Dung Beetle rolling a ball of feces.
In the veterinary industry, and in COVID especially, working in emergency and dealing with the attitudes of clients is one of the hardest parts of the job. Employees are expected to be professional, empathetic, sweet, kind, and caring to all our clients, even when they are yelling, being rude, dismissive, and even abusive. Staff get to the breaking point with clients, where they are just fed up of having to always be the bigger person with clients. Always being the ones to ‘turn the other cheek’, and with the clients having no retribution for their bad behaviour, and sometimes even being rewarded for it with discounts and free care.

This is a HUGE problem in the whole vet industry, but especially in emergency clinics where clients feel they don't have to be nice because they don’t have to maintain a working relationship with the clinic. Compounding this is that emergency clients are also extra stressed, scared, and overwhelmed, all emotions which make their behaviour worse.

So, what do we do? Do we ask the clients to be nicer to us? Do we educate the public on the high suicide rate of veterinary professionals due to their abusive behaviour? Yes… of course…however, this is a SLOW process, and given the nature of the profession, and the perception of the public on vets, especially emergency vets, as being money hungry jerks… this is not going to change soon. We need a solution FASTER!
The Solution: Be Selfish! Yes…Selfish.
Baby pig with words: Protect your energy. Take care of you. Put yourself first. It is not Selfish, and if it is, then be selfish
Changing your viewpoint and recognizing what you SELFISHLY want out of your interactions, and realizing that you can hog your energy, and be treated better, is the key to a happy work-day!
When you wake up in the morning and are going to work, what is the end goal? The goal is to be happy during your shift, to save some animals, to work well with your team, and feel satisfied when you go home at night. It’s to have positive interactions with clients, colleagues and managers.

The goal isn’t to ‘get the last word in’ or to ‘be morally on the right foot’ in an argument. When you focus on the end goal, which is your own personal mental health improving, and your own day being better, happier, less stressful… the nit-picking details are not important!

What this means is, you yourself can change your mindset when you are talking to clients that are being shitty, to create a positive experience mentally for yourself, no matter how much they are jerks! And, the bonus of this is, it actually results in the clients being nicer to you… making the mountain you have to climb mentally smaller!
How, and WHY, Do You Change Your Mindset?
Baby donkey on grassy field
“When you assume, you make an ass of ‘u’ and ‘me’”. This is true most of the time, but in this circumstance, you’ve lost the energy and mental fortitude to gather the true story, and are jumping to an assumption that allows you to treat clients, and think about clients, in a mentally protective way!
When a client comes into your practice, or to the curb-side in COVID, and they being rude, abusive, or mean, instead of mentally going to a place of “this person is a jerk”, think the best of them. Assume every person is a nice person having a very very bad day. Think of the worst possible scenario that they could be going through (such as just last week having to decide to take their new baby off life support- yes this is a real example from a client I had recently), and assume any jerk that comes in is going through this hell. Assume their behaviour comes from a place of hurt, fear, anxiety, stress, or a feeling of being out of control. Assume they are just not their best selves. When you do this your anger, your resentment, your lack of patience and lack of ability to be kind, disappears.

And you may be saying, “so the bad guy wins again”, or, “wait, you tell us to stand up to bullies!”. And, to both of those comments I say “yes”. BUT…

Go back to your end goal… of having a happy day, where you don't go home with resentment and anger, where you feel you helped and cared for animals. Assuming people are not jerks is protective to your own mental health. I actually don't care at all about that client and how they feel, but I care about YOU, and how YOU FEEL in that interaction. Preventing yourself from those feelings of anger, resentment and stress is protective to your own mental health.

Of course if that person is not responding and starting to treat you nicely after the following steps, or if they are overly abusive, threatening, etc… you tell them you don't tolerate abuse and show them the door… of course you fire their asses… but that comes after trying a few things first.

Most people aren't complete jerks deep down, and most people are just scared, stressed, anxious and struggling when they come to the vet clinic. So, assuming the best in people, and responding and displaying that you aren’t judging them as a complete jerk the moment they walk through the door, will help them get back to that nice person they truly are.
How Do You Make Clients Be Nice??
small girl hugging a lion
How you treat and label people drastically changes how they act with you, in that moment, even if it doesn't change their true nature.
You acknowledge their emotions. This simple act of acknowledging their emotions will diffuse and change the attitude of MOST jerky clients.

Just try saying to any client that is being a bit of a jerk, “I understand you are scared and stressed about Fluffy.”

This simple phrase will show the clients that you understand where they are coming from, and makes them feel that you aren’t judging them to be jerks, but judging them to be scared and stressed and that is the root of their behaviour. People want to be liked by nature, and if you label someone as a nice person, it is much harder for them to be mean to you even if they want to. On the converse side, if you label someone as a jerk, they will prove you right because now you have given them PERMISSION to be a jerk.

More simply put- How you are treated by a client is a self-fulfilling prophecy about how you make them think you feel about them when you first interact!

“Thank you for your patience” to start any conversation, even if the client has only been waiting 2 minutes, makes the person unable to complain about the wait without looking like a jerk, because you have just labeled them as patient.

“Thank you for understanding…(ex. that other animals have unfortunately required emergency life-saving treatment before Fluffy”) labels the client as being understanding and therefore they will look like a jerk if they complain about not being seen first.

Assuming the best of people mentally, and verbalizing this assumption (even if it isn’t true), changes how clients will act towards you, making YOUR day better.

Assuming the best of people mentally changes how you perceive your interactions with humans (even if they are jerks, you don't think of them as jerks), making YOUR day better.
See, Be Selfish!
Always assume others mean the best, are trying their best, and want to learn, want to grow, and want to be better. This works with clients, colleagues, friends, and sometimes even family!

Always remember your end goal. It isn't to get the last word in. It isn't to prove someone to someone that they are wrong and you are right… the end goal is for you to be HAPPY, for you to feel positive at the end of your shift, and this is the FASTEST way to get there!

The public education, the change of the perspective of the industry all needs to happen too, but if you wait for that solution, you won't be in this profession anymore.
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published January 22nd, 2022

Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!

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