What Would Shawn Do? Dealing with an Employee Who Makes a Bad First Impression

Q:

We hired a young woman, Chelsea, for the receptionist position about six months ago. She has a great work ethic, always shows up on time, and is an above-average performer.

We have a very busy front desk with a high call volume. This receptionist answers the phone promptly and directs the calls appropriately, but her tone makes it seem like she’s either bored or annoyed. She’s very brusque and flat. It seems rather offputting to the caller. What should I do?

A:

Your receptionist needs some coaching. The conversation should go something like:

“Chelsea, you’re doing a great job handling our front desk, and I really appreciate your hard work! I would like to mention that your tone of voice when answering the phone doesn’t seem very welcoming. I wonder if you could try to lighten your tone and make it seem like answering the call is the most important thing you could be doing at that moment.”

Try telling her to smile before picking up the phone. It’s really hard to sound like a grump when you’re smiling.

Good luck!

What Would Shawn Do? Breaking Up Cliques

Q:

How do you break up a clique at work? Two technicians, one senior and one junior, are noticeably in like with each other as professionals. They are uber polite to each other and shower each other with affection and kindness. Not a problem, except they leave everyone else out. Now there is a rift between them and the other technicians. To top it all off, the senior technician, who has been with the doctor her whole career, makes inappropriate remarks about how he runs the business. Please help!

A:

Cliques that become “mean girls” are a common problem in veterinary hospitals. You have two primary strategies when confronted with this operational problem. The first step is to implement a culture of direct communication.

No one gets to talk about anyone or anything unless they go directly to the source of his or her frustration or concern. It is imperative to eliminate triangular communication, as managers can never gain traction in a he said/she said environment. IF someone claims to be “venting,” it should be verbalization about what s/he is feeling, not about another’s shortcomings or a judgment about that person’s motives and behavior. Once you make this edict, it is your job to hold the insubordinate gossiping employee accountable.

The second thing that you can do is rearrange the two toxic employees’ schedules or roles in the hospital so that they have less direct contact with one another.

If you have already tried to talk directly to this technician about her behavior and she is not responsive to the coaching, tell her that your next stop will be to take the problem to the owner of the practice and that you will not let up until her behavior changes. Go to your practice owner prior to this communication and gain his confidence. Ask him to support you by directing the toxic employee back to you should she try to go around you by going directly to him.

Good luck!

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