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Checklist: Better communication as a veterinarian
You get what patients are saying to you in their blood work and their body language, but are you always paying enough attention to what your veterinary team members and clients are telling you? Here are a few things to work on.
Active listening may or may not involve you cocking your head. Learning to communicate effectively with coworkers, clients and family is perhaps the most important skill we can have, and we could all improve at these aspects of it:
Do you stop and listen?
Listening, really listening, is a vital communication skill that all of us need to work on. In a conversation, there's a tendency for us all to focus on our personal perspective on an issue. We don't so much listen as focus on what we're contributing and what we'll say, anticipating our response before the other person has conveyed their message. This frequently results in a lack of clarity, regular misunderstandings and frustration for both parties.
Active listening means paying attention, asking questions and restating what you believe you heard to verify understanding so you can formulate a truly productive response.
Do you show respect?
Show you know the value of others' time and space. Pay attention to your inflections and tone of voice. Be aware of your body language, which can communicate more than your words.
Do you work to stay open-minded?
Good communication requires flexibility and receptivity to the perspectives and ideas of others-caring what the other person thinks and how they feel. Listen attentively to the “other side” and hear their perspective.
If you can, did you pick a good time and place?
I think face-to-face and person-to-person is the best form of communication. Unfortunately, virtual communications seem to have replaced the human voice and eye contact. While technology may be a quick way to connect, it can be a terrible way to communicate effectively. But if you insist on e-communication, keep it short and focused. If a subject is dire or serious, if it requires a discussion or explanation, if it could be misconstrued or result in conflict, a phone call or meeting is more appropriate.
Set the stage for your conversations by stopping to listen, showing respect for someone's time and communication style, staying open-minded about the other person's opinions and feelings and picking the right moment in the right place for sensitive discussions. You'll be on your way to better communication.
Dr. Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.