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Secrets of great communication.

Secrets of great communication.

You’re in the room speaking with a client and your mind starts to wander. You have a patient in the back who is really in need of attention and later on that day, you know you will have a potentially difficult conversation with a team member. You start to speak and you’re immediately interrupted. You want to communicate effectively but minute-by-minute it’s becoming more difficult.   

Veterinary health professions can have very stressful days. Not having the ability to communicate with our patients can be an additional stressor. While the ability to communicate effectively with our patients is always a work in progress, our ability to communicate effectively with clients can have profound healthcare implications. Learning to slow down, listen and understand your clients will likely lead to better care for our patients and more satisfied clients.  

Here are three keys for more effective communication with your clients.

Consider your audience.

One of the most intricate relationships to ever exist is the human-animal bond. This dynamic can be complicated is because it is highly individualistic and may be based on a specific set of circumstances. As you discuss pertinent medical details, always try to consider your audience. A millenial may have different concerns about their pet than a retiree. An avid duck hunter may have special considerations about their black Lab than a novelist who relaxes with a Maltese when she’s in her creative space. Also, the mode of communication may change depending on the listener. Someone who is slightly older may prefer face-to-face communications, whereas many millennials or gen Z-ers may prefer to communicate via text, social media, and email. Actively listening to your clients is the only way to know the individual preferences (or concerns) of your audience.

Listen

It’s tough to be a effective communicator if you aren’t listening to the other person. Being an engaged listener is challenging when you have a deluge of emergency patients to triage and reams of diagnostics to evaluate. One study showed that on average, doctors interrupt patients within 12 seconds of them first speaking during primary care visits and throughout the appointment—often, before they have finished explaining an issue..One effective technique to help you focus on listening is put whatever you have in your hands down. Similar to looking up from your phone when someone is speaking to you, the act freeing your hands signals to the other person that you are letting go of what is currently occupying your mind so you can concentrate on them.  Essentially, it sends the message to your clients that you value and care about what they have to say. And what if the object you are carrying pertains to the person you are talking to (i.e. a client’s medical record)?  Start writing notes about what they are saying during the conversation. Perhaps what they are saying is easy to remember and note taking isn’t essential, but the act of writing may help you listen actively and reflect deeply on the situation at hand.


Announce your goals and objectives

There is a reason why the phrase “Head’s up” is so common. It’s a powerful alert to keep people out of danger or prepare them for what’s ahead. This phrase is also helpful to make someone aware of something so they can plan appropriately. They can then adjust to the information being said before it’s too awkward or too late.  You can give your client’s a professional head’s up by announcing to them what you would like to discuss. Common examples of this include, “I would like to discuss a few details regarding [condition].”  Or, “I have a few concerns about [condition] and I would like to discuss a few of them with you now.” This helps you to focus the client’s attention so they can be present in that moment. A “head’s up” informs your clients and other listeners that what you are about to say is important, it may impact them, and that there is something they may need to prepare for.

Following these three keys will help you communicate more effectively. It will save time, money, and potentially needless ligation. Most importantly, it will likely result in better care for the animal. We are all a work in progress and all team members can work in concert toward better communications and deeper client-patient connections.


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