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by Cherie T. Buisson, DVM, CHPV
Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarian
Originally published on DrAndyRoark.com

I can’t really express in words how much I hate to be criticized. Speaking as a human being, there is little I hate more than being told I’m doing something wrong. Deep down in my heart I detest feedback that is anything but positive. Like most veterinary professionals, I am a perfectionist, and having my imperfections pointed out is always a throat punch.

As a veterinary professional (and if I take all the emotion out), I should cherish feedback.

Sorry, choked on that a little.

No, really. Feedback is how you grow. Feedback is how you learn to be imperfect AND accept that you are imperfect. It’s good for you like local anesthetic, like a prostate exam, you know – stuff that feels nasty and you avoid like the plague.

Like so many things in our profession, criticism is something we have to deal with from both sides of the table. So how do we get the most out of something we all wish we could do without?

Make yourself listen. I know. BELIEVE me, I get it. But do it anyway.
Listen and search for the lesson. If what’s being said is 100 percent not true, don’t take responsibility for it. But usually, even badly presented feedback contains something to make you better.

When you are the one giving feedback, remember just how lousy it feels.
Deliver your words with kindness and truth. If the other person gets defensive, resist the urge to jump into an argument. Acknowledge that getting negative feedback hurts and assure them that you are enjoying delivering it about as much as they are enjoying receiving it. So, how about you agree that you fix the problem together so you don’t have to talk about it again?

Feedback needs to be delivered in a timely manner.
Don’t wait until the annual review to bust someone’s chops for something they did 5 months ago. You hate hearing that a pet hasn’t eaten in two weeks, right? Address problems immediately so they don’t blow up into a catastrophe. When you see improvement – make a big deal out of it. If you aren’t seeing improvement, talk it out and be clear about consequences.

Feedback needs to be specific and something that can be acted upon.
“Your attitude sucks” is about as helpful as “I hate your face.” Document specific examples and bring the other person into the discussion as to how that situation could have been handled better. If you are receiving vague feedback, ask for more specific examples. If your supervisor can’t come up with any, they are not doing a good job. Let them know that you can’t fix a problem that is so nebulous. Be sure you document these meetings as well and go up the chain of command if necessary.

Feedback includes both negative and positive.
If you can’t find a single positive thing about an employee, you need to fire them or yourself, because one of you is doing a terrible job.

Pull on your big-kid scrubs and face the fire. If you’re receiving criticism, step up to the buffet and pick out the yummy bits that will help you grow. If you’re giving criticism, ask yourself what presentation would make it most palatable. This horribly uncomfortable situation has the potential for big rewards on both sides – don’t knock it till you try it.