Personnel with personal problems

Personnel with personal problems

May 01, 2006

If you've managed a veterinary practice for long, I can almost guarantee you've had to deal with staff members who bring their personal problems to work. And you may have said to yourself, "Why can't they leave these issues at home?"

It's true, in an ideal world, people would keep their personal challenges out of the workplace. But let's get real. People do have problems from time to time. Bad things happen to everybody. And it doesn't make sense to expect staff members to work as a close-knit team and then keep their personal challenges out of the office.

Staff members bring their personal issues to work because they don't know where else to turn for help. And sharing about life that goes on beyond the walls at work helps build a strong bond that's an important part of being a team player. So don't deny the inevitable. On the other hand, it makes sense to develop some strategies for managing these situations when they come up.

Avoid these listening traps

Coaching in practice
It's often said that we're blessed with two ears and one mouth yet most of us haven't taken the hint. Listening, really listening, to someone can be one of the greatest gifts we can give. However, listening can be tough when someone's sharing a significant problem or life challenge.

After all, these conversations often involve strong emotions, such as angst, anger, or anxiety. It's easy to get caught in the drama. Or you may find that it's difficult just to field such strong emotions from a co-worker. At this point, it's easy to revert to one of these three escape mechanisms:

1. Head bobbing. The listener phases out, politely nodding, like one of those toy dogs in the back window of a car, and then excuses him- or herself as soon as possible.

2. Tossing fuel on the fire. In this scenario, you get caught feeding into the negative energy and agreeing about how bad the problem is. You might even fall into a game of one-upmanship, seeing if the original complaint can be topped with an even bigger one of your own. "Oh, you think your husband's inconsiderate? Let me tell you what mine did just last week." Before you know it, you're sucked into the drama and—who brought the chips and salsa—the pity party begins.

3. The quick fix. The third common mistake listeners make is to start offering solutions before the person has even fully expressed the problem. And often, they really aren't looking for a solution, at least not at first. They simply want someone to be sympathetic and hear their complaint. Only then will they be open to a solution.

Diagnose the core problem

Say what?
Here's one simple way to become a better listener: Switch from listening for information about the problem to listening for the core issue. When we listen "about" something we tend to get wrapped up in the drama, which causes several things. For instance, we either phase out—if the emotional energy is more than we can handle—or we try to fix the problem so we can relieve our discomfort as well as the other person's pain.