Mastering the art of communication — part 1

by By Brandon Hess

6 min read

Whether you’re talking to a client, an employee, your kids, or the Amazon delivery guy, you have one goal in mind when you initiate communication — imparting information. Any disconnect between your intention and the listener’s perception results in a communication breakdown.

While it might be easy to blame the listener for having poor listening skills or being oversensitive, adjusting your delivery from the outset will be far more productive. The better your communication, the easier you’ll be able to instill trust in your clients and employees. The greater that trust, the greater the compliance. The greater the compliance, the better the care. Effective communication is also a big driver of culture. A positive culture boosts morale, deters employees from leaving, and minimizes on-the-job errors.

Bridge the gap between intention and perception

Several verbal and nonverbal ways can help you communicate more effectively, from using the right tone of voice to monitoring body language.

  • Tone: Some people are loud and outspoken by nature. Others are as quiet as a mouse. Put your default tone aside and adapt to the situation. Keep in mind that the right tone can leave listeners feeling encouraged, hopeful, supported, or understood. The wrong tone can leave them feeling discouraged, attacked, ashamed, or alone.
  • Words: Choose them carefully. Some people have trigger words that send them spiraling into despair, but you can’t always know what your listener’s triggers will be. This is where your emotional intelligence comes into play. As soon as you recognize you’ve triggered someone — watch their posture and facial expressions because the signs will be there — don’t keep powering through. Stop, check in, and try a different approach.
  • Pace: Clients aren’t concerned about the number of patients you need to squeeze in that day. They’re concerned about their pet’s welfare and want to know you share that concern. Rushing through client consultations — or employee conversations — suggests you have somewhere better to be, which in turn tells your listener they’re not that important and neither is the issue at hand.
  • Pauses: Never be afraid to pause. If the person you’re talking to appears agitated, upset, confused, or tuned out, take a breath and try to reengage them. Ask things like “Can I elaborate for you?” or “Is there anything that isn’t quite clear?”  to involve them in the conversation.
  • Body language: Looking your listeners in the eye and adopting a relaxed stance will leave them feeling more at ease and open to what you have to say. If your stress is evident during a conversation, it will likely rub off on your clients. With the right body language, you can help give them peace of mind that any treatment you’re suggesting is the best thing for the patient.
  • Mirroring: Imitating someone’s verbal and nonverbal behavior — called “mirroring” — can help you communicate more persuasively. Physically, you might mirror your client’s hand gestures or body orientation. Verbally, you might match their tone or pitch.

Like any skill, the more you practice communication, the better you’ll become at it and you’ll start to reap benefits both within your veterinary practice and in the world at large. Misunderstandings will still arise from time to time, but you can resolve those through conflict resolution. Read part 2 for tips.

Brandon Hess

Brandon Hess

Brandon Hess CVPM, CCFP is an associate consultant with VetSupport and a founding member of the Southwestern Ohio Veterinary Management Association. He can be reached at [email protected].

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