Mastering the art of communication — part 2

by By Brandon Hess

9 min read

Effective communication can help bridge the gap between the speaker’s intentions and the listener’s perception. Delivering the right words, at the right pace, in the right tone, and with the right body language can go a long way toward engaging your listener and keeping them open to what you have to say. Unfortunately, no tactic comes with a 100% guarantee and miscommunications will happen, but you can resolve those through conflict resolution.

One tactic that many people believe is effective is conflict avoidance. If that’s your chosen tactic, stop right there! Conflict avoidance does not resolve conflict. On the contrary, it can be the source of grudges that eventually grows and festers until it can no longer be contained.

Resolution is the way to go — both within and beyond your practice. One fundamental part of conflict resolution is giving up the need to be right. Resolving a conflict isn’t about you being right and the other person being wrong. It’s about both parties reaching a mutual understanding. Approach conflict resolution in a collaborative manner and you’ll see positive results.


  • Be accountable: Take a step back and ask yourself, “Is there something I could have done differently?” This doesn’t mean a full admission of guilt. It simply means being open to the other person’s perspective. Get curious. Ask questions. You’ll be amazed how quickly a conflict can be resolved by asking, “What is something you’d want me to do differently if this situation arises again?”
  • Act quickly: Initiate conflict resolution within 24 to 48 hours, especially for clients. Why the rush? Because the longer you wait to address a complaint, the more frustrated the complainant will become, the less important they’ll feel, and the faster they’ll leave your practice.
  • Act efficiently: Try and keep touchpoints to a minimum. If a client has to repeat his story to several people in your practice, he’s going to become more agitated with every telling. Skip the people in between and take the complaint directly to whoever has the power to resolve it.
  • Think beyond the bill: Bad service is bad service, even when it’s free, so don’t assume you can address every complaint with financial compensation. Your clients want to feel heard. Listen and ask questions, like “What outcome would you like to see as a result of this conversation?” Before you inquire, make sure you can do so with sincerity. A confrontational tone won’t get you anywhere.
  • Be vulnerable: If you’re about to have an uncomfortable conversation, don’t be afraid to say so. For example, if you need to have a conversation with an employee regarding personal hygiene, begin by saying, “This is an uncomfortable conversation to have and I hope you know it’s coming from a good place.” Similarly, if you need to discuss a conflict with someone who’s your professional senior, admit you’re feeling nervous right from the outset. Vulernabitily and honesty go a long way.


  • Avoid making assumptions: More often than not, the subject of a complaint isn’t the entire story. It’s simply the part the complainant has chosen to hang his hat on. Before jumping to a resolution, ask what you could have done differently. Even better, allude to maintaining the relationship by asking what you can do differently in the future to ensure they don’t have the same experience again.
  • Don’t play the blame game: This isn’t about winning. If somebody blames you for your part in the conflict, don’t respond by blaming them for their role. Stay focused on the do’s above and keep aiming for a peaceful resolution.
  • Don’t rush: To convey a genuine interest in reaching a resolution, you need to demonstrate that it’s high on your priority list. Rushing through the conversation implies that the next thing on your list is more important. Take it slow and allow yourself sufficient time to have the conversation.
  • Avoid knee-jerk reactions: Reacting without thinking is common when things get heated, and nothing brings on the heat like conflict. If you feel the temperature rising, take a step back and make sure your thoughts are clear and measured before you respond.
  • Don’t get off track: People often deflect when they feel confronted. Stay focused on what’s important. For example, if you’re addressing tardiness with a habitually late employee who responds by saying, “What do you mean I was late three times last week? Sally is late all the time! Is she being reprimanded too?” bring the conversation back to the issue by replying, “This isn’t about Sally. This is about your attendance.”
  • Don’t expect the conversation to go a certain way: Time can be wasted by anticipating how a conversation is going to unfold. It rarely works out how you think it will. Don’t spend time thinking about how he’s going to respond to you or how you’re going to respond to him. Instead, stay in the moment, focus on listening, and then respond appropriately.

While conflict resolution can be uncomfortable, it does present an opportunity to strengthen relationships. Consistently follow these dos and don’ts and you’ll see positive results.

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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