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7 annoying habits that cause problems in the vet practice

Or “stop being a jerk at work (and in life).”

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Marshall Goldsmith makes an interesting observation in his excellent best-seller book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” (Hyperion, 2007).

Most people, he writes, are competent by the time they reach “the top.” Their problem is not their technical skills. Most of the time, their problem is their behavior.

It is not their knowledge that co-workers have an issue with; it’s their interpersonal skills. And most of the time, these weaknesses are unconscious.

Oh, sure, the book is not meant for the faint of heart unwilling to face their character flaws. However, for those brave enough to face reality, the book can be life altering.

Goldsmith, MBA, Ph.D., describes 20 annoying habits that cause tension or decrease productivity in the workplace. He then gives solutions to those willing to change their ways.

As an executive coach with over 20 years of experience fixing interpersonal issues at some of the largest corporations, Goldsmith has seen it all.

Even though his experience is not specifically in the veterinary field, his key points and methods for identifying and fixing these issues are perfectly relevant. Of the 20 most common personal flaws, here are the seven deadly sins we’ve observed:

  • Desire to add our 2 cents to every discussion
  • Needless sarcasm
  • Overuse of “no,” “but” or “however”
  • Inability to praise or reward, and failure to express gratitude
  • Need to deflect blame from ourselves and onto events and people from our past
  • Inability to take responsibility for our actions and a need to blame anyone but ourselves
  • Not listening

Let’s describe those flaws in more detail.

1) Desire to add our 2 cents to every discussion

We have all heard coworkers start a sentence with “At my previous practice, we …” or “At XYZ vet school, we …” or “Well, I like to do it this way.”

Sharing experiences can be helpful, but after awhile there is really no need to remind us how great your previous practice was or how wonderful your alma mater is.

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Here is another ultra-classic example: A coworker comes to you with an idea. You love it, yet you suggest ways to make it better based on your vast experience and wisdom. So the idea is now better, right?

Wrong. In the employee’s mind, her idea is not hers anymore. She lost her excitement. And you are likely to blame her for not following through. Yet you are the culprit here!

2) Needless sarcasm

When drawing blood from a patient, anybody can have a bad day and miss a large vein. A not-so-unusual comment such as “I bet you couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn” is hurtful, even insulting, especially when the “offender” is probably feeling embarrassed about the mishap.

Sarcasm can be rampant at some practices, often under the disguise of dry humor. Some employees may be able to deflect it, a few may be able to laugh at it, while others may be deeply hurt if they don’t understand that the remark is supposed to be funny.

3) Overuse of “no,” “but” or “however”

Every time you start a sentence with “Yes, but,”—no matter how many nice or diplomatic words you include to acknowledge the other person’s feelings—the message is “You are wrong.”

4) Inability to praise or reward, and failure to express gratitude

It’s not that we cannot praise or reward, it’s often just overlooked. We almost expect something to be done correctly and efficiently so that when it happens it is not even noticed. A simple “thank you” or “good job” goes a long way to improve morale, and it doesn’t cost a penny.

5) Need to deflect blame from ourselves and onto events and people from our past

Here are three fairly classic quotes heard from colleagues:

  • “I’m always late. I’ve been running late my whole life.”
  • “I can’t praise my staff because I wasn’t brought up that way.”
  • “I am just not good at small talk.”
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If you keep repeating similar sentences to yourself often enough (sometimes over a lifetime), they become self-fulfilling prophecies. But that doesn’t excuse the flawed behaviors. Clinging to your past makes changing difficult.

6) Inability to take responsibility for our actions, and a need to blame anyone but ourselves.

Here are three common quotes heard at clinics.

  • “These clippers always cut my patient when I use them.” The fact is that some veterinary technicians can do a perfect “clip job” no matter how bad the clippers supposedly are. More often than not, the issue is the user. Hint: The blade should be parallel to the skin.
  • “This anesthesia monitor hates me.” Many practices seem to have one technician who always figures out what is wrong with presumably faulty equipment. Blaming a monitoring device is often an excuse or a lack of training in troubleshooting.
  • “I’m late because of traffic.” The funny thing is, the distance between your house and the clinic never changes. So rather than blaming traffic, we should acknowledge that we left home late—yet again—and we should leave home five or 10 minutes earlier from now on. And maybe not stop to get coffee when we’re already late.

7) Not listening

A classic example of this common behavior is when a doctor tries to explain a specific way to take an X-ray and the technician rolls her eyes, sighs or taps her fingers because she thinks she knows how to do it.

If you like these seven examples, you can read about 13 more in Goldsmith’s book. The problem with these behaviors, at work or at home, is that most of the time we can’t see them in ourselves, although we’re great at noticing them in others.

Once you become aware of one of those flaws, whether on your own or with somebody else’s help, be thankful. Acknowledge the issue, agree that it should be eradicated and commit to changing your ways.

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The flaw is not a reflection on your technical skills, which again are probably great by the time you reach your position or level of expertise. The issue is merely a reflection on your interpersonal behavior.

Change the behavior and become even greater than you already are.

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His website is www.DrPhilZeltzman.com. 

Originally published in the November 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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