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Gaslighting in the veterinary practice.

It’s a thing!

We just had an article published in Veterinary Practice News magazine! Have you read it? It’s on gaslighting in the veterinary practice.

Linda and I not only work in digital media and marketing we spend a great deal of our time working on personal and professional brand coaching. We have lots of folks in our brand coaching program developing who they are and what they want to be online within their own brands. The majority of our clients have come from the veterinary medicine space. They are from all over veterinary medicine. So how does this relate to Gaslighting and the article we just wrote for Veterinary Practice News?

I’m glad you asked.

Toxic Environments are grown, nurtured, and cultivated over time.

We have all heard of the term ‘toxic environment’. How many times have we heard when someone wants to quit a job they say it was a ‘toxic environment’ and we all nod our heads in agreement and understanding. We have all been there and we have all had those jobs. A toxic work environment is a place where people are treated unfairly, discriminated against, or harassed at work. The negative environment can lead to increased stress levels, lower productivity, less innovation, and reduced employee retention. The number one reason for quitting your job is a toxic workplace – according to a Gallup poll in 2017.

Read the article on gaslighting in the practice here.

What we don’t talk about it is how we ended up with a toxic environment at our practice in the first place. No manager or owner ever opened the doors of their practice and said to themselves, ‘Today is the day I build a festering cesspool of toxicity for my team’. It just isn’t a thing. I have never met a manager that had bad intentions, honestly, I haven’t. They may not have known how to do things correctly or they were a ‘bad’ manager but they never intended to be. Same with owners, they didn’t know what they didn’t know. We all don’t. Are you following me?

Normalizing the conversation

It is important to be able to recognize toxic behaviors and how they affect others. If someone knows what signs to look for, then they will be able to see it before it gets out of hand and becomes a toxic culture that is hard to get rid of. If a practice’s culture is toxic, then the negativity will leak out and affect some of the staff. Over time, these people will start to see their careers stagnate and become unhappy because of this. Toxic cultures are self-fulfilling prophecies since once they exist, it becomes hard for them to change.

Growing past toxicity and gaslighting

In order to solve this problem leadership teams need to be more aware of the risks that come with allowing a toxic environment and find ways to avoid this at all costs before it’s too late. The success of any company is dependent on how the employees work together and communicate together. The better the communication, the better the company’s performance.

This article outlines some of the gaslighting tactics we allow every day in practice. Each one seems like once it’s over it’s over, no harm no foul. It really isn’t the residue from the negativity sticks around and grows.

So how does this relate back to our work in personal and professional branding? Well, the story we hear is that people are wanting to leave the industry and they want to develop an online brand and hopefully create a new place for themselves that allows them to be unique and purposeful. They want to continue to support people in the veterinary space but are now motivated by what they have experienced while being gaslighted.

We all own this

I encourage all of us to look a little more closely at how we allow ourselves and the people on our teams to speak, act and do in our practices. It really is dangerous on many levels to give someone unchecked power to manipulate others. Open communication within the team can drastically reduce the pressure on anxious or uncertain employees and will make the workplace a more pleasant place for all. In addition, it will decrease feelings of dissatisfaction while enhancing morale and productivity.

I want to thank Veterinary Practice News for publishing this article and sharing in their own commitment to supporting mental health education and wellness for everyone on the veterinary team!

Thanks a bunch!

K.I.S.S. your clients!

What???? KISS your clients? Don’t you know it’s the time of social distancing, quarantines, curbside care, and so on?

Simple communication techniques to ease client tension during curbside.

I don’t mean KISS your clients, I mean K.I.S.S. your clients. When I grew up my band director was forever telling us to K.I.S.S. a difficult passage in the music, or a K.I.S.S. a difficult sequence in our marching program. It was very annoying but ultimately great advice and I have carried it with me throughout life.

Many of you know what K.I.S.S. means but just incase you need a reminder it stands for Keep It Simple Stupid (or Silly) if you need a kinder version. So, what the heck am I talking about when I tell you to K.I.S.S. your clients? Let’s discuss…

Client business relationships are struggling and tense right now and with good reason. Everyone is stressed out and cranky. Business owners and their employees are tired, bone tired. It’s a horrible season and it’s ground hog day! Clients are tired, bone tired. Everyone is stressed about time spent transacting business, money spent, jobs being lost or on the line, etc. I am writing this to encourage both parties to bridge the gap of communication. Ultimately, we must remember that we need our customers and clients to keep coming to us for services for us to stay in business. We do not however need or want to deal with crankiness, abuse, cussing, and out and out anger during these interactions. So how can we start to bridge the communication gap and reach over to the other side with a friendly hand? It always goes back to better communication but this time we need to hone our empathy and understanding skills a little more.

The first step to understanding is to try to put yourself in their shoes

You can do this physically or mentally. I got to do this physically, I had to visit my local vet a few weeks ago when my dog was having seizures. It is still the height of mask wearing, COVID fearing, curbside caring craziness. Now please understand, I have worked in veterinary medicine as a veterinary assistant, Certified Practice Manager and veterinary team training educator for 15 years or so. SO, I get it… I mean I really get it….

Back to my story, I called and asked if they had appointments available for an acute seizing but stable dog. They said yes, come down and call when you get to the parking lot. They took my basic info over the phone and then we hung up. We arrived at the vet’s 15 minutes later because we live in a small town. I called and told them I was in the parking and what vehicle I was in. They said, ok someone will be right out to take history and see what we need to do. Ok, no problem. We waited, and waited, and waited.

We saw people coming and going, we saw puppies going in and hearing the post vaccination instructions being shared into the driver side window next door. We saw another couple drive up and walk in…what was that about?  

Meanwhile, we waited. We waited in the parking lot with my 15-year-old dog who had seizures randomly that morning. We waited with no updates, or acknowledgment for 1 ½ hours. My husband was getting very angry, we both needed to get back to work.


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Before I go on, let me tell you what I know about the veterinary world:

I know how crazy the inside of the practice is, I used to manage two hospitals through those days both on the floor and as manager. I saw that the parking lot was full. I also know that my dog was stable and in no immediate threat, although they didn’t, they took my word for it. I also know and understand that the team was doing the best they can, they are very tired, scattered, and extremely uncomfortable with the communication styles required during this time. They weren’t making eye contact with anyone for fear of getting stuck dealing with someone outside of their turn. They were sweaty and gross from running around having a mask covering their faces. I know these things.  

What would I change from my client’s eye-view

FIRST and FOREMOST, manage expectations on the phone before I ever arrive.

  • TELL me how long I’ll be sitting there, most people understand you can’t help it. Even if its loooong, tell me. Respecting my time with your honesty will endear me to you.
  • Offer a drop off exam so I don’t have to sit there for 1 ½ hours waiting.

Parking lot communication tips:

  • Communicate Confidently. This takes some fortitude and emotional intelligence especially in the face of potentially cranky clients. Also, accept that faces can’t be read easily because of masks.
  • Create a Curbside Concierge Host role within the practice. Assign someone with the role of greeting and checking clients in and giving them current status updates.
  • Look at the scene from the client’s eyes and proactively head off any issues. This means you have to know what is happening inside the practice and out, again having someone who is serving as Curbside Concierge Host may fit this spot perfectly. I knew I had a sick dog and the healthy puppy next to me got to go in first and get vaccines. Any John Q. client would question this or at the very least get frustrated by it.
    • Proactively explain that the doctor that is going to see your sick patient has two other sick patients ahead. There are also a series of puppy vaccines and other checkouts happening by the technicians and other team members so just know we aren’t forgetting about you.
    • It explains away the fact that I’ll be seeing ‘other’ pets going in before mine.
  • Touch back in with them every 30 minutes or so, either by driver side check-in, phone call, or text, or just wave. Just let them know they haven’t been forgotten.

Food for thought

When you consider the entirety of the visit, meaning the anatomy of the visit, this was just the calling for an appointment and waiting to be seen. We haven’t even approached the history taking, physical examination, diagnostic recommendations, possible diagnoses, treatments, and then the dreaded payment request for services rendered.

Before any of that stuff could happen, I was already primed to have an angered outburst because my time was being spent with no communication from inside and my worry over my dog was fanning those flames. My husband was already mad and frustrated, his ship had already sailed.

You may be on-time seeing patients 95% of the time and the one day a client has to wait a few minutes extra and has the nerve to get angry about it isn’t fair… Except that this is their one experience with you and you were late so their experience rating is 100% negative so far. Perspective.

So let’s get back to K.I.S.S.-ing.

Keep It Simple Stupid and follow the Golden Rule ‘Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You’. I promise I am not patronizing you; I am gently reminding you that these folks are your life’s blood, they pay your bills and keep you employed. So, let’s work hard to connect on their level where they are and prevent major issues, stress, and anger.

This may require a little research on your part because times are different, protocols are different and its all we can do to learn our side much less get a sense of the OTHER SIDE. I encourage you to shed your own biases about what their experience is like vs what your experience is like and truly try to see it from their perspective.

Keep your client care and service simple. Apply the Golden Rule. Communicate proactively and proudly. Encourage your team members to communicate confidently. Clients just want to know what is going on if you tell them they don’t have to make up their own versions themselves!  

If you would like to learn more about me or dog days social media management and consulting please send us a message below and we will reach out to you. We don’t use strong arm sales tactics or sell your information.

Compassion Fatigue with a Side of COVID-19 Pandemic

This is a hard season for many. It’s a particularly tough time in veterinary medicine. The practices are trying to stay open with limited capabilities, sick patients, frustrated clients, and exhausted staff members, and fear of the future.

I have heard of so many people online complaining about how they are treated by angry clients and how angry they are in response. This anger festers because there is no resolution or solution to prevent anger from setting in.

man wearing brown suit jacket mocking on white telephone
Photo by Moose Photos on Pexels.com

Coming back to client service

If we allow ourselves to get angry with the very folks we rely on for our incomes we are setting ourselves up for failure. It is a double-edged sword. Under no circumstances do I condone abuse from clients who are behaving badly due to their own stress. I am saying let’s remember to find ways to not internalize or absorb feelings of anger from others. Their anger and behaviors are their own, not ours to adopt. If we adopt them then they stand a greater chance of spreading, much like COVID-19. In my opinion anger and frustration is way more contagious than COVID-19 at this point.

Practice The Pause

So let’s take a step back and take a breath. Practice the pause before taking on someone else’s emotional energy. Practicing the pause simply means taking a breath and giving yourself time to respond without anger or negative emotion.

adult air beautiful beauty
Photo by VisionPic .net on Pexels.com

Companies are helping the Compassion Fatigue cause

I recently read an article from PawsTime.com on Compassion Fatigue and it was a great read on the signs and symptoms. PawsTime is an on-hold messaging provider for veterinary practices. That is their primary product but I have found that they are so much more! They have all sorts of practice tools from articles on technology tips, practice management, even social media ideas for practice marketing. This article is just one of those tools. What I like about it is that they shared some easy to do things to help alleviate the symptoms of compassion fatigue for ourselves. My favorites were:

  • Awareness-are you or someone you know exhibiting signs of compassion fatigue?
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased anxiety

Some solutions they offered were:

  • Balance-make time for things that make you happy outside the practice
  • Allow yourself to take mini-escapes from worrying or working on practice problems
  • Seek counseling-don’t let stigmas stop you from seeking care. It’s a healthy reaction to struggle with stress and anxiety.
  • Connections-find a support network that offers positive support in your efforts to combat compassion fatigue.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from signs of Compassion Fatigue reach out to them. Don’t let them suffer in silence. You may be worried about reaching out to them in case they aren’t receptive or warm to the idea. Just let them know you are there to talk and that you see them! If you are concerned you may have some symptoms of Compassion Fatigue there is help!

Some of my favorite resources are:

  1. http://www.compassionfatigue.org/
  2. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/compassion-fatigue
  3. Overcoming Compassion Fatigue: https://www.aafp.org/fpm/2000/0400/p39.html
  4. Overcoming Compassion Fatigue: A Practical Resilience Workbook

Don’t Suffer Alone

I hope if you are reading this you are seeking knowledge and understanding of Compassion Fatigue and that you are arming yourself against the effects of it. You have my support in your efforts. I am with you. If you need help or feel like you may be in deeper trouble and have considered hurting yourself or struggling with depression please seek help immediately. It is that bad if you have thought about it, don’t wait. I encourage you to make the call! Tell your boss, tell your manager, tell your spouse, tell someone!

Don’t suffer alone. Call The National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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Reputation Management: 3 Steps for Handling Negative Reviews

a stressed woman with her hands on her face in front of a laptop with a cartoon background of a lot of things on her mind

Have you ever gotten a negative reviews that you just didn’t know how to handle? Was it hard to respond to because some of it was true but most of it wasn’t? Could you see how the client could come to the conclusion they did but they were still wrong? This really is one of the toughest areas of public relations to manage.

When a client complains publicly we have a natural instant response that runs through several emotions, shock, embarrassment, anger, and then we want to defend. Being open to understanding the complaint or the deeper need behind the complaint is very difficult. Let’s discuss some guidelines we can follow to help get us through a negative review without adding gasoline to the fire.

image of hands holding a tablet with 5 yellow stars

The main thing we need to remember about reviews is that their value lies with the next person reading it. It isn’t about the person leaving the review or really the business it is about, it is about what the next person that reads that review thinks about how you handled the review and whether or not they are willing to trust your business.

Step 1: Don’t Panic

Don’t panic when you receive a negative review. It is so tempting to jump in and immediately respond to the review and defend why your team did what they did or didn’t do in some cases. I am suggesting you don’t. Practice the pause. We need to do a little investigation before we jump on the keyboard to respond.

Step 2: Investigate the Claim

Just because it’s a negative review doesn’t mean they are wrong, it doesn’t mean they are right either. Grab the chart and review the case and compare it to what is being said in the review. Keep an open mind and try to find the source of the frustration behind the review.

“after waiting for 30 minutes for my appointment, the doctor rushed in and talked to me about my pet for 5 minutes then disappeared to the back. The next thing I know some assistant comes in with a piece of paper telling me the total cost for the visit which is outrageous for the amount of time they spent with my pet, and it’s ridiculous. I asked the girl questions and she didn’t know any of the answers. This place is a rip-off, I definitely don’t recommend them.”

The deeper frustration in this example is the lack of communication about what is going on in relation to their pet. We should communicate if appointments are running late, we should also communicate that they will get great care for their pet when it is their turn, we should also be aware not to outwardly show that we are hurried or behind. People will automatically feel slighted when they know they are paying for your time and you aren’t giving them any of it.

pad of paper, pen, coffee cup and corner of a laptop on a desk

Step 3: Crafting the Response

When drafting your response type into a document NOT the review itself. You don’t want any mistakes or accidental postings for the world to see. Here is a rule I try to remember when I am drafting responses to reviews “KISS (Keep It Simple Silly)”. You want to keep it short, empathetic but too the point. The more words you give them the more ammo they can use against you if the negative review escalates. The point of responding to a review is to deescalate a situation that could explode virally online. Keep in mind a few simple rules for responses:

  • Be empathetic to their emotion or frustration this doesn’t mean you agree with them.
    • “We are sorry you had a bad experience”
  • State what you try to do/only if it makes sense to do so
    • “we really try to communicate when we are running behind because of an emergency case and it looks like we didn’t hit the mark this time”
  • Offer to continue the conversation offline
    • “We would like to discuss this with you. Please call us at xxx-xxx-xxxx”

Again, simple, acknowledging their frustration, gently explaining what you try to do as a norm and then offering to take the conversation offline.

Here is a list of DON’Ts

  • Don’t respond when you are angry or upset
  • Don’t make it personal
  • Don’t provide private information about what the owner did or didn’t do for their pet
  • Don’t blame the owner
  • Don’t admit fault or accept responsibility if it isn’t yours to take
  • Don’t post your response before another set of eyes can read it for mistakes, grammar, and tone
  • Don’t have back and forth conversations publicly online! If a client posts another response to your response then that warrants a phone call to the client, it is now a conversation
smiley face in the center of blurry sad and angry faces
Focus on the Positive

Lastly, FOCUS on the positive:

There are far more good reviews and experiences we should be focusing on rather than letting one negative review or negative situation derail us from all the good we are doing every day. Handle the negative and move along.

Here at Dog Days Consulting, we offer reputation management help! If you would like to know more about what we do and how we can help you with your reviews please email me at Rhonda@dogdaysconsulting.com

Client Communication: 7 Ways to have great communication with clients during a crisis

We are currently all dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 and all the uncertainty that brings. It is really scary right now to be afraid for your own health and welfare and that of your family but to also have a helpless pet at home that you may need to get care for. You would only take them in for emergency care of course but then the costs of care would be more and you aren’t working right now because you are self-quarantined. So what are you going to do?

This is what many of your clients are going through right now. We are ourselves are going through these feelings right now. When considering how to communicate with your clients right now we must first identify with them and how they might be feeling right now. They along with everyone else right now is anxious, uncertain, scared, stressed, and so much more. Remembering those emotions and answering those questions will go a long way toward connecting with and ultimately communicating with your clients during a crisis.

Let’s look at some actual ways you can communicate and share your updates with your clients during a crisis. This particular COVID-19 crisis has found us being quarantined and practicing “social distancing” not all crisis will be this extreme but because we have found ourselves here let’s look at how we can help our client within the limitations we are on us.

  1. Update social media accounts regularly. News and updates change quickly and keeping your pages current is vital. During a crisis like this people may be trying to call and get through to your practice. Increased call volume means busy signals or waiting on hold. If your clients jump online to your Facebook or Instagram pages be sure they can easily find out what your current situation is, or at least your situation for the day. Are you open? What hours?
  2. Communicate via your webpage. We are probably all guilty of not keeping our webpages updated as much as we should. I am certainly guilty of that and I’m in the business of updating webpages. Adding a spot on the homepage front and center with your practice update is great way to keeping your clients “in the know”.
  3. Update your Google My Business listing with your new hours, even if you are updating it daily. During uncertain times likes these it is hard to predict if we will be closing tomorrow or early today. If you know you hours are changing be sure to update them on Google. Your clients or new clients who are rushing to your hospital during business hours with an emergency or the hopes of getting the pet’s medications refilled just to find you gone will create anger and frustration. When we ‘google’ a business and ask for directions it will give us the listing of the practice, your updated hours will let your readers know that you aren’t open or that you are. If you would like to know how to update your hours on google follow along here: https://support.google.com/business/answer/3039617?visit_id=637205880713669576-1053985497&rd=1
  4. Update your hours on Yelp for the same reason as listed above. Here is the link for updating your YELP listing: https://blog.yelp.com/2019/06/updating-your-business-information-on-yelp
  5. Use your practice management software to send out an email to your client base to let them know what is going on with the practice. If you have to adjust your hours then share it. If you have like in the case of COVID-19 changed your protocols like curbside care or call in food and prescription orders then share that via email. Your clients will be able to keep that email and use it as a reference when they might need. Also include useful information in that update email like what to do in an emergency, where to go, how to reach you, etc.
  6. When sharing information use reliable sources of industry information to reduce the spread of misinformation. We often look to AVMA.org to share news and updates related to the veterinary industry. Here is the latest on what veterinarians need to know about COVID-19.
  7. Link to reliable state and national organizations that are reputable. In cases, like we are currently facing you can link to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): www.cdc.gov or the World Health Organization: www.who.int. There are many local and state-level organizations that would be good to share as they would directly pertain to you and your clients.

We hope there will never be another instance where you need to know how to communicate with clients through a crisis, but it isn’t wasted knowledge either. Having a robust method of getting the word out to your clients will ensure they are well informed about your practice and most importantly about what to do if they need care for their pets in a crisis. Having this protocol worked out will only make communicating electronically that much smoother!

Best of luck as we all go through this COVID-19 scare together but safely distanced from one another.