For veterinary team members, giving and receiving feedback can be a tough row to hoe. I recently asked a room full of veterinarians, managers, as well as technicians, “By a show of hands, who is good at giving and receiving feedback?” One hand went up right away and one other hand lifted, slowly and reluctantly. Two hands in a room of 80 shows we have quite a way to go.
Is it any wonder we feel ill prepared to offer and receive feedback? Similar to learning active listening skills, we are not taught how to “do feedback.” Yet, in all work environments, feedback is crucial to success.
“Giving and receiving feedback is uncomfortable at first. The solution: Learn good techniques and practice them often so it becomes part of the practice’s culture. In work environments where feedback is continual and appropriate, most people expect and welcome the opportunity to improve,” states Dr. Carin A. Smith in her book, Team Satisfaction Pays: Organizational Development for Practice Success.1
Dance of giving and receiving
I believe humans have a difficult time giving feedback because of the way we tend to receive it—perceiving it as a challenge to the way we are doing something. This may stem as far back as childhood, when we were continually being told how to behave, react, learn, excel, and achieve. Some parents, teachers, or managers may have not been the “poster child” or “shining light” in giving feedback. Regardless of your past, now is the time to make amends and learn how to give and receive feedback.
“Filtering out the negative distortion and selecting helpful information takes patience and practice. It is a delicate dance of determining what we heard and what was actually meant,” writes Dr. Jane Shaw in her article, How Feedback Can Help Performance Anxiety.2
Feedback is defined as information about performance of a task that can be used as a basis for improvement. It is simply information; however, it can be distorted.
5 tips for giving feedback
In a previous Veterinary Team Insights column, “Delivering innovative performance reviews” (May 2018), tips included:
- Create safety and an environment that supports open, supportive dialog.
- Be specific and fully describe the task that needs improvement or completed in a noteworthy fashion.
- Be timely by bringing something to the attention of the team member as soon as possible (not rebirthed three months later during a formal performance review).
- Allow staff who feel unfairly criticized or victimized by unjust “finger pointing” to be free to explain their position without recourse.
- Catch them doing something right. Sincere appreciation for a job well done goes a long way.
These are great concepts when speaking with team members and helping them to understand the quality of care your practice provides and how it is delivered.
Also, when providing positive feedback, consider giving the praise with other team members present.
Receiving feedback basically is about absorbing information and using it as an opportunity for personal and professional development. Receiving feedback, with an open heart and mind, with patience and understanding, shows grit, leadership, and resolve.
Feedback can be a two-way street between team members, management, and leadership. Actively seeking feedback is a testament to leading by example.
When you are the receiver, make sure you understand the message. “What I hear you saying is … ” Mirroring the statement will help to clarify it. Keep your emotions in check and consider the opportunity in professional growth. Soliciting feedback as a manager, team lead, veterinarian, or owner shows fortitude.
Feedback impacts well-being
In May, I attended the fifth Veterinary Wellbeing Summit in Chicago sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges, and Zoetis. Speakers included veterinarians, a university dean, practice owners, managers, and veterinary mental health professionals. I was pleasantly surprised to hear of solutions in veterinary health and well-being evolving around the benefits of telling your story, expressing your needs, the powerful impact of positivity, and demystifying the services provided by mental health professionals—plus feedback and how it impacts well-being!
Without feedback (to improve the quality of a task or recognize a job well done), team members are left in the dark as to the effectiveness and efficiency of their work. They are left to assume that all is well.
Feedback is the key to self-insight. It is a barometer of how things are going between periodic, and often awkward, performance reviews. In this way, feedback leads to insight, improving a team member’s self-worth. Knowledge through continual feedback leaves nothing to be assumed. Positive and constructive feedback can support a team member in fulfilling his or her highest potential and purpose.
How team members react to feedback really depends on how they are wired. When team members are driven by successful outcomes and attaining goals, they may be considered “positively wired.” When team members are driven by avoiding failure or punishment, they may be considered “negatively wired.” These are two very different motivators! Depending on how a person is wired will impact the way she interprets, internalizes, and processes the feedback.
Practice makes progress
Feedback can be tough to give and receive. However, with practice, it gets better.
1 Smith CA. “Team Satisfaction Pays: Organizational Development for Practice Success.” amzn.to/2FsJVM4.
2 Shaw JR, Hunter LJ. “How Feedback Can Help Performance Anxiety” bit.ly/2jjXo0a
3 Lee D. “Do You Know How to Give Constructive Feedback?” bit.ly/2HJXU1Q
Rebecca Rose, CVT, founder and president of CATALYST Veterinary Practice Consultants, has 30 years of veterinary industry experience as a veterinary practice management consultant, a practice manager at two AAHA-accredited animal hospitals, and an award-winning veterinary technician. She is a NAVTA past president (2015-2017). Contact her at getCATALYST@CATALYSTVetPC.com or visit CATALYSTVetPC.com.