What makes a cohesive practice with collegial behaviour, where people express their care and compassion for their colleagues as well as their patients?

This is an excellent question and one I bet most of us would struggle to answer concisely and in a timely fashion. As with a lot of answers to questions in my area of specialty, veterinary anaesthesia and pain management, I often state, “well that depends”.

As I was preparing to write this blog on workplace culture, I browsed literature claiming to successfully create “great work culture” or “unique workplace culture”, and many other positive descriptions of how to, but what does this all really mean? What is culture and how do we create a positive and respectful one for our workplaces?

I decided first to define the word “culture” and in looking for this definition I found an interesting description from Cristina De Rossi, an anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College in London:

“Culture encompasses religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we sit at the table, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones, and a million other things”. The word culture has origins in French and Latin which means to tend the earth and grow, or cultivation and nurture. De Rossi also states that the word culture “shares its origins with other words related to actively fostering growth.”

Wow there is a lot in her definition!

It seems to me that culture has a very broad definition and at its heart it is multifactorial and centred on language both non-verbal e.g. what we wear and how we wear it, how we behave and verbal e.g. language, how we greet people, what we say. And therefore at its origin culture must depend on communication.

And I think that we all know that open and honest communication is at the heart of positive workplace culture, and this creates a climate where leadership demonstrates empathy and listening. Role models and leaders who value their colleagues and employees ensure that they validate them by listening, in a space where they let go of blame and judgement, and where they encourage people in their workplace to take responsibility for their actions and make amends when they behave badly. And…at times we all behave badly. The magnitude of individuals is demonstrated when they rise above this behaviour, make amends by having the strength to own their behaviour and apologise or make right, and then truly march forth with a determination to be and do better. Along with communication, kindness, empathy and compassion all dwell in this space.

During my career I have seen many workplace cultures, across two hemispheres and on several continents, and the best workplace cultures were where the leaders listened, truly listened, and then led by positive example. No distractions, such as checking your phone while having a discussion, and using appropriate eye contact and properly recognising the human being in front of you. After all, on average it only takes 3 minutes to listen while a client divulges a comprehensive history, if we let them, and we all need to afford this to our colleagues and employees.

As veterinary professionals we owe it to ourselves to foster clear communication, respect, empathy and compassion in our workplaces, because whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we are in the vocation called veterinary medicine, and this is a lifestyle. And…clients and visitors to our workplace will feel the energy; whether it is positive or negative, they will feel it. They may not be able to describe exactly what they are feeling, but they will feel it.

The beautiful thing about communication skills is that they can be learned and therefore taught, and VetPrac has two incredible online workshops which deliver engaging and structured information from core communications skills in Vet Talk through to more advanced training in Vet Talk Next Level where you will learn to navigate difficult clinical encounters.

So again, what makes a cohesive practice with collegial behaviour, where people express their care and compassion for their colleagues as well as their patients? The answer is multifactorial and at the centre of this is clear and honest communication. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to be aware of how we communicate so that we can be the best expression of ourselves for our clients and colleagues? And my answer to this is yes, absolutely!

Article written by Dr. Margie McEwen BVSc DACVAA MANZCVS. Margie is the Director/Owner of VetPrac, and she is a passionate veterinarian dedicated to offering the best education from around the world.

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