My employee cries every time I give her feedback

Crying should be expected in the vet practice (it’s a difficult job!) Here’s how to make it more comfortable for everyone

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A veterinary practice manager writes:

One of the vet techs in my practice, let’s call her “Jessica,” is in her early 20s. Every time I give her negative feedback, she starts crying. In fact, as soon as I ask to speak to her, she looks absolutely terrified and by the time we reach the office, her face has turned bright red and her chin is quivering. A few minutes into the conversation, tears are streaming down her face.

She always insists that she is fine and wants to continue the conversation — she just mops up the tears and carries on. I spoke to her about it recently and she said that it’s a physical response to stress that she can’t control.

Next week, I am doing performance reviews with each staff member, and the (male) practice owner has asked to sit in on them. Tears make him feel uncomfortable and he has little patience for crying team members. I’m concerned about Jessica crying in front of him, and how this meeting will go.

Should I say something to him to prepare him? Should I advise her to say something?

The practice owner is probably in the wrong industry if he has no patience for team members who cry.

Let’s face it: young women dominate veterinary practices. Veterinary nursing attracts caring, emotional individuals, and it’s those qualities that make them so darn good at what they do and what a lot of people could not do. Their days are often an emotional roller coaster, going from an euthanasia, to an angry client, to being happy about puppies, back to euthanasia and finally to an aggressive large breed dog who needs a catheter put in. They mostly do it with a positive attitude, patience and a smile on their face, but sure, sometimes there will be tears.

It sounds like Jessica is being really mature and professional about this and dealing with it well. People deal with stress in various ways, and for Jessica even the thought of receiving negative feedback is a stressor. Her physical response (face turning red, chin quivering, crying) is largely an involuntary one.

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It’s important not to let it stop you or the practice owner from giving her feedback.

I suggest speaking to her to see what you can do to help her deal with the stress performance reviews bring. Say something like “I see that these conversations are difficult for you. It’s important that we continue to give each other feedback, and formal and informal performance reviews are a necessary part of that. What can I do differently to make these conversations easier for you?”

Jessica may request that you give her a heads up well in advance so she can prepare for the meeting, or a more neutral environment (maybe a local coffee shop?)  or any other solution that would help her feel at ease and maintain her composure.

Yes, I do think you should speak to the practice owner prior to Jessica’s performance review, but I also think you should try to change his perception of females crying in the workplace.

There are workplaces where crying is seen as a sign of weakness and is completely unacceptable and unprofessional. But that’s largely dependent on the industry and the specific workplace culture. I don’t think the veterinary practice is one such workplace. 
Some tears during a difficult conversation are OK, as long as they don’t impact the manager’s ability to deliver feedback or the employee’s ability to receive feedback.

Let the practice owner know what Jessica’s involuntary, physical response to feedback is, and that it shouldn’t impact what he says to her, or how he says it. Let him know that there is no need to pause the conversation (if that’s what you and Jessica agree on) and that it’s best to ignore her tears and keep going.

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