AVMA 2017: 'You' and 'I' Need to Communicate Better

Effectively communicating with team members and clients requires a lot more “I” and a lot less “you.”
Kerry Lengyel
Published: May 07, 2018
There are any number of barriers to effective communication within a veterinary practice. These roadblocks can make it incredibly difficult to convey your point to an unwilling employee, colleague or client.

At the 2017 American Veterinary Medical Association Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, John Meyer, PhD, and Carolyn Shadle, PhD, explained how many people communicate with one another using “you” messages, which begin with the word “you” and focus on the person being spoken to.

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“A lot of these statements are harmless, but when you want to confront someone or ask someone to do something for you and it’s an area of tension, they can feel very confronted and offended and it becomes a barrier,” Dr. Shadle said.

They explained how “you” messages suggest blame, encourage the other person to deny wrongdoing, and cause unnecessary stress and disconnect between team members. Here are some examples:
  • “If that pet does not thrive, it’s your fault because you didn’t follow the protocol.” Criticizes, judges, blames.
  • “You’re coming to me for an answer? That’s so easy. You should’ve figured that out by yourself.” Ridicules, shames.
  • “You have a new degree and you just got a job here. That’s why you keep insisting that we do the procedure that way.” Diagnoses, analyzes.
  • “You need to clean up your area.” Orders, commands.
  • “If you don’t clean up your area, you’re going to get in a lot of trouble.” Threatens.
  • “You really should be kind to clients when they come in — it’s only the nice thing to do.” Moralizes.
  • “Why were you late? Can’t you wake up earlier? Why don’t you set your alarm clock earlier?” Excessively questions.
  • “If I were you, I’d recheck the patient’s chart.” Advises.
  • “I’m so glad you brought that up, but let’s talk about something more pleasant.” Diverts.
  • “You’ll be fine. You’ll figure it out.” Patronizes.

To communicate more effectively, they said, replace “you” statements with “I” statements, which assert your feelings, beliefs, and values, rather than placing the assertion on the other person. Typically starting with the word “I,” these statements take some of the pressure off the person with whom you’re trying to communicate.

According to Drs. Shadle and Meyer, there are three parts to any “I” statement:
I feel _____ when ______ , because ______.

For example, instead of saying, “This is what you need to do with Fluffy,” try this: “I am concerned when you fail to give Fluffy her medications because I’m afraid she isn’t getting what she needs.”

“In this way,” Dr. Shadle said, “you’re getting in touch with a part of me that you only get to know when I share my feelings. By sharing my feelings, I’m setting up a situation where you can’t deny how I feel.”

The bottom line: For more effective communication in practice and in life, take stock of where you are, think about your needs and focus the situation squarely on yourself.

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