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Types of communication all veterinarians should know

When it comes to treating patients having the scientific, technical and clinical skills is not enough. Having the necessary communication skills is just as important for today’s veterinarian if they want to succeed.

When it comes to treating patients having the scientific, technical and clinical skills is not enough. Having the necessary communication skills is just as important for today’s veterinarian if they want to succeed.

Why the need for communication skills?

For many owners, the bond they have with their pets often means that they will see it as being more than a pet but as a member of the family. That bond can have a strong effect on the health and well-being of owners. Because of this, effective communication skills enables the vet to look after the needs of both their client and patient. It can also make a difference for the vet, their practice, the client and more importantly their patient.

For the owners, good veterinarian communication skills are important because what they don’t want is the vet who comes across as cold and uncaring. They want them to be someone who offers care and compassion. The vet who can communicate effectively is more likely to see clients follow any treatment they prescribe for their animals.

Types of communication

Knowing why vets need communication skills it is important to understand that it is more than just being about what we write or what we say. When it comes to communication, there are four skills that the vet will need to try and master.

Non-Verbal Communication

When we communicate, our body can convey a number of messages. Our facial expressions, gestures or how we stand means that our body language is sending messages to the client that they can potentially pick up on. When we speak, this shows what we are thinking. It also allows us to pass on discrete pieces of information. Non-verbal communication differs in that it reflects what we are feeling and shows itself as attitudes and emotions. Because of this, if what we are saying does not tally with the non-verbal signals the client is receiving from us this may lead to confusion and problems.

Open Ended Questions

These type of questions get the client to say more about something. They allow the vet to cast a wide net for information that allows the client the opportunity to talk about their concerns. Closed questions are different in that they typically generate one-word answers. Usually, the best way to ask the open-ended question is to start it with ‘how’ or ‘what’ at the beginning. This provides the client with the chance of relaying their concerns so that the vet understands things from the client’s point of view. If the client feels that the vet is listening to them, the chances are that this will increase their satisfaction and make them likely to follow any treatment recommendations.

Reflective Listening

This is about understanding the information you have received and is often used alongside the open-ended question. It involves reflecting back in your own words what you have been told to make sure you have understood things correctly. It also provides a way of showing that you are interested and want to know more about what the client is telling you. For the client, it gives them the chance to correct or clarify something they may have said.

Compassion Statements

Rather than appear cold and uncaring the veterinarian should be able to show that they can understand what the client is going through. The best way of being able to demonstrate empathy for the client is through statements that illustrate they understand the client’s feelings and their position. By showing compassion not only can it help prevent things going wrong it can also build a relationship of trust and satisfaction for everyone involved.

Where Next?

Communication skills are not something that comes naturally to everyone. They have to be learnt and not by reading a book. The best ways of learning how to communicate effectively involves watching others, practicing receiving and giving feedback as well as role play. Most academic institutions offer some form of communications skills training for vets.

For any vet, the value of good communication is the difference between the client returning and them deciding to go elsewhere.

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