4 signs your practice suffers from constipated communication

4 signs your practice suffers from constipated communication

It's the things you don't say that can hurt your practice's health the most. Here are four symptoms to look for, along with tips to open up dialogue.
Jul 01, 2011

One of the most valuable communication lessons I've learned over the past 20-plus years is this: It's what we don't say that runs the show. Let me rephrase that: It's what we think we can't say for fear we'll get into trouble with the other person that runs the show—things that end up shaping our relationships in ways that are unhealthy for everyone involved.

No one enjoys confrontation or addressing the difficult issues that arise in a veterinary practice. Unfortunately, if we don't address these issues, they can lead to a severe case of constipated communication. The result is lethargic team members who feel alienated from one another—a formula for lowered productivity and profitability.

Constipated communication occurs at almost every veterinary practice, but it usually goes unrecognized until it's in the terminal stages. More often than not, we can trace the source of the problem back to the practice owner. A veterinary practice is like a living animal, and constipated communication really does make it sick. As with any disease, diagnosing constipated communication begins with the awareness that the condition exists. Then we check for the following clinical signs.

1 Mixed messages

Mixed messages can be a sign of stuck communication, but mixed messages are also a root cause, especially when the messages come from the practice owner. For example, before becoming a life and business coach, I operated my small animal veterinary practice with an open-door policy. Unfortunately, through the years I unknowingly trained my staff to distrust my policy. I'd say, "Feel free to come talk to me about anything that's on your mind." But if employees came to me with a complaint, it was like they had to dismantle a time bomb. At any moment I might explode. I'd yell at them or I'd drag in the person they were complaining about so I could yell at both of them. "Don't ever do it again," I'd say, and they never would. My employees learned not to make the mistake of telling the boss when there was a problem.

If someone had an idea to improve the practice, I'd either give all the reasons the idea wouldn't work, or I'd tell them that I would think it over. They'd never hear another word about it. What I was really communicating was, "Why bother? I'll either yell at you or ignore you."

2 Gossip

Does your practice have a healthy grapevine growing in it? Have you noticed that you can tell your veterinary technician something in confidence and your receptionist will know about it before you get back up front? Do your practice team members say they feel resentful, unimportant, unappreciated, or fearful because they're being excluded from certain conversations or the information running along the gossip grapevine is about them?

If you find yourself explaining this symptom away like I did by saying, "But people will always gossip," your practice is suffering from constipated communication.

3 Complaining

If you were to step outside your practice for a moment and listen to the conversations inside, like listening to the heartbeat of a pet with a stethoscope, what would you hear? In a constipated practice, you'll hear a lot of complaining, especially when the practice owner isn't around.

Have you ever walked into a room and noticed that team members suddenly stop talking? Or maybe there's an uncomfortable silence before someone comes up with a safe subject to talk about? Do you notice people complaining to other people who can do nothing about the problem or about other people when those people are not present? These are all symptoms indicating that communication in your practice is stuck.