Communication Breakdown, Now What?

The article “How to Recover after a Communication Breakdown,” by Charlie Powell talks about how the importance the anatomy of communication is not only in determining what went wrong but in looking for a solution to make things right or to prevent such a breakdown in the future. He discussed 5 major aspects of communication as well as the questions to ask when something goes wrong.

  1. Sender – this is the person trying to deliver the message. When something goes wrong some questions to ask about the sender are: Did they deliver the message to everyone? Did they rely on a note to convey the information? Did employees that saw the note tell others?
  2. Coding – this is the language of the communication. Questions to ask when there is a communication breakdown include: Was the message clear? Were the details of the message correct?
  3. Channel – the medium by which the message was sent. When there is a problem, one should ask the following questions about the channel: How many mediums were used? Were there reminders? Or were there too many reminders?
  4. Decoding – the translation of the message. When determining if the decoding is the problem in a communication breakdown, ask the following questions: Did the employees understand what I was trying to convey? If not, why not? How could they decode it to mean something different?
  5. Feedback – this is how the receiver responds. If there is no response, then you know there was a breakdown at some point and this is where you ask each person who was intended to get the message what you could have done differently.

Powell made clear that sometimes outside forces such as distractions and emotions can be a major hindrance to making sure the communication hits its mark. It is important to mitigate those outside factors as much as possible and have important communications done in a quiet office. Powell remarked that in high risk environments, such as a veterinary clinic where there are always many things happening, communication is most essential and breakdowns are common. By really understanding 5 core aspects of a message and the distractions that happen in your environment, you can learn how to be a better communicator and not only fix the problem when a breakdown happens but also prevent a future breakdown.

When distractions run rampant in your practice, take the time to evaluate ways to communicate better with your employees and decrease those distractions. It can be as simple as asking your employees to arrive 5-10 minutes earlier than their shift so that you can convey important messages before they get distracted with their tasks and the patients coming in.

When someone is upset and comes to you, find a quiet, secluded area where they can compose themselves and then listen to what they have to say before offering suggestions. Sometimes people just need to talk about what is bothering them. This has benefits that are 2-fold: 1. The employee will feel like they can come to you with any problem if you are willing to listen to their problem and 2. You can learn about what the employees are having problems with and can cater your communication with them to focus on those points. By knowing the anatomy of communication and the things that bother or drive your employees can serve you well to being a better communicator as you move forward.

Leadership Development

When it comes to discussing art, many people say, “I’m not an expert but I know what I like when I see it.” The same concept is often true when it comes to leadership abilities, as well. We can recognize when a leader is either being especially effective or ineffective, but we can’t always say why. And, without being able to deconstruct the “why,” it can be challenging to develop yourself as a leader.

Effective leaders possess a spectrum of skill sets, and this article reviews five core abilities of quality leaders. This includes the ability to:

  • Negotiate fairly and well
  • Be assertive
  • Be accountable
  • Communicate clearly
  • Deal with negative attitudes

Here are more specifics about each.

Negotiate Fairly and Well

Negotiations occur when two or more parties attempt to resolve differing needs and interests through a series of communications. They negotiate because they each have something that the other one needs and believe that, through the process of negotiation, they can obtain a better outcome than by simply accepting the initial offer. The process can take finesse, as you attempt to resolve a situation through discussions, rather than by either ending the relationship, allowing one person to dominate the relationship, or turning the dispute over to another party to resolve.

Important negotiation terminology to understand includes:

  • Target point: what you’d like the other party to agree to, such as a certain starting wage
  • Bargaining range: the difference between the two target points, such as between employer and employee:
    • Positive bargaining range: if, for example, the employer’s resistance point is above the employee’s in wage negotiations
    • Negative bargaining range: when the employer’s resistance point is below the employee’s in wage negotiations, which means one or both must change resistance points for satisfactory resolution to occur
  • Resistance point: the point at which a party to negotiations would walk away, rather than continuing to negotiate
  • Opening offer: the first person to state a dollar amount creates the starting point of negotiations
  • BATNA (best alternative to negotiation agreements): if a party has the BATNA, then he or she will approach negotiations with more confidence, having an alternate plan in case all is not satisfactorily resolved

Helpful negotiation tips include the following:

  • Educate yourself on workplace rights before negotiations occur as well as company policies on important issues, such as if you or your spouse become pregnant.
  • Don’t focus solely on salary when negotiating at a workplace. Also discuss benefits, workplace perks and whatever else is important to you; for example, health care coverage, life insurance, retirement programs, vacation time and flextime. What are competitors offering? Where does your offer fall on the spectrum?
  • If you really want to work at a specific practice, but the pay rate isn’t what you want, you could accept the job with the contingency that you’ll receive a salary review in six months.
  • How can your schedule be made more flexible? Would you, for example, be permitted to come in 30 minutes later each day to take your children to school and then schedule your lunch break when you need to pick them up?
  • Who should make the first offer? Although some experts believe that making the opening offer tips your hand, research shows that final figures tend to be closer to the original number than the other party hoped would happen.
  • Avoid providing a salary range, because you’re tipping your hand more than what’s necessary. Also avoid saying “I think we’re close” because that indicates to a savvy negotiator that you’re suffering from deal fatigue.

Be Assertive

An article published by Forbes and written by a behavioral statistician offers the following statistics:

  • Leaders who rank in the 75th percentile in good judgment and lower on assertiveness have a 4.2 percent chance of being highly rated as an effective leader
  • If the reverse is true – high on assertiveness and lower on good judgment – then there is a 12.5 percent chance that he or she is perceived as an effective leader
  • When someone is ranked highly on both attributes, though, the leader has a 71 percent chance of being considered among the best leaders

So, assertiveness has its place in leadership, but it should be tempered with good judgment. The article lists ways that you can be an assertive leader without crossing over into aggressiveness. They include connecting and communicating with people in all levels of the organization, especially about change, providing honest feedback in a helpful way, modeling the changes you want to see, and collaborating, among others.

Effective leaders, according to Are You an Assertive Leader?, coach their teams and are engaged with the process. They inspire those they manage, have and give direction, and are supportive team players. Contrast this type of leader with domineering ones with body language and tone that’s perceived to be angry. These leaders often dictate what needs done and are typically seen as forceful and demanding. Employees may have a hard time getting a word in edgewise with these leaders and they don’t welcome feedback. On the other side of the spectrum are passive leaders, perceived to be quiet, aloof and resentful, as well as disengaged and distant. They focus on avoiding confrontation and will often complete tasks on their own rather than engaging with others. Make it a goal to find that sweet spot in the middle and stay there!

Effective leaders are also coaches – and the letters in the word “coach” can provide guidance on how to act:

  • C: clarify goals and communicate to all team members
  • O: obtain commitment from your team
  • A: analyze and appraise team performance and individual employee performance, as well as progress towards goals
  • C: challenge the status quo, creating an environment that is comfortable with change
  • H: help your team to succeed

Be Accountable

Having a culture of accountability is crucial for a successful practice because members of the team can count on one another, and their sense of ownership in the practice helps it to succeed. To create such a culture, clearly outline responsibilities for each member of the team via a comprehensive job description and then provide appropriate training. Once each person understands his or her jobs, help your employees to create SMART goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

Monitor progress with regularly scheduled employee reviews, and provide praise along with feedback on areas where improvement is needed. If a big project is in progress, you could hold weekly team meetings for updates and to celebrate accomplishments. Also, be accountable yourself. You must transparently share your own goals as well as the overall goal for the practice. Help employees to see how their goals fit into the overall practice goal and be willing to share when you’ve fallen short, using that as a learning experience.

Additional tips include:

  • After assigning tasks, let employees take on full responsibility. Provide specifics about each person’s role, along with deadlines, then allow your team to complete tasks. This shows your confidence in them.
  • Don’t micromanage or insist that a team member accomplish a task exactly how you would. If the task is completed on time and satisfactorily, that’s what matters. Over-scrutinizing details can be counterproductive, leading your team to feel incompetent.
  • Don’t check in too frequently. That can waste time and removes the responsibility of being accountable from your team.

So, hire the right staff and train them well. Give them ownership of their tasks and the room to accomplish their goals. Empower them to do well by giving them the opportunities to excel and leave the micromanaging to someone else.

Communicate Clearly

There are five major aspects of communication, according to Charlie Powell in How to Recover after a Communication Breakdown, which means there are five places in which a breakdown can occur. First, there is the sender: the person or organization delivering a message. There, a breakdown can take place if the message is not appropriately shared and/or not sent to relevant parties.

Next, there is coding, which is the language of the communication. Were the right details shared in a clear manner? The third element is the channel. If there is a communication breakdown, review how many mediums were used and whether or not they were the right choices. Email? Fax? Telephone? How many reminders were sent – and was that number too small? Too large?

The next step in the process is decoding, which is how the receivers understood the message provided. If there is a problem here – and you’ve decided that the first three elements were handled correctly – determine what is causing the decoding block. Are the receivers of the message busy and distracted? Disinterested in the message content?

Finally, there is feedback. Did you receive any? If not, what seems to be the problem? Did a critical event occur that disrupted the normal flow of business? Or, again, is disinterest the root of the problem? A lack of trust in the sender?

Throughout this process, how much of a role are outside forces playing?

Deal with Negative Attitudes

In our article, Negative Attitudes: How to Identify and Deal with Negativity in the Practice, we list the following negative attitudes:

  • Gossiping that causes conflict and/or ill will among staff
  • Complaining, and never being pleased with decisions or comments made
  • Criticizing, and exaggerating mistakes made by others
  • Disrespectful comments and/or passive aggressive behaviors when given a task
  • Arguing rather than compromising or finding ways to settle disagreements
  • Goofing off, not helping when coworkers need assistance
  • Any other comments or actions that affect the morale of people who works at the practice – and/or that damage client relationships and/or hurt the practice overall


As a leader, if you notice these behaviors in your practice, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s the impact of the employee’s behavior?
  • How do the person’s actions differ from the standards set for overall employee behavior?
  • What’s the effect of this individual’s behavior on the people who work with him/her?
  • If this person acted according to our accepted standards, could it make a difference in morale and productivity?


If the negative action is unusual behavior for a staff member, perhaps he or she is dealing with challenging personal problems and is therefore feeling overwhelmed. In that case, a heartfelt talk and an offer of help can be the answer. But, what if there is an ongoing pattern of negativity?

You can have employees sign a policy document that bans negative behaviors, such as gossiping. Then, if it occurs, you can meet with that person to discuss the policy. Ask the employee for suggestions on resolving the situation, meeting in private to avoid embarrassment. Be straightforward in your approach and, whenever possible, incorporate quality recommendations given. If this doesn’t help, then you may ultimately need to tell the employee that, if he or she isn’t happy at the practice, it makes sense to go elsewhere – for the good of the practice and the employee’s peace of mind.

There are, however, in between steps, including giving a verbal warning to the negative employee, with that warning noted in the employee’s file; a second written warning; and then termination with the third offense.

High Performance Team Culture

Finally, as we’ve noted in High Performance Team Culture Leadership Effectiveness in Engaging your Employees, you should always focus on creating a positive work environment, accomplished by:

  • fostering clarity
  • earning trust
  • sharing information
  • practicing stewardship
  • energizing and inspiring employees

Screening the Social Media Accounts of Interviewees

Let’s say you’ve found the “perfect” candidate for your veterinary tech. She’s skilled, great with animals and compassionate with people. What more could you need, right? But, shortly after you hire her, you notice she regularly uses swear words at work that make others feel uncomfortable and spends too much time sharing her political views with anyone she can corner. There’s no way you could have known that ahead of time, though . . . right? She just knew how to interview well, you tell yourself, and this was an unavoidable problem. Right?

Well, maybe not.

A ten-minute review of her Facebook page (okay, a five-minute review!) told you all of the above, and more. So, does this mean that, going forward, you should check interviewees’ social media pages during the screening process?

Employer Statistics

If you do, then’s The Hiring Site says you’re not alone. Employers who are reviewing candidates’ social media accounts are steadily increasing:

  • 2013: 39% of employers check
  • 2014: 43% of employers check
  • 2015: 52% of employers check

And, these employers go above and beyond simply reading what can be seen. Many are also sending friend requests to these candidates to obtain full access to a person’s social media profile and postings. In fact, more than one third of employers surveyed do so (35%) – and, interestingly enough, 20% of those requests are turned down by candidates!

Employers say they are looking for positives, not negatives, with 60% wanting information to back up a person’s qualifications, but 21% say, yes, they are checking to see if there are reasons NOT to hire someone.

Is This All Legit?

The short answer is, yes, this is legal when handled appropriately. However, proceed with caution, says hiring site Once you have reviewed a prospective employee’s social media profile, a court will “assume you are aware of that person’s ‘protected characteristics’ that are often part of their online postings.” This includes but is not limited to “religion, age, sexual orientation or disability.” Armed with these insights, you must be especially careful not to ask interview questions that are outside the legal scope, or use this information in your hiring decisions in a way that’s beyond legal limitations.

This article provides insights from David Baffa, a labor and employment partner at Seyfarth Shaw, LLP. His advice includes:

  • Waiting to review social media postings until after you’ve met face to face. This helps to reduce the likelihood of being accused of making a snap judgment based on social media information or inappropriately using protected characteristics in your interview questions.
  • Consistently reviewing social media information for each candidate, including doing so at the same point in the process for each.
  • Saving and/or printing screen shots of areas of concern, ones that cause you to “question the candidate’s candor, professionalism or judgment.”

Final Considerations
If this all sounds too complicated or fraught with pitfalls, know that this issue isn’t going away. At one time, background checks were considered to be controversial. Phone interviews were thought to be suspect by many employers and telecommuting options seemed impossible.
The reality is that technology, notably the Internet, has radically changed the way the world conducts business, and using social media as a screening tool is likely to only become more common – and, if you resist using it, you may be hurting your chances of getting the candidate that best suits your needs and fits your culture. This isn’t to say that you must use social media as a screening tool, but it does suggest you need to explore options, come up with a well-thought-out policy (even if the policy is to NOT review social media pages of any interviewees) and then strictly follow that policy.

Veterinary Practices Posting Pet Pictures on Social Media

As the employees of a veterinary practice know, one of the side benefits of the job is getting to meet and interact with adorable animals! You get to see the sweetest of kitty faces and the melting eyes of a lovable pup, and more. It can be tempting to photograph them, perhaps to share them with others in the practice who were off that day, or to use in your practice’s marketing materials.

But, is that acceptable? Done correctly, the answer is yes. An article in Veterinary Business DMV 360’s site covers this topic, and shares how a practice in Arkansas – Azzore Veterinary Specialists – photographs each patient. They put the picture in the pet’s electronic health record, and also post the photos on their Facebook page and Twitter feed.

What’s most important: getting the client’s permission first. Simply ask the client to sign a photography release form when checking in. You can use this form as written or tweak it to fit your practice’s specific needs. People may occasionally refuse to sign, but most are willing.

Beyond Just Posting Pictures

This practice goes a step further, providing online updates on social media. How well has that gone over? Well! The article says that “most clients understand that the purpose of posting photos is to keep them in the know—and to educate others who are simply following the action. Typical posts might explain that the pet ‘made it through surgery just fine,’ ‘is awake,’ or ‘is resting well after her procedure.’”

Clients get updates that way without needing to call and it’s easy for them to share updates with friends and family. Posting updates typically only take a few seconds to do, although when a celebrity cat – the mascot for the local weather station, Joey the Garden Cat – had a tumor removed, Facebook activity was fast and furious. points out benefits of using social media this way. “Social media, like Facebook or Twitter, can help you continue client bonds outside of your veterinary clinic’s exam room. Establishing a strong presence on several social media platforms will help you connect 365 days a year, rather than during 15-minute annual visits. Before you know it, clients will see you as the source for pet health information online, not their buddy Dr. Google (where did that guy go to veterinary school, anyway?).”

Engaging Veterinary Facebook Posts agrees that patient stories (including photos) are among the most engaging types of Facebook posts. When Quinebaug Valley Veterinary Hospital in Connecticut posted about Ty, a “handsome black lab” who’d been hit by a car, the post reached 1,045 people. That’s a great way to help your community learn more about your practice.

Another way to elicit engagement is to post a picture of an animal and ask a question. “You could post a picture of a unique dog and ask people what breed it is, ask clients what their pet’s plans for the weekend are, or post a funny picture and ask clients to caption it.”

Once you have a signed release form, you are limited only by your imagination!

Employee Guidelines for Social Media Usage

As of October 2015, says Pew Research Center, 76% of adults in the United States who have access to the Internet use Facebook – and, with the abundance of smartphones, people are connected to the Internet with just a finger tap. This trend is unlikely to decrease – mobile phone usage OR social media participation – so it just makes good sense for veterinary practices to establish social media policies for their employees.

Important note: It also makes sense to consult with an attorney when creating your policy. This is an ever-changing social phenomenon and issues are not always clear-cut.

Social Media Policies

First, how do you define social media? You’re almost certainly considering platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus and the like to be social media. But, what about an employee’s personal blog? Comments he or she makes on someone else’s blog?

It’s important that your policy clearly outlines what’s permissible and what isn’t, but you should first share the following context:

Policies should state that the practice respects the rights of its employees to use social media as a method of self-expression and public conversation. State that the practice does not discriminate against employees who use social media to communicate personal interests and affiliations, or any other lawful purposes.

A 2012 memorandum by the Office of the General Counsel (OM 12-59) uses phrases like this in their sample policy:

  • “Ultimately, you are solely responsible for what you post online. Before creating online content, consider some of the risks and rewards that are involved.”
  • “Keep in mind that any of your conduct that adversely affects your job performance, the performance of fellow associates or otherwise adversely affects members, customers, suppliers, people who work on behalf of [Employer] or [Employer’s] legitimate business interests may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.”

Other sections in OM 12-59 encourage being honest, accurate and respectful. There is a focus on specifically prohibiting posts that include discriminating or harassing statements and, as far as prohibiting specific forms of content, types include:

  • Employer trade secrets/private and/or confidential information
  • Internal reports, processes and policies
  • Content where someone falsely claims to represent his or her employer

You will likely want to prohibit non-work-related social media posting while an employee is on the clock.

An article by Arkady Bukh, a New York federal defense attorney, sums up social media policies this way: “Ultimately they [social media policies] should be about educating workers to use common sense when they use social media.”

Pros and Cons

As you craft your policy, keep in mind both the benefits and challenges associated with social media. On the plus side, social media can be used as a powerful marketing and branding tool. So, if your employees are perceived as likeable, friendly and trustworthy people on social media, then this can only benefit your practice when people are looking for a new veterinarian.

Spread the Word

It’s not enough to simply create a social media policy. You need to share this policy with all employees regularly, perhaps at an annual meeting where you review all company policies. Allow time for your staff to ask questions and gain clarity.

2017 Calendar for Human Resources Related Events

2017 – Is it really here in just the blink of an eye?  We have updated our calendar with additional events that you should be addressing in 2017 regarding Human Resources related activities.  Please take the time to at least scan the list and pencil in on your appointment book or mark on your outlook calendar or for you techies with the smart phones or tablets, maybe there’s an app for that – so that you are proactively prepared to administer or address each event in a timely manner.  Our list is based on a calendar year and your Practice’s fiscal year running concurrently.  But any listed activity below can be scheduled in the month that you need to begin the activity so that you have enough planned lead time to get the event executed successfully according to your own schedule.  Not all activities may pertain to your Practice (some depend on the number of employees working for you) and the list is comprehensive but not all-inclusive – it is meant to get you thinking about Human Resources related activities and functions for the upcoming year.  And as a reminder, some of the new HR related activities that are listed due to their prescribed implementation dates may change as we get closer to the deadline dates because sometimes legislative acts may get challenged, postponed or shelved.  As we hear of updates, we will post them in our newsletter.

  • Prepare OSHA form 300A from OSHA 300 log
  • Finalize Performance Management Review discussions and inform employees of annual increases/bonuses and effective dates
  • The NLRB requires employers to notify employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act with a posted notice by January 31, 2017 (to order the posting notice for free, use the following link )
  • Remind employees – IRS changes for 2017 to pension plans or 401(k) plans
  • Remind employees to submit a new W-4 form if withholding changes are to be made for 2017






  • Reset dates and accumulators associated with HRIS/Payroll systems for the new processing year
  • Request Vacation Schedules from the staff for the year – not set in stone but helps you plan, especially on the dates that everyone wants off.
  • Post a Holiday calendar of when the Practice will observe the holidays
  • Commence Performance Management – setting mutually agreed upon goals for the year/creating career development plans and distributing a Performance Management Review calendar for 2017 with ‘Pay for Performance’ guidelines communicated
  • Review Federal & State Law posters – ensure compliance and updated postings
  • Issue 2016 W2’s and 1099’s for current and former employees
  • If you travel for Hospital business, the IRS 2016 mileage rate is 57.5 cents.  Check for new rate for 2017.






  • Post complete OSHA form 300A for 3 months
  • Implement Employee Engagement Survey – get feedback on your organizational culture
  • Review current and create new job descriptions in anticipation of Talent Acquisition Process
  • Employees must  change the withholding exemption to “single, with zero allowances” for employees who claimed total exemption from withholding for last year, unless the individuals have completed a new Form W-4
  • Structure a Training Schedule – to determine which classes (technical/developmental skills) should be conducted internally vs. externally
  • Facilitate a quarterly HR meeting – review policies, procedures and ‘celebrate success’
  • Conduct a market survey on Compensation pay ranges
MARCH 2017




  • Review and communicate feedback from Employee Engagement Survey – determine what ‘hot issues’ will be addressed and implemented by when
  • Recruit and Pipeline network of potential new hires aligned to Practice’s workforce planning model/budget
  • All plan sponsors and health insurance issuers must provide Standardized Health Plan Summaries of Benefits and Coverage along with glossary of terms to enrollees/potential enrollees
  • Review SDS’s to determine if any hazardous chemical inventory needs attention or submission to appropriate agencies.
APRIL 2017





  • Conduct HR related seminars such as ‘How to Prevent Harassment and Discrimination in the Workplace’ (some states such as CT require this training if you have ≥ 50 employees)
  • Investigate with your health insurance broker, carrier and attorney how the Health Care Reform Act affects the Practice for 2017 especially if the health care plan designs are changing or laws that affect FT/PT eligibility  need to be declared
  • Community Living Assistance and Services Support (CLASS) Act, (basic lifetime long term care benefit in the event of illness or disability) has been suspended from implementation
  • Practices with< 250 employees will not have to report the cost of employer-provided health care coverage on the Form W-2 for 2014
  • Review if any new federal/state labor laws that go into effect in the upcoming months and how the laws will affect the Practice
  • Review and update Employee Manual to ensure up-to-date and compliant
MAY 2017



  • Commence Half Year Performance Management Reviews – according to calendar distributed in January
  • Facilitate a quarterly HR meeting – review policies, procedures, distribute updated Employee Manual and obtain annual acknowledgment receipt of  Employee Manual including Confidentiality Agreement and ‘celebrate success’
JUNE 2017


  • Finalize all Half Year Performance Management Review discussions
  • Conduct a component of an HR audit (e.g. employee files or payroll or records retention, etc)
JULY 2017


  • Complete and submit 5500 forms for employee benefit plans
  • Complete an HR budget aligned to the Practice’s 2018 strategic/financial business objectives


  • Receive carrier bids on 2018 plans from health insurance broker to determine plan designs and costs
  • Facilitate a quarterly HR meeting – review policies, procedures and ‘celebrate success’
  • File EEO-1 form for employers with ≥100 employees
  • Communicate Open Enrollment Benefits calendar for October



  • Conduct Open Enrollment for Health Care and other insurance plans to include processing information to the respective carriers
  • Finalize HR budget with Practice owner
  • Discuss with Practice owner percentage of salary adjustments and bonus opportunities to set aside


  • Commence Annual Performance Management Reviews – according to calendar distributed in January
  • Facilitate a quarterly HR meeting – review policies, procedures and ‘celebrate success’
  • Discuss and agree upon HR goals for the Practice in 2018



  • Prepare OSHA form 300A from OSHA 300 log
  • Finalize Performance Management Review discussions and inform employees of annual increases/bonuses and effective dates
  • Remind employees – IRS changes for 2018 to pension plans or 401(k) plans
  • Remind employees to submit a new W-4 form if withholding changes are to be made for 2018
  • Remind employees about Flexible Spending Accounts’ limits ($2,500)