out of the clinic as well, and they're looking for your guidance in this path. Component number two, and knocking the negativity out of veterinary practice comes down to anybody in a position of leadership. So whether or not you're the owner,

if you're in any kind of leadership position, so maybe that's a shift manager, maybe that is a practice manager. Maybe you're an associate veterinarian and you're working as a, you know, you one or two associates are working with support staff, whatever it is, we typically have people that we lead. And so as leaders, remember, we are always in a position of example,

they're watching you. So you have to ask yourself, are you contributing? Are you falling into the same patterns that you really don't like in other people? As leaders in any kind of leadership position management position, one of the things that you have an opportunity to do is simply stop those negative conversations in the moment. My favorite line is, Hey guys,

we're here to serve clients and treat patients. So how about we get back to doing that? Just simply disrupting that conversation, interrupting it, redirecting people to why they are there oftentimes is all it takes to stop it. Now, the thing that keeps us from having that conversation, from calling people out, if you will, on that negative commiseration conversation,

is our fear of their judgment against us. We don't want people not to like us. And so underneath all of that, even though we really don't like to hear those conversations and we don't agree with those conversations being held in the workplace, we often are too afraid to stop them because we don't want those people to be mad at us. We don't want those people to retaliate,

to e to stop helping us in our job. And again, this comes back to a performance evaluation situation. Honestly, this really is a performance issue because people who work in our organizations who would retaliate against you because you say, Hey guys, we're here to serve clients and treat patients. Let's get back to doing that. If they decide to and purposefully not help you or to sabotage you,

and I've seen some crazy stuff over the years, so I know that this happens, but none of that behavior is acceptable, but acceptable behavior in the workplace, having those employee manuals in place, super important. But even if they're not in place as any kind of leadership role, whether you're an associate veterinarian, whether you are a, the lead veterinarian,

a lead veterinary technician, a shift lead, a practice manager, it doesn't ma matter for almost every role within a hospital, there's somebody that is looking up to you for leadership. And this can even be a peer to peer thing. It literally could be one veterinarian saying it to a group of others. Yeah, I know that probably scares the crap outta you,

but if we want to refocus on why this job even exists, I promise you the job doesn't exist. So we can stand around and bitch and complain all the time. And the thing that I know about what we focus on is that it is what we create. It's a neuroscience basic principle. The particular activating system will grab what you focus on, and then it will begin to bring more and more evidence of that to your conscious awareness.

It will prove true what you believe. And so as that continues to happen over and over and over again, of course we all start to draw common conclusion that that's just the way that it is in veterinary medicine. But negativity is just part of the deal. But friends, it's not. And it doesn't have to be, but there has to be an intentional decision to stop it.

So component number one is to make sure as an organization that you have your employee, ex employee expectations in place. Have you written the manuals? Have you given those employee manuals out? Have you discussed them? Do you have people sign off on what the expectation of behavior behaviors? Are you providing performance reviews on a regular basis, giving people feedback? Do you have consequences?

Are you following through with your consequences? Friends, do not let your fear of being short-staffed stop you from leading your teams because trust me, the strongest people on your teams are watching you. They're watching you let people get by with crap that's not acceptable, and you know who's gonna suffer. It's gonna be the team as a whole when those people decide to leave,

because the practice is out of integrity, keep your eyes open, lead your, leave your teams, leave your organizations. For those of us who are in any kind of leadership position, maybe not an ownership position, but a leadership position, contribute to the positive in the practice. Don't be afraid to stand up and interrupt those conversations. You don't have to be nasty about it.

You don't need to have a chip on your shoulder. You don't need to be egotistical, but simply a, Hey guys, we're here to serve clients that treat patients. How about we get back to that redirect, pull people back into what they're there to do? And if there continues to be poor performance, then escalate that concern to somebody who can do something about it that's gonna require you to have a high value conversation that's gonna require you to take a concern to somebody in a higher level of management.

I know that that scares a lot of you, and I know a lot of you're like, What's the point? They're not gonna do anything anyway. And to that point, I would say what leadership doesn't do tells you just as much about as what they do do, do what they do, follow through with. You're always gathering data about the place that you work.

So do not discount the problems that don't get solved. Don't discount how that impacts everything else that's going on. And definitely don't buy into the idea that you have to stay where you are because you don't. If it's not a good fit, it's not a good fit. Component number three, in solving negativity is simply personal responsibility. It's just simply personally deciding not to engage in gossip,

not to com engage in commiseration and complaining and blaming and bashing clients, and bashing coworkers and bashing bosses and bashing organizations, and bashing practice managers and bashing leadership. It's not useful. It's not gonna do you any good. And as you complain about those things, as you stand around and gossip about people who are not there to defend themselves, whether they're people you work with or people who you serve as clients,

what that does is it pulls your entire net emotional state down. Anger feels powerful, my friends. It's really attractive in the moment, especially when you're feeling frustrated or you're feeling disrespected. It feels really powerful, but its consequences on your wellbeing are detrimental. Anger does not help you become the person that you wanna be. Anger does not help you take the actions to experience the life that you want to experience.

And so when you give into those conversations, when you get sucked into the drama, to the negativity, just know that you're hurting yourself and also know that you always have a choice. None of these conversations take place from people without choices. We need to be really clear about that. The negativity and the fostering of negativity is a conscious decision. It may be a coping mechanism.

It may seem like the only way to exist simply because you've never existed a different way. But the truth is that every moment you get to decide, you get to decide. If you're gonna spend your time engaged in a conversation about a client or a coworker who's not there to defend themselves, you're gonna decide whether or not you're gonna rehash something that happened yesterday and how everybody reacted to it.

You're gonna decide whether or not you wanna have the 17000th conversation about how terrible it is to work for the company you work for. None of that though is useful and none of it will change your experience today. That conversation is wasting your time. It's contributing to the reason that you don't get outta work on time, that you don't get your records written,

that you don't get your refills done, that you don't get your callbacks finished, that you don't have the place cleaned up. When it gets about time for the the business to close, it really pulls on your personal efficiency. It's not necessary. It doesn't add anything positive to your day. You can simply decide that you're not going to engage in those conversations.

You can redirect yourself back to what's important, What can you do to serve a client? What can you do to treat a patient? What needs to be done in the hospital? What we forget is when we are at the workplace, we are being paid to do a job. Now, this is not supposed to be a shaming lecture. That is not my point in this,

but sometimes I think that we really need to have somebody remind us of why we're even together in the first place. My friends, we have a job to do. We were hired to do a job. We are paid to do a job. So do the job you're hired to do. The drama is optional. And if what's going on in the workplace truly is creating a problem,

truly is creating an unsafe situation, then take that concern to somebody who can do something about it. If you don't escalate your concerns to people who can actually do something about it, then nothing is ever gonna change. And sure as heck, standing around complaining about it isn't gonna change it on its own. So take those concerns to somebody who actually has some influence.

And if you truly believe that there is nobody within your organization who has the influence or has the interest in changing the culture and what you're experiencing, then I want you to consider for yourself why are you still there? If you truly believe that the organization does not have the best interest of the employees in mind, then why are you still there? Nobody's forcing you to go to work every day.

You get to decide that for yourself. Now, you might be thinking, But Carrie, I have to work. I have to pay my bills. I have to. I have to, I have to. And my friends, I just want you to know that you don't. That's a wonderful conversation, a wonderful term that our culture uses. But the truth is,

there's not a single thing in this world that you have to do, not one thing. You don't have to feed your kids. You don't have to feed your pets, You don't have to pay your power bill. You don't have to pay back your student loans. The truth is that you want to do those things because of what it gives you in return.

You love your kids in your pets, so of course you wanna take care of them. You enjoy having electricity, so you wanna pay your power bill. You would rather that the federal government not put you in default, so you want to pay your student loans and to do those things. I understand that it takes financial resources to do that, but now more than ever,

it is true that the job you have is not the only job available to you. There are more jobs right now than there are veterinary professionals to fill them. And so if you are in a place where you feel really stuck and disrespected, and where you truly believe that there's never gonna be change for the better, where you've already done your part to this extent,

you've taken your concerns, your constructive criticism, so your problems and solutions to people who do have the power to make a difference and nothing is happening, then what I want you to decide is, is it actually just a wrong fit for you? It doesn't mean they're terrible people, It doesn't mean it's a terrible organization. It's just possible that it's not an aligned fit.

This is exactly the kind of thing actually that we're gonna be digging in to at a very deep level inside the strategic job and life analysis workshop coming up in November of 2022. So at the time I'm recording this podcast, it's just about a month away from when we're gonna be doing this workshop. And this workshop is gonna help you to gain clarity around exactly these concepts.

What are you experiencing? What do you wanna experience? What is the gap between what needs to change? How can that change be instituted? If we can't get some clarity around where we have agency and power over our own lives, then we will continue to live as a victim and we will continue to show up on our jobs, just trying to get through each day coping in whatever way we can.

And part of that will continue to be complaining and blaming and commiserating, feeling very frustrated, very angry, and then overall very mentally and physically exhausted at the end of each shift. That's no way to live. It was never supposed to be like that. So if there's a little voice in your mind that's telling you that this is just the way that it is in veterinary medicine,

I want you to know that that's just not true. There are plenty of organizations that do not function this way, and the ones that do function this way are able to continue functioning this way because people put up with it. Now, this is not a call out for everybody to walk out of their veterinary jobs. Please do not misunderstand. That is not what I'm saying.

But what I am saying is that if you see a problem, you need to make sure that you communicate it to somebody who can help you do something about it. And if you are in any kind of position of leadership, you may be part of the of the way to move forward. You likely are in a position to be able to say, Hey guys,

let's get back to serving clients and treating patients. That's what we're here to do. That's the kind of leadership that we need. Now more than ever, we need people who are brave enough to stand up and redirect us back to the focus, to the reason that we are there. We don't work in veterinary medicine to complain about each other. We don't work in veterinary medicine.

So we have opportunity every day to complain about clients. That's not why we went into this job. I'm not saying there's not work to do to improve culture and to improve organizational stability. Absolutely there is work to do. But giving in to those gaps and creating an existence around them that's very self-defeating, and it becomes a self feeding vortex of negativity. So negativity in veterinary medicine honestly isn't different than negativity anywhere else.

For many of you, you may have never worked in any other industry, but I can tell you this, that this kind of negativity, the complain, the blame, the commiseration, the standing around in groups and gossiping about each other, that's not individual to veterinary medicine. That happens in every type of business and every type of organization that there is.

And the way that that gets snuffed out is through strong leadership. It starts at the top and it rolls on down. And even if the top isn't willing to engage wherever you are, you have the ability to influence it. Even somebody who is at the lowest rung in the hierarchy of management has the ability to make positive change within the organization. They work.

Every one of us serves as an example. Don't ever underestimate that. No matter what your role is in veterinary medicine, you are an example to the people around you. And when you intentionally decide to not engage in the negativity, people will notice. People will be more attracted to your energy. They'll be more willing to help you in your plight. I promise you.

One person can make a huge difference. It's a ripple effect. But if instead we all just continue to accept negativity as something that is, we all continue to believe that it's something that we can never change, and we buy into the belief system that we're all a bunch of victims of our circumstances, then it's not gonna get better. So getting rid of negativity and veterinary medicine,

there are three components to it, but there's not one component that is a hundred percent effective without the others. It starts at the top and absolutely leadership ownership. You have the ability to change your culture. You just have to be brave enough to do it. Everybody else in some kind of leadership or management role, following through on that expectation, you have the power to make massive change as well.

You have to be courageous. You have to follow through. You have to be consistent. You have to give that feedback and not be afraid to give that feedback and everybody else, you showing up being the best version of you, being the person you wanna be, not allowing yourself to give into the commiseration, the complain, the blame, just because it feels better.

That's gonna make a difference too. It's gonna take all components, and don't underestimate the power that you have at any one of these phases in order to change positivity and culture where you work. And if you truly are, once again, if you truly are in a situation where you have attempted change, you've attempted to help, you've attempted to move it forward,

and the leadership, the ownership just isn't interested, then rather than throwing yourself a pity party and telling yourself that this is just the way it is, that it sucks, it's never gonna be at better. And you have to keep staying there because if you're not there, then who's gonna take care of the clients? Who's gonna take care of the patients?

What's gonna happen if you leave? Rather than buying into that nonsense, I want you to consider why it is that you aren't looking for a better opportunity for yourself, my friends. You are not responsible for the world. You're one person. You can only do the best you can with the information and resources that you have available at the time. And if you want to break the cycle that you're in,

especially if you're in a cycle of negativity, you need to look at the entire picture, including how you may be amplifying all of that experience for yourself without even knowing it. Now, this is not a punch yourself in the face moment. It's not necessary. But hyper responsibility and perfectionism are things that I see over and over and over again within veterinary professionals.

It's just kind of part of who we are. We somehow be be, we care so much about the patients and about the clients that we start to tell ourselves a story that they're going to just have nobody. If we leave, what are they gonna do? If I leave? What are the clients gonna do? What are, what are my coworkers gonna do if I leave?

They depend on me. We depend on each other. And I wanna ask yourself, are those healthy relationships or are you kind of like a bunch of refugees just trying to get through? I don't mean that in any kind of joking manner, but if you're bonded together in trauma, then we have to find a better way. This does not need to be a traumatic career field,

but it can be, and we can continue to build that for ourselves. If we don't tap into our own power, into our own courage and make different decisions, my friends, you can make the best, best decisions you can in the moment that you have with the information and resources you have available. I've said that before. I will continue to say that over and over and over again.

And with that information that you have, I want you to consider whose best interest you have in mind. Many of us were taught that we shouldn't make decisions that are self-focused because it's selfish that we should serve others before we serve ourselves. And although that sounds amazing, it's often misused because serving others should not require the sacrifice of your mental and emotional wellbeing.

It just shouldn't. And the truth is that you cannot serve people to your highest capacity if your mental and emotional wellbeing are constantly under fire. It's just not possible. So it's just like on an airplane. You've got to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help somebody else. And for many of us, this is gonna require us to take a hard look at where we work,

who we work with, and what the opportunities are to improve it. My first advice is always gonna be try to improve the situation that you're in, whether that just means you changed the way that you behave day in and day out, so that you can maintain your joy and your peace, whether that includes escalating to people in leadership, the concerns that you have,

so that you can help them to create change within the entire organization. Or maybe it means moving on to a better fit. Regardless, the first step has to be centered around you. You have to take care of you first. And as we all start to really focus in on what we individually need for wellbeing, what's amazing about that is it gives us the capacity to also provide that for others.

So for my owners out there who are terrified at the idea of creating some kind of expectations around behavior and presenting those to your staff, I want you to know that you can do it, That your strongest staff will appreciate it so much, and that the results that you will create from that will create not only a stronger organization, but an organization that enjoys coming to work and serving the clients and treating the patients that you're there to serve and treat.

For those managers out there who are terrified of being stuck in the middle, who feel like you're straddling what the owners want and what the, and how you can keep the staff happy, who feel like it's your responsibility to make sure that nobody quits because it's so hard to find people right now, I want you to know that your only job is to follow your morals,

ethics, and values. If whatever you're doing asks you to question that, asks you to go against that, I want you to take a step back and reevaluate because there's not a right fit in the world that requires you to compromise your morals, ethics, and values. And if that's part of what you're experiencing, I want you to consider whether or not this is what you wanna keep doing long term.

I also want you to consider that you're strong, that you can be a leader. You're in a leadership position because somebody sees that potential in you. And leaders get to go first. So you might not always be popular as you start to kind of enforce a new way of existing within an organization. But just like I told our owners, the strongest people on your team will appreciate it.

They will be thankful that this culture experience is being addressed. So don't be afraid. And for everybody else out there who works in any other role in veterinary medicine, don't ever forget that no matter what happens day in and day out, that you always get to decide for you that the place that you work isn't a decision that you made once. It's a decision that you make every single day.

You decide to work there every morning. When you get up and you head to work, you can also decide not to. So don't get stuck believing that there's anything in this world that you have to do, because as soon as you start to believe that you shut down all possibility for something different, there may be lots of opportunity to improve where you're working.

And I absolutely recommend that you start there. But I want you to keep your eyes open. I want you to pay attention to the data that you've been given all along the way through your experiences with your organization and your leaders. And as you gather that data and you start to strategically analyze it, you may find that it's just not simply the best fit for you.

And that's okay. Give yourself permission to pursue something different, something where you have the opportunity to shine and to serve to your greatest potential. Because friends, I don't care what job you have, if you are not allowed to be who you are, if you have to hide just from a survival instinct, if you feel like every day you walk in,

you're in a war zone, just know that's not how this is supposed to be. It can be so much easier that it can be so much more fun than that. And it's only when we together decide that negativity and veterinary medicine go hand in hand and always will. It's only when we decide that negative culture is a real thing, that we bring it into our reality.

And trust me when I tell you that it's all optional. There are plenty of organizations out there that function in a very healthy, supportive, friendly, fun, and happy way. They're just waiting for you to find them. All right, my friends, that's gonna wrap it up for this week. I'll see you next time.