5 Mindful Management Tips for Communicating With Veterinary Clients

While there are some factors in veterinary medicine we cannot control, we can always be mindful of the way we manage ourselves and our responses to clients. Here are five tips that can help to facilitate more mindful interactions with challenging or reactive clients.

1. Recognize That Reactive Usually Means Fearful

Pet owners who come into the practice seeking care are often concerned and even fearful. They may be afraid of separation, loss of control, unfamiliar procedures, cost of care, and most importantly, their pet being in pain.

Unfortunately, these fears may only exacerbate mental health challenges raised due to COVID-19; a staggering 40% of Americans reported poor mental health during the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you combine the pandemic-induced stresses on mental health with chronic pet caregiver burden, it's obvious why clients may have a lot of concerns.

Therefore, when communicating with reactive or angry veterinary clients, strive for a compassionate tone and attitude. Take into account what the client themselves may be going through, and be patient.

2. Manage Your Responses

In order to avoid any misinterpretation when communicating with clients, you should be mindful of your own emotions and level of reactivity. This means knowing the triggers that provoke you, the signs you've been emotionally or mentally provoked, and how to manage those feelings to prevent unproductive interactions.

If you aren't sure where to start, Psychology Compass provides useful tips on how to determine what provokes you and how those provocations affect you mentally, emotionally, and physically. By managing your response, you can better guide the situation from a place of mental calmness and clarity.

3. Mind Your Body Language

Did you know that 90% of communication is non-verbal? People are constantly communicating with the way they hold and move their bodies and the expressions on their faces.

Use your body to communicate openness and trust in order to help reactive clients; help them understand that you're there to help. There are several ways to do this, including the following:

  • Maintaining direct eye contact with relaxed blinking
  • Smiling genuinely
  • Mirroring the client's body language
  • Uncrossing your arms to indicate openness

4. Lead With Empathy

Empathy involves taking the perspective of the other, avoiding judgment, recognizing the other person's feelings, and communicating your understanding. In challenging interactions, it's wise to lead with empathy. This is best accomplished by using open-ended questions, which invite stories from your client.

Communicating with empathy has several benefits, including helping your client feel heard—which helps defuse reactivity—giving you time to think while the client talks, and revealing clues that explain their behavior. An easy mnemonic device to remember is "PEA":

  • P: Power words that give the client a feeling you understand their frustration, such as "Oh, wow!"
  • E: Empathetic statement, such as "I'm so sorry to hear that; how are you feeling?"
  • A: Assurance that you are going to do your best to solve the issue, such as "We'll work together to see this through and find a solution."

Genuine empathy is a powerful communication tool—remember to use it.

5. Be Clear and Offer Choices

People like to have choices, and they often prefer to have a strong understanding of what's going on around them. The more that people are involved in choosing what will happen to their pets, the more you can be upfront and transparent about everything involved. The more you meet your clients' need for certainty, the less reactive and worried they likely will be.

Remember that most forms of reactive behavior are a result of pain, fear, trauma, and loss. By managing your responses, watching your body language, and utilizing empathy, you can manage difficult situations with more ease—and, at the end of the day, help more pets and feel good about the work you do.

Sarah Wooten
DVM, CVJ

A 2002 graduate of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Sarah Wooten is a well known influencer in the veterinary and animal health care spaces. She has over 10 years experience in public speaking and media work, and writes for a large number of online and print animal health publications. Dr. Wooten has spoken in the veterinary education space since 2015, and speaks on leadership, client communication, and personal development. Dr. Wooten is also a certified veterinary journalist, a member of the AVMA, and has 16 years experience in small animal veterinary practice. She is also a co-creator of the wildly popular card game ‘Vets Against Insanity’. When it is time to play, she can be found skiing in Colorado or diving with sharks in the Caribbean. Go big...or go home. To learn more, visit drsarahwooten.com.


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